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In the exposition, the reader is introduced to a pious Elie Wiesel and the town of Sighet, Romania. Elie describes his family and his town, and how his "... place was in the house of study..." (pg 4). However, this all changes when the Nazis occupy Sighet. Now Elie, his family, and the entire Jewish community face danger.
The exposition shifts to the conflict when the Germans take away the Jews' rights and valuables, and later pack them into cattle cars. Here is when Elie's hate for his oppressors first begins, and when he first realizes how terrible his situation is. He describes how "Our eyes opened. Too late" (pg 23), and how things were clearly worse than they had imagined.
The action rises when the cattle car stops, and Elie and his family are unloaded at Birkenau. Reality sets in, and they are forced to leave their belongings behind, along with their illusions. Elie and his father are separated from his mother and sisters, and he is forced to join the line of men waiting to be judged by the notorious Dr. Mengele. Elie witnesses things so horrid that he has to ask himself: "Was I still alive? Was I awake?" (pg 32).
The climax of this story occurs after Elie and his father are transported from Birkenau to the Buna camp. After many months , the Russian army was on the verge of pushing the Germans back from Buna. This caused great panic within the camp, and prisoners were set to be evacuated. Elie had the choice of either staying in the infirmary, or being evacuated with the rest of the prisoners. He consults his father, and finally decides to be evacuated. The next day, the evacuation march begins, and Elie describes how "It seemed as though an even darker night was waiting for us on the other side." (pg 84).
As the marching evacuation from Buna turns to a run, hundreds die before Eile. He, along with the other prisoners, are forced to run through the snow continuously, never being allowed to take a break. Those who stop running are shot without second thought, causing the death of many. Many times, Elie almost loses the strength to continue marching, a strength brought back only by the thought of his father. Elie describes how he could "... no longer feel anything, neither fatigue nor cold..." (pg 86) because of how long he had been running.
After running all the way to Gleiwitz, and then being transported by roofless cattle car to Buchenwald, Eile's memoir reaches its resolution. Along the journey to Buchenwald, thousands died before Elie, yet he was so accustomed to death that he barely took notice. On the transport to Buchenwald, Elie and his father were kept in a cattle car full of people. Many would lay down from the starvation or the cold, and never get up. Elie's father became very sick during the evacuation, whose "...eyes were watery... face the color of dead leaves." (pg 107). This destroyed Elie, who begged his father to continue living. One day, he found that the bunk of his father had been replaced by a different person. From then on, Elie no longer cared about his life. Soon, Buchenwald was liberated by American troops, and Elie was a free man. However, when he looked in the mirror, all he saw was a hollow corpse.
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