When I was 16, my first vacation to Europe surprised me. But at the end of the trip for a long time to stay with me rather than the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace or canals of Venice, but ordinary aspects of life: the locals take for granted the things: road marking and the color of the logo, posters, a local snack food in the shop window, and the place of the sound and the smell of the most important.
In 1942 the Jewish Ghettos were disbanded by the Nazi government and mass deportations by train began. There were no stops for toilet breaks, and there were no amenities for those who were ill except for one bucket in the corner which, needless to say, very quickly was rendered unusable. The entire journey from city to camp was drenched in the stink of vomit, feces, and urine. The foulest aspects of man’s animal side were witnessed, within and without the trains.
For those in the camps who were witnesses to the cremation of bodies, the smell was unlike anything they had smelled before. When meat is cooked for eating, we smell simply the searing of flesh. Not so when a human body is burnt. The sickening smell experienced daily by those in the camps would have been comprised primarily of a beef-like scent from burning flesh, and a pork-like smell from human fat. This would be accompanied by the noxious odors of sulfur from burning hair and nails, a coppery metal smell from burning blood and iron-rich organs, and spinal fluid which burns with a sickly sweet musky odor reminiscent of perfume. It is a smell so thick, it can almost be tasted.
And then there was the aftermath. American GIs arriving to liberate the camps claimed they could smell the stench long before they saw them. “The smell covered the entire countryside . . . for miles around.” One Private said “disease – typhus, dysentery, and tuberculosis – was universal. The crematory had been operating around the clock. . . . he stench of death and of piles of human excrement was overpowering.”