The bombing seemed to last an eternity though it must only have lasted some fifteen to twenty minutes. Every time I thought it was finally over, a new wave of explosions would toss us about the cellar, and my relief at still being alive would evaporate. Then suddenly it was over.
We came out of the cellar into a different world. The first thing that struck the eye was that the sunlight had changed. Where before everything had been sharp and sparkling, now things were fuzzy and diffused as if immersed in a fog. We were inside a gigantic cloud of dust. Broken glass covered the ground like ice crystals.
Emergency vehicles and military trucks started going by outside, headed towards the station. I followed them. After walking for some five hundred meters, I passed the first corpse. A plump woman lay in a ditch, a bicycle on top of her.
On the other side of the ditch, a field with long rows of cabbages extended towards a group of greenhouses. The rows were now interrupted by a couple of bomb craters, and the greenhouses did not appear to have a single pane of glass left.
The station buildings, as well as other buildings around them, were either obliterated or burning. Rails were bent, twisted, and scattered. Railway carriages were tossed about like matchboxes. A stench of fire, explosives, and shit hung in the air.
There had been a troop train and a couple of civilian trains in the station at the time of the raid. Many of the people had been either crowding the station buildings or lying about on a wide, grassy slope by the side of the tracks.
These people were now rearranged geometrically and anatomically in diverse kaleidoscopic patterns. There were circular and semicircular swatches of them and their possessions around the bomb craters that now disfigured the meadow. Some of them were very white, others yellow or gray. Some had burst or had pieces missing. Others were unrecognizable bits. Gobbets of flesh stuck to hard surfaces. Blue, dark red, yellow, and greenish entrails and organs hung from downed and dangling power lines.
The smell of flesh, feces, explosives, and smoke was indescribable. It was a living thing that clawed its way into your lungs, your heart, and your mind. Had it not been for the dirt thrown up by the bombs, the multicolored clothing of the dead women and children would have made them look like bizarre flowers scattered in a complex pattern across the field. The gray-green soldiers blended into the background except for where the brick-red, lurid splashes of arterial blood commanded attention.
For some reason, I had always considered death as something sinister, somber, and dark. In this place, it ruled with bold effrontery: the multicolored, festively scattered innards, the bright clothes, and the cheerfully crackling flames combined with the horrible stench and the sunny spring day to create the atmosphere of a picaresque and incomprehensible carnival.
17 July 2020
Bomb-made Art, 1945
From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 93-94: