How does Madame Schachter impact the other people on the train?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 2, Elie recalls their trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the overcrowded cattle cars. There is a Jewish prisoner named Mrs. Schächter, who had been separated from her husband and two older sons. She is emotionally destroyed and begins to experience vivid hallucinations on the train ride. Elie mentions that Mrs. Schächter had lost her mind and on the first day of the trip and begins to sob and scream hysterically.

On the third night, Mrs. Schächter begins yelling, "Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!", which startles the other passengers (24). Initially, the other Jewish passengers panic and begin looking out of the cattle cars but see nothing. They attempt to calm Mrs. Schächter by placing a damp rag on her forehead and assure her that everything will be fine. However, Mrs. Schächter continues to cry hysterically and scream about seeing massive flames. Elie then mentions that the passengers could no longer take hearing Mrs. Schächter's cries and eventually bound and gagged the woman. After two hours of silence, Mrs. Schächter loosens her bonds and begins screaming again. This time, several prisoners brutally beat her before gagging her again. Overall, Mrs. Schächter's hysterical cries unnerve the other prisoners, who cannot deal with her screams and resort to violence to quell her cries.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Madame Schachter's ultimate effect on her son and the other people on the train is to begin the process of dehumanization that will become so much a part of the narrative.  Madame Schachter's cries move the others to dehumanize her.  They tie her up and beat her in order to be quiet.  Wiesel describes that her son does not do anything to stop this once it starts, almost glad that his mother is finally being silenced.  Like Moshe the Beadle before, Wiesel uses Madame Schachter to show how the most intense horror of the Holocaust was how individuals the loss of humanity was not merely perpetrated by the Nazis.  Rather, the victims of the Holocaust adopted this themselves and dehumanized one another.  Madame Schachter's cries ultimately reflect the lack of humanity that is evident during the time period.  Her cries compel others to silence her.  There is little in way of comfort and understanding, sensitivity to her plight and showing the redemption in compassion.  Rather, it is forceful silence through violence that ends up being the legacy Madame Schachter leaves with the passengers, reflecting how the moral decay in the Holocaust is one of its worst legacies.