Our story starts in 1941 in the village of Sighet, Hungary, formerly
Romania. The central character is a twelve-year-old boy, Elie Wiesel, who spends much of his time immersed in books seeking more knowledge about the Jewish faith. His father, Shlomo Wiesel is a
well-respected grocer in the village.
Elie is intelligent for his age and with the help of his instructor Moshe the Beadle, is studying more complex areas of Judaism. Moshe is captured by Nazis, and along with the other captors is shot. However, Moshe miraculously escapes and when he returns to his community no-one believes his horrific story. The Jewish community is aware that their brethren are being systematically rounded-up and sent to labor camps in order to help the German war machine. The rumors that abound concerning death camps are dismissed.
As the war approaches an end in 1944, and the Russian armies approach
Hungary it appears that the Jewish community in Sighet will escape the round-up. However, the deportation of the Jews does take place and Elie’s family are on the last convoy to leave the area.
They travel in a cattle car where there is little room to move and hardly
any food and water. They arrive at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex for processing.
When they arrive the air is full of the stench of burning flesh and the guards herd the Jews using clubs. The men are segregated from the women and children and then subdivided into workers and non-workers.
Elie’s mother and three sisters are taken to the Birkenau death camp, whilst
Elie and Shlomo, who lied about their ages, join the other hardy men to work in Auschwitz concentration camp. Elie and Shlomo scratch out a living and try to remain healthy, as failure to do so would bring
instant death as they would no longer be useful to the S.S.
After three weeks, Elie and his father obtain work in an electronics
warehouse in Buna.
Elie witnesses many atrocities, one involving the guards hanging a
thirteen-year-old child who dies a slow lingering death.
The work in the electronics warehouse is not so physically demanding and
Elie and his father are able to carry out their duties. Elie even has to undergo some surgery on his foot, but he is still retained for work.
The Russian army is close to liberating the camp, and those prisoners in the
factory are forced to march 42 miles to Gleiwitz. This march aggravates Elie’s foot operation, and he has to bind it with strips of blanket. Those inmates who are unable to keep up during the march are
shot where they stand. They receive no food and are forced to live on mouthfuls of snow.
After the march they are taken in cattle cars on a ten-day journey to Buchenwald in Germany. Out of the hundreds that left Auschwitz only around ten remain. Elie’s father is close to death, being weakened by dysentery and malnutrition. He finally succumbs after receiving a vicious beating from a guard.
Elie, in the depths of despair, becomes delirious.
The camp is liberated by American forces and Elie stares at himself in a mirror and sees a corpse looking back at him.