Madam Schächter is plagued by terrible visions of a fire on the train to Auschwitz. This takes place on their third night on the train, while some prisoners were sleeping:
Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!
She continues to shout about the "terrible fire" while numerous fellow prisoners look outside to see what she is talking about, but there are no flames to be seen. The fire rages only in Madam Schächter's imagination. One can imagine the fear that she felt, seeing this massive fire which everyone else appears to be ignoring.
It is only too easy to imagine how upsetting this scenario is, both for Madam Schächter and for the others on the train. Her young son tries desperately to make her realize that there is no fire, while some of the women nearby try to placate her with the false hope of seeing her husband again soon.
By way of background, we are told that Madam Schächter's husband, as well as her two older sons, had been deported earlier. The Schächter family had been well acquainted with the Wiesel family for many years, and Elie recognizes on the first day of their journey that she has begun to lose her mind. She is unable to understand why she has been separated from her family, and she sobs and screams in a way that tells her fellow prisoners that she has lost her ability to think rationally. One can imagine how difficult this transformation must be for Elie to watch, given that she had been well known to him and his family.
While Madam Schächter was the only person afraid of the non-existent flames, Elie notes that it was not only her terror but the terror that they were all experiencing that "could no longer be contained."