Mrs. Schächter had lost her mind. On the first day of the journey she had already begun to moan. She kept asking why she had been separated from her family. Later, her sobs and screams became hysterical.
On the third night, as we were sleeping, some of us sitting, huddled against each other, some of us standing, a piercing cry broke the silence:
"Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!"
There was a moment of panic. Who had screamed? It was Mrs. Schächter. Standing in the middle of the car, in the faint light filtering through the windows, she looked like a withered tree in a field of wheat. She was howling, pointing through the window:
"Look! Look at this fire! This terrible fire! Have mercy on me!"
Some pressed against the bars to see. There was nothing. Only the darkness of night. (2.13-18)
It took us a long time to recover from this harsh awakening. We were still trembling, and with every screech of the wheels we felt the abyss opening beneath us. Unable to still our anguish, we tried to reassure each other:
"She [Mrs. Schächter] is a mad, poor woman …"
Someone had placed a damp rag on her forehead. Be she nevertheless continued to scream:
"Fire! I see a fire!"
She continued to scream and sob fitfully.
"Jews, listen to me," she cried. "I see a fire! I see flames, huge flames!"
It was as though she were possessed by some evil spirit.
We tried to reason with her, more to calm ourselves, to catch our breath, than to soothe her:
"She is hallucinating because she is thirsty, poor woman … That’s why she speaks of flames devouring her …"
But it was all in vain. Our terror could no longer be contained. Our nerves had reached a breaking point. Our very skin was aching. It was as though madness had infected all of us. We gave up. A few young men forced her to sit down, then bound and gagged her. (2.19-32)
And so an hour or two passed. Another scream jolted us. The woman had broken free of her bonds and was shouting louder than before:
"Look at the fire! Look at the flames! Flames everywhere…"
Once again, the young men bound and gagged her. When they actually struck her, people shouted their approval:
"Keep her quite! Make that madwoman shut up. She’s not the only one here …"
She received several blows to the head, blows that could have been lethal. Her son was clinging desperately to her, not uttering a word. He was no longer crying. (2.34-38)