At first, the passengers of the car are panicking because they are not sure what is going on. This woman is just screaming about a fire in the middle of the night and there is no fire to be seen. They don’t know that at first, though.
There was a moment of panic. Who had screamed? It was Mrs. Schächter. Standing in the middle of the car, in the faint light filtering through the windows, she looked like a withered tree in a field of wheat. She was howling, pointing through the window …
Wiesel says that it took them “a long time to recover” from being woken up in this manner, and they were trembling. The woman’s son tried to calm her down, and so do some other women. She doesn’t quiet, and it wears on them.
But it was all in vain. Our terror could no longer be contained. Our nerves had reached a breaking point. Our very skin was aching. It was as though madness had infected all of us. We gave up. A few young men forced her to sit down, then bound and gagged her.
Their treatment of the woman may seem harsh, but you have to picture their situation. The woman scares them. Her screams make the experience, which is already frightening, terrifying. She wears away at their nerves until they just gag her to get some peace.
When she breaks free and starts screaming again, they hit her. Wiesel says that these “several blows to the head” could have been fatal. Again, the passengers are desperate. They do not know where they are going or what awaits them, thus their cruelty. Somehow, the woman’s screams are prophetic. There is indeed a fire waiting for them. The Nazis burned people alive in giant ovens or killed them in cyanide showers. Few in this car would survive.