the smell filled my nostrils, sweet, heavy, nauseating

The corpses were piled up in a big paved courtyard, in disordered mounds, scattered here and there. An immense, haunting buzzing filled the air: thousands of heavy blue flies were hovering over the bodies, the pools of blood, the fecal matter. My boots stuck to the pavement. The dead were already swelling up, I gazed at their green and yellowish skin, their faces gone shapeless, as if they’d been beaten to death. The smell was vile; and this smell, I knew, was the beginning and the end of everything, the very signification of our existence. This thought filled me with dismay. Little groups of soldiers from the Wehrmacht equipped with gas masks were trying to disentangle the piles and line up the bodies; one of them tugged on an arm, which came off and stayed in his hand; he tossed it with a weary gesture onto another pile. “There are more than a thousand of them,” the Abwehr officer said to me, almost whispering. “All the Ukrainians and Poles they’d been keeping in prison since their invasion. We found women, even children.” I wanted to close my eyes, or put my hand over my eyes, and at the same time I wanted to look, to look as much as I could, and by looking, try to understand, this incomprehensible thing, there in front of me, this void for human thought. At a loss, I turned to the officer from the Abwehr: “Have you read Plato?” He looked at me, taken aback: “What?” — “No, it’s nothing.” I did an about-face and left the place.

— Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones (translated by Charlotte Mandell)

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