Elie Wiesel meets Moishe the Beadle while praying and they become friends. Moishe is expelled from Hungary because he is a foreign jew. He later comes back to warn the town but they do not believe him. The Germans arrive and begin to put the Jews including Elie and his family into ghettos. Elie and his family are then put into a cattle car and it begins to move described as "A prolonged whistle pierced the air. The wheels began to grind. We were on our way" (22).
The Jews are crammed tight in the cattle cars as they move out of Hungary. After days, a woman named Mrs. Schachter screams that she sees fire and a furnace. She is beaten every night because she keeps screaming. The reach Birkenau and see the smoke and smell burning bodies.
Elie and his father are separated from the rest of their family and never see them again. They fear they will die but are directed away from the fires and assigned to labor units. They begin to do hard labor and Elie watches his father get beaten. They then march to Auschwitz and are transported to Buna.
In Buna, Elie refuses to give up his shoes and gold crown which his superiors attempt to take from him. Elie meets a Frenchwoman that he remembers seeing on a train in the future, The foreman goes after Elie's crown and tortures his father until he gives it up. Elie catches Idek sleeping with a Polish girl and receives 25 lashings. He then witnesses hangings in which one is a boy who suffers while he hangs.
The Jews come together to celebrate Rosh Hashanah but Elie does not participate because he has lost faith. Elie and his father are inspected by Dr. Mengele and pass. One of their friends do not pass and die. Elie's foot begins to swell and he visits the doctor who says he may have to amputate it. The Russians are near and the camp is evacuated so Elie runs off to find his father and the prisoners begin marching through the snow.
The prisoners run through the snow and the SS yell at them to go faster while Elie's friend Zalman is trampled. They are then ordered to rest. Elie and his father try to keep each other awake. They continue to march and reach a camp called Gleiwitz to sleep. Juliek plays Beethoven through the night and dies with his violin crushed beside him. After three days with no food or water, they march to a train and are pushed inside.