Night: Novel Summary: Section 2
After two days of traveling, the Jewish deportees begin to be tortured by thirst. Then the heat becomes unbearable. When the train stops at a town on the Czechoslovak border, they realize that they are not going to stay in Hungary. A German officer tells them they are now under the authority of the German army. They are forced to give up any valuables in their possession, and are also told that if anyone escapes, they will all be shot.
As the journey continues, a woman named Madame Schachter, who is accompanied by her young son, goes insane, crying hysterically and calling out that she can see a fire, with huge flames and a furnace. But the others can see nothing and convince themselves that the woman is insane. Some of the young men tie her up and put a gag in her mouth. But after a few hours she breaks loose and starts crying out again about a fire. The men tie her up again and strike her on the head. Toward dawn she calms down, but as soon as night falls, she begins to scream again that she can see a fire.
They arrive at a place called Auschwitz, which they have never heard of before. Two men who are allowed out to get water return and report that Auschwitz is a labor camp. Conditions are good, they say, and families will not be split up. Confidence soars amongst the Jews, and they give thanks to God. However, they remain in the cattle trucks.
At night, Madame Schachter screams again about fire. Toward eleven o'clock, the train begins to move, and after a quarter of an hour they see barbed wire through the windows. As the train stops, Madame Schachter cries out again, and this time they all see flames coming from a tall chimney. As other prisoners arrive and order them out of the wagon, they see the flames in front of them and smell burning flesh. They had arrived at Birkenau, reception center for Auschwitz.
If in section 1, Moche the Beadle played the role of the wise prophet whom no one believes, in this section Madame Schachter plays the role of the mad prophet, also whom no one believes. She seems merely delirious when she screams that she sees a fire and huge flames coming from a furnace. But she is proved correct, and that is exactly what the prisoners see when they first arrive at Auschwitz, which was one of the most terrible of the Nazi death camps. For the first time, the Jews are forced to acknowledge the full horror of what is happening to them. The motif of fire will become a recurring one throughout the book.
There is also a foreshadowing in this section of the inhumanity that will later overtake almost everyone, oppressors and victims alike. As the Jews set out for their ride in the cattle wagon, civility prevails. There is not enough room for everyone to sit down, so they take turns at sitting. When Madame Schachter begins to shout about fire, someone puts a damp cloth on her forehead, to calm her, and some of the women try to comfort her. But as her screams continue, people lose patience with her: "It was as though madness were taking possession of us all." Two men tie her up and put a gag in her mouth, and the others encourage them. She is also beaten about the head. The cruelty of the Nazis is being copied by their victims.