The Jews must leave all of their cherished possessions – and optimistic illusions – in the cattle car as they move forward to be admitted to the concentration camp.
Men are sent to the left, women to the right. Although he does not know it at the moment, this is the last time Eliezer will ever see his mother and youngest sister Tzipora.
Eliezer’s one thought is not to lose his father.
Already, some Jews are being beaten and shot.
A kind prisoner comes up to Eliezer and his father, asking them their ages. On hearing that Eliezer is 15 and his father is 50, the prisoner tells them they should be 18 and 40. Age can mean the difference between life and death.
Another prisoner tells them they would have been better off hanging themselves than to come here. Hadn’t they heard of Auschwitz in 1944? The new prisoners all have to admit that no, they hadn’t heard about Auschwitz.
The prisoner points to the smokestacks and asks if they know what’s being burned there? Basically he says: that’s where you’re going to die. (But in more words and some curses.)
The male prisoners are in a line being questioned by Dr. Mengele and divided into two groups: one group, presumably, is going to be working; the other group will head straight to the crematorium. (Dr. Josef Mengele was an infamous Nazi doctor who selected which prisoners would be sent to labor and which would die.)
When Eliezer is questioned, he lies and says that he’s 18 and a farmer, rather than 15 and a student.
Near Eliezer, there’s a pit of fire into which small children are being dumped – alive.
Eliezer comments, as the narrator, "Is it any wonder that ever since then, sleep tends to elude me?"
It seems for a while that death is imminent. The male prisoners, including Eliezer’s father, are weeping. Some are even saying the prayer for the dead, but saying it for themselves.
Within himself, Eliezer begins to feel the first stirrings of rebellion against God.
Eliezer contemplates killing himself by throwing himself onto the electric wire rather than be burned alive, but his group is directed away from the fires.
Both Eliezer and his father are assigned to labor units, so death is not immediate.
They wait through a long night, during which Eliezer loses faith in God’s justice and mercy.
The new male prisoners are beaten, forced to strip off their clothes, beaten, and sent to the barber to get their hair shaved off.
After the barber, all of the men are standing around, naked, finding acquaintances and old friends. They are joyful at finding each other still alive.
The naked men are forced to run outside in the cold to a bath of disinfectant, and then forced to run again to the storeroom to get striped prisoner’s clothes.
In the striped outfits, the men look like something other than human. "We had ceased to be men," Wiesel says.
Aside from looking completely different all shaved and in awful, identical uniforms, Eliezer feels he has lost his identity; he is no longer a child or a student of Talmud.
At daybreak, they see prisoners at work, digging holes and carrying sand.
They wait some more – while standing – for who knows how long.
An SS officer arrives and lectures them about the realities of the concentration camp. It’s not a "convalescent home," he says. It is a place where you are expected to work hard. It’s a concentration camp. If you don’t work, you can expect to go straight to the smokestacks. To sum it up: work or die.
Eliezer and his father are moved to a new barracks where they are at least allowed to sit, but Eliezer has to watch his father be beaten, and is horrified that he’s watching this without rebelling.
They continue marching, for half an hour, to another camp (they’ve left Birkenau). The iron gate to this camp has an inscription: "work makes you free." They are now in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The prisoner in charge is Polish. He is kind when he greets them and he tries to encourage them that liberation is on the way. He also tells the new prisoners that the only way to survive is to help each other.
They sleep and the next day their spirits are improved. They even get a bowl of soup for lunch. The next day, they are given numbers, tattooed on their arms. Eliezer becomes A-7713.
They look for friends and relatives among the latest arrivals.
A relative named Stein comes looking for Eliezer and his father after they’ve been in Auschwitz for about a week. Stein is Eliezer’s cousin, and he is looking for news about his wife and children.
Eliezer lies to Stein, saying he heard they are well.
The nice Polish prisoner who was in charge of Eliezer’s group (or Block 17) is removed because he’s too nice. The prisoner who replaces him is vicious.
Stein continues to visit occasionally, and he often brings some of his own food ration for Eliezer. He tells them that the important thing is to stay healthy and avoid "selection." (Selection is when the group is divided between those that are healthy enough to work and those destined for the crematoria.)
Stein says the knowledge that his wife and kids are alive gives him enough hope to keep on living.
A new transport comes to Auschwitz and Stein hopes to hear some more news about his family. When Stein hears real news about his wife and children, he does not return. We assume that he gave up hope and died.
In the evenings, the men in Block 17 discuss their faith. Eliezer doesn’t pray. He’s not an atheist, but he no longer believes that God is absolutely just.
Eliezer and his father try to reassure themselves that his mother and Tzipora are all right.
They finally receive their work orders and they depart with the next transport. They march through German villages where their guards flirt with giggling German girls. Four hours later, they reach Buna. The doors close behind them.