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Elie Wiesel

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Night | Section 2 | Summary



Eliezer and his family are packed in a cattle car with other Jews from Sighet. Conditions are deplorable, and the inhibitions of some melt away given the cramped conditions and lack of privacy. Once they cross into Czechoslovakia, the prisoners' fears increase as they begin to recognize the gravity of their situation. The train stops and a German officer, along with a Hungarian lieutenant, enters and tells the people they must give up their possessions. They are also told if anyone goes missing, they'll all be shot.

Madame Schächter is on the transport with her 10-year-old son. Her husband and two older sons have been taken in the first transport, and she is shattered. As the journey continues, Madame Schächter starts screaming out, "Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!" The others, who are already on edge, cannot take the screaming. They look out the window, see nothing, and tell her so. When Madame Schächter persists, they try to help her. She continues and ultimately, they gag her to keep her quiet. Later on when she breaks free and starts yelling, they beat her and gag her again.

The prisoners finally reach Auschwitz-Birkenau, a place they have never heard of before. The train is stopped, and two men are given permission to get water. When they return, they share news. This is their final destination: it's a work camp, conditions are good, and families are kept together. The news comforts the Jews, and they give thanks to God. Later, while still in the cattle car, Madame Schächter again starts yelling about fire and is again beaten and gagged. The others ask a German officer to take her to the infirmary, but he counsels patience. That night, the train moves slowly, and the Jews rush to the windows. They see barbed wires and "flames rising from a tall chimney into a black sky," and smell a wretched stench. The doors open at midnight, and they are abruptly taken out in Birkenau.


Madame Schächter's delirious rants about fire foreshadow the crematorium. How she came to know about the crematorium, or if she actually did know, is unclear. Does her suffering the loss of her family open up her eyes to a reality that the others refuse to see? The Jews on the train view her as a madwoman, just as they viewed Moshe the Beadle when he tried to warn them about the horrors of the Holocaust. The truth is seen as insanity: people could not act in such a way. The Jews of Sighet do not yet know the rules have been changed by the Nazis.

On the cattle cars headed from Sighet to Auschwitz, the people are packed and uncomfortable. They feel tension, fear, and uncertainty. Their behavior is altered: "Freed of normal constraints, some ... let go of their inhibitions ... without any thought of others." While normally, others in society would try to rein people in, those around are too tense to do anything about normally unaccepted behavior. The treatment of Madame Schächter, who has lost her family and has become deranged, is also shocking. Filled with dread, the Jews lose their sense of decency.

Yet the Jews are desperate to not believe the truth. When they receive word that Auschwitz is a labor camp and conditions are good, they are relieved. In an example of dramatic irony, the only person who seems to have any sense of what is coming is Madame Schächter, a madwoman.

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