Inside the cattle truck, the conditions are dire – no room to sit down; the
eighty occupants have little food and hardly any water. It soon becomes evident that they are traveling outside of Hungary and when they stop at Kaschau they realize that they are now in Czechoslovakia.
German troops take over control of the train and demand that all the
deportees turn over their valuables or they will be shot. The number of Jews in each car is counted, and at the end of the journey if anyone is missing, the entire carload will be shot. As the journey
continues, one of the deportees, a Madam Sch'chter becomes hysterical. She is haunted by terrifying visions of burning and death.
The others try to restrain her and they end up gagging and beating her in order to control her hysteria.
Finally, they reach Auschwitz, Poland.
They are told false information that families will remain together. The young will work in the factories and the less able, in the fields. They are taken to Birkenau, which is the reception centre for the Auschwitz compound. Here, the air is full of the stench of burning flesh and the night sky is flecked with the flames coming from the tall chimneys. The doors of the cars are flung open and the trustees in striped uniforms force everyone out of the boxcars using clubs.
We note the use of misinformation by the system when deporting the Jews.
Obviously the aim is to avoid the deportees panicking, so they have no
inkling of what is in store for them until it is too late.
Again, those in Elie’s boxcar obtain a prophecy of what is in store for them
from the hysterical Madam Sch'chter. She lets out a piercing cry, “Fire!
I can see fire! I can see fire! '' Look! Look at it! Fire! A terrible fire! Mercy! Oh, that fire!” The hysterical woman has her arm stretched out towards the window whilst she screams. Those near the window say that there is nothing there, only darkness. Madam Sch'chter’s premonition is again unheeded by those around her. She is subdued and beaten for her hysteria, but all too quickly her visions become reality when we read, “And as the train stopped, we saw this time that flames were gushing out of a tall chimney into the black sky. '' We looked at the flames in the darkness. There was an abominable odor floating in the air. Suddenly, our doors opened. Some odd-looking characters, dressed in striped shirts and black trousers leapt into the wagon. They held electric torches and truncheons. They began to strike out to right and left shouting, ‘Everybody gets out.’”
Now, too late, Elie and his fellow prisoners realize the truth in both
Moshe’s and Sch'chter’s words. Elie and his family have missed the opportunity to escape to Palestine.
The efficient German system transported millions of Jews across Europe with
little resistance, and historians have always wondered why so many Jews complied meekly with the orders of those above them.
One suspects that fear and evil are the guiding forces for this machine. We will observe later on what Elie will do in order to survive. The fear of death is a great motivator.
The fear experienced by the Jews forces them to comply with the wishes of
their controlling masters; each one individually behaves in a docile manner in order to survive. There is, therefore, no united front, no organized resistance; each deportee is concerned for himself, some
protecting their nearest relatives.
The Germans recognised that splitting the families up would undermine any collective resistance. The men would fear for their womenfolk and children if they were to show any signs of resistance. Unknown to many of them, the children’s fate was sealed together with most of the women – being regarded as unproductive by the German war machine.
However, fear was not confined to the inmates alone.
The German S.S. system couldn’t function without fear, and this emanated from the top of the system, all the way down to the ordinary soldier. For the soldier to survive, he had to obey orders or face death. Soldiers would pass this fear on to the trustees, who were mainly Jews forced into over-lording their fellow prisoners. In doing this work efficiently, they prolonged their own survival.
We are now, however, aware that there was resistance by the Jews and that
there were organizations working in order to free imprisoned Jewish workers. One example of this is found in the film ‘Schindler’s List’ based on Thomas Keneally’s novel.