The story begins in Sighet, a small town in Translyvania. Life seems fairly peaceful, and it is introduced that Elie is very devoted to his faith, that he often studies with Moishe the Beadle. Elie's family is introduced as well as Moishe and Elie himself. The problem is introduced in the first chapter, that Germany was advancing on Russia, saying, "the next day brought really disquieting news: German troops had penetrated the Hungarian territory with the government's approval" the Jews were in danger (Wiesel, 9).
The conflict first arises when the Nazis arrive in Sighet, while they seem harmless at first, it is soon clear that their intentions are not positive. The Jews are soon forced to give up all valuables and move into the Ghettos. Life in the Ghettos are not horrible, for the Jews lived together and were able to continue practicing their faith, despite the impoverished conditions, they felt comfortable and safe together, saying "we felt this was not a bad thing; we were entirely among ourselves" (Weisel, 11).
The conflict begins to grow as the Jews are forced to cram themselves into cattle cars and leave their entire life behind. The Jews are scared yet they cling to their faith and hope that all is well and they are simply being moved away from the war. Along the ride to Auschwitz, some passengers are very distraught, one women even had hallucinations of fire, screaming, "'Look! Look at this fire! This terrible fire! Have mercy on me!' Some pressed against the bars to see. Three was nothing. Only the darkness of night" she had to be beaten so that she would stop screaming (Wiesel, 25).
The climax occurs when the Jews arrive in Auschwitz. The prisoners are forced out of the cars and they are sorted into two lines, those who will work for the Nazis, and those who will be burned alive. Elie and his father are forced to lie to survive, a fellow prisoner says to them "'No.' The man now sounded angry. 'Not fifty. You're forty. Did you hear? Forty and eighteen"' (Wiesel, 30). Worry hangs in the air over all prisoners. The Jews who are chosen to work are forced to march right up to the edge of a pit of flames, yet they are stopped right before they fall in. They are then forced to shave their heads, give up all remaining valuables, and dress in prison uniforms. This is probably one of the most stressful nights for the Jews.
Life in Auschwitz continues to be full of torture, starvation, and pain, but the prisoners fall into a routine and learn to handle their conditions. Elie is beaten as well as his father, and the prisoners are forced to witness the hanging of many prisoners, with Elie saying "I watched other hanging. I never saw a single victim weep" (Wiesel, 63).
The army fighting the Nazis approached Auschwitz, and the everyone is forced to abandon the camp, Elie recalls "'All they could utter was one word. 'Evacuation.' The camp was going to be emptied and we would be sent to the rear" (Wiesel, 81). The march to their new location was brutal but Elie survived. Elie's father did not, but soon enough the Jews were freed. Despite his freedom, Elie was traumatized for the rest of his life.