Suddenly, someone threw his arms round me in a hug: Yechiel, the Sigheter rebbe’s brother. He was weeping bitterly. I thought he was crying with joy at still being alive.
"Don't cry, Yechiel," I said. "Don't waste your tears."
"Not cry? We're on the threshold of death. Soon we shall be inside … Do you understand? Inside. How could I not cry?"
I watched the darkness fade through the bluish skylights in the roof. I was no longer afraid. I was overcome by fatigue. (3.86-90)
In a few seconds, we had ceased to be men. Had the situation not been so tragic, we might have laughed. We looked pretty strange! Meir Katz, a colossus, wore a child’s pants, and Stern, a skinny little fellow, was floundering in a huge jacket. We immediately started to switch.
I glanced over at my father. How changed he looked! His eyes were veiled. I wanted to tell him something, but I didn’t know what.
The night had passed completely. The morning star shone in the sky. I too had become a different person. The student of Talmud, the child I was, had been consumed by the flames. All that was left was a shape that resembled me. My soul had been invaded – and devoured – by a black flame. (3.95-97)
My father suddenly had a colic attack. He got up and asked politely, in German, "Excuse me … Could you tell me where the toilets are located?"
The Gypsy stared at him for a long time, from head to toe. As if he wished to ascertain that the person addressing him was actually a creature of flesh and bone, a human being with a body and a belly. Then, as if waking from a deep sleep, he slapped my father with such a force that he fell down and then crawled back to his place on all fours.
I stood petrified. What had happened to me? My father had just been struck, in front of me, and I had not even blinked. I had watched and kept silent. Only yesterday, I would have dug my nails into this criminal's flesh. Had I changed that much? So fast? Remorse began to gnaw at me. All I could think was: I shall never forgive them for this. My father must have guessed my thoughts, because he whispered in my ear:
"It doesn’t hurt." His cheek still bore the red mark of the hand. (3.117-120)