Night Chapter 1
The year is 1941 and Elie Wiesel, the narrator of the story, is twelve years old. The Wiesel family consists of Elie's father, Chlomo, a shopkeeper and well-respected Jewish community leader, Elie's mother, his two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, and youngest sister, Tzipora. They live in the town of Sighet in Transylvania (on the border of Hungary and Romania). Elie is a studious, deeply religious boy who enjoys studying the Talmud (Jewish religious text) by day and praying in the temple at night.
Even at his young age, Elie wishes to find someone who can teach him the Jewish mystical teachings of the cabbala. One day, as Elie is praying at the temple, Moshe the Beadle, the temple caretaker, asks him why he prays. Elie finds the question strange because for him, praying is as natural as breathing, but he replies that he does not know. From then on, Moshe the Beadle becomes his spiritual mentor. They spend many hours in the temple talking about the mysteries of God.
One day in 1942, Moshe the Beadle and all the other foreign Jews of Sighet are expelled and deported on cattle trains. Although the townspeople are disturbed, they quickly forget about the deportees. Elie hears a Jew sigh and say, "'What can we expect? It's war....'" Chapter 1, pg. 4 Then one day, Moshe the Beadle comes back to Sighet and recounts the horrors of what had happened to him and his companions at the hands of the German police, the Gestapo. No one believes him. When Elie asks Moshe why he wishes so much to be heard, he responds:
"'I wanted to come back to Sighet to tell you the story of my death. So that you could prepare yourselves while there was still time. To live? I don't attach any importance to my life any more. I'm alone. No, I wanted to come back, and to warn you. And see how it is, no one will listen to me....'" Chapter 1, pg. 5
More than a year passes and the Jews of Sighet are confident that the war will soon be over. However, bad news arrives: Fascists take power in Hungary and there are frequent incidents of anti-Semitism. Before long, German troops appear in the streets of Sighet. Elie identifies the soldiers by the emblem on their helmets, the death's head. At first, the Jews of Sighet take kindly to the German soldiers who seem distant, but polite. However, on the seventh day of Passover, the Germans arrest the leaders of the Jewish community. Moshe the Beadle warns Elie's father one last time, then disappears. Things happen very quickly afterwards: the Germans issue a decree preventing the Jews from leaving their homes (on pain of death); then a decree goes out that all Jews must wear the yellow star. Elie's father's responds, "'The yellow star? Oh well, what of it? You don't die of it....'" Chapter 1, pg. 9 Soon after, two ghettos are set up-a large one in the center of town and a smaller one. Even in the ghettos, the Jews remain naively optimistic that things will not get any worse. However, night falls. All Jews are to be deported.
The smaller ghetto is expelled first and Elie compares the emptied houses to open tombs. Even as the remaining Jews move from the big ghetto into the smaller ghetto, they forget about the previous occupants. Within a few days, the rest of the Jews, including Elie's family, are deported. Packed eighty people to each cattle wagon, the last of the Jews depart Sighet. They embark on a journey that no Jew onboard could have ever imagined. "A prolonged whistle split the air. The wheels began to grind. We were on our way." Chapter 1, pg. 20