Mrs. Schächter screamed about fire in the boxcar on the way to Auschwitz.
During the transport to Auschwitz, a middle-aged woman begins hallucinating. She starts screaming about fire, and her screams are uncontrollable. The screams foreshadow the crematoriums waiting for the Jews at the concentration camps. No one knows that. They just try desperately to quiet her.
The first problem is that the woman has been separated from most of her family. At this point, families are still traveling together. However, this separation makes her go mad.
There was a woman among us, a certain Mrs. Schächter. She was in her fifties and her ten-year-old son was with her, crouched in a corner. Her husband and two older sons had been deported with the first transport, by mistake. The separation had totally shattered her. (Ch. 2)
The other passengers do not know what to do. They try various things to keep her quiet. Her screams upset them, because her madness makes them feel even more trapped. All of them are frightened and in a situation they cannot control. Up until now, they have tried to make the best of things. Now it seems as if things are at their worst. Their treatment of the woman gets harsher and harsher as they get more and more desperate.
Once again, the young men bound and gagged her. When they actually struck her, people shouted their approval: "Keep her quiet! Make that madwoman shut up. She's not the only one here…" (Ch. 2)
Her little son clings to her as they hit her harder and harder. By daylight she is quiet, until they get to Auschwitz. Someone reads the sign on the gate. She is screaming again. They have no idea where they are. They have never heard the name, and they do not know the significance of it. No one knows what awaits them there.