Despite ominous signs, the Jews in Sighet refuse to believe that the Fascists could ever do anything to hurt them. Moché is deported along with other non-Hungarians and taken to a concentration camp. He manages to escape and comes back to warn the townspeople of the atrocities that he has seen. They refuse to believe him, however, and think that he is either insane or just wants attention. People continue on in their normal, everyday lives through 1943. In 1944 the townspeople remain foolishly optimistic even after the Fascists come to power, Germany invades Hungary, and the German army itself arrives in Sighet. Eliezer's father refuses to try to escape the country. On Passover the persecution of the Jews begins. Jews are first forbidden from leaving their homes for three days, required to wear the yellow star, and then crowded into two ghettos. Even among the ghettos, people carry on as normal until one day when Eliezer's father is unexpectedly summoned to a meeting of the Jewish Council. He returns bearing bad news: all Jews will be deported. Eliezer goes to wake up the neighbors, and everyone begins to pack in preparation for the upcoming journey.
The first convoy of deported prisoners is kept standing in the middle of the hot courtyard, and Eliezer and others run to bring the parched individuals water. Eliezer's family is scheduled to leave in the last group, and they are moved into the smaller ghetto, where an old family servant named Martha offers to hide them in the country. The family refuses to be separated from one another, and they join the rest of the community in the synagogue to be deported. The next day, the prisoners are crowded into cattle wagons on a train.
Inside the train it is so crowded that people have to take turns sitting down. Young people openly copulate with each other, and the prisoners are forced to give up all their valuables. A woman named Madame Schaechter is on the train and begins to lose her mind, having earlier been separated from her husband and two older sons. She starts to scream hysterically about a flaming furnace she claims to see in the distance, and she scares the other occupants of the train. They try to silence her by beating and gagging her, but she nevertheless screams repeatedly throughout the night. Finally, when the train arrives at Birkenau/Auschwitz, the prisoners see the flaming chimney that Madame Schaechter had prophesied.
Upon arriving at Birkenau, Eliezer is separated from his mother and sister, but manages to stay close to his father. The prisoners then march past SS officer Dr. Mengele, who "selects" who will live and who will go to the crematory. Eliezer and his father are told they are going to the crematory and are filled with terror as they march closer and closer to a fiery pit. At the last minute, the line of men turns away from the flames. The prisoners are then forced to strip, run, bathe, and redress, all the while being pummeled by veteran prisoners and SS guards. Eliezer and his father are taken to the gypsies' camp, where they are harangued by an SS officer. The prisoners then march to Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz conditions are better and the fellow prisoners not as brutal. Finally, the prisoners are allowed to sleep. Eliezer refuses to eat his first ration, a plate of thick soup, but the day is much better, with people sitting and talking with each other in the sun. For several weeks the prisoners follow a tight