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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Madame Schacter drives everyone mad with her insane shrieking and screaming. No matter how hard the other inmates in the cattle-truck try to get her to stop, she carries on regardless. The long, hellish journey is bad enough; the cattle-tracks are overcrowded, insanitary, and there's no privacy whatsoever. But Madame...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Madame Schacter drives everyone mad with her insane shrieking and screaming. No matter how hard the other inmates in the cattle-truck try to get her to stop, she carries on regardless. The long, hellish journey is bad enough; the cattle-tracks are overcrowded, insanitary, and there's no privacy whatsoever. But Madame Schacter makes things even worse for everyone as her mind rapidly disintegrates under the strain of her deeply traumatic experiences.

The other prisoners on the train are also deeply disturbed and unnerved by Madame Schacter's lurid visions of Hell, which she's convinced awaits them all at their destination. Madame Schacter may be mad, but the other prisoners know that whatever awaits them cannot be good, and so they sense that there's more than a grain of truth in her disturbing prophecies. Sadly, they're proved right, as they soon discover upon arrival at the camp.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team