The memoir starts with the introduction of the main characters and the setting. Eliezer shares details about himself, his family, and his mentor Moishe the Beadle, along with details about the impact of Judaism on his life and the amount of time he spends studying. He lives in Sighet, Transylvania, which is a peaceful city in Romania that has not been affected by World War II.
The conflict begins as German soldiers entered Elie's hometown of Sighet, Romania, and begin to oppress the Jewish people. The Germans then put the Jews into ghettos, before loading them onto cramped, dirty cattle cars, and shipped them off into Poland. Elie and the rest of the Jews were uncertain and afraid of what was in store for them.
The rising action begins as Elie and the rest of the Jews from Sighet arrive at Auschwitz. They start at Birkenau, where women and men are separated and then are either sent to the crematoria or the labor camp. Elie stays with his father, and they are both sent to live in the labor camp, where they worked for many months.
The climax occurs during the time that Elie and his father spend in Buna, a labor sub-camp of Auschwitz. On this day, a young boy was hanged along with two other inmates who had been found with weapons. Although the two men die quickly, the child was very light, and endured, a slow painful death. This tragedy had a tremendous impact on the inmates, who were crying and asking "Where is God?".
The falling action occurs as Elie and his father leave the Buna labor camp on a death march. Despite his injured foot, Elie undertakes the long, treacherous run, where many die due to exhaustion and hypothermia. When the inmates finally arrive at their destination, they are loaded onto cattle cars and transported to a camp called Buchenwald. Only a fraction of the inmates who began the march in Buna were able to make it to Buchenwald.
The resolution occurred in Buchenwald shortly before the camp was liberated by the Allied armies. Elie's father, who was bedridden and suffering from a severe case of dysentery, was taken from his cot during the night and sent to the crematorium. Elie feels an extreme amount of guilt after this happens, because his father was crying out for him, but Elie did not respond.