smell culture reader


i can't just leave this amazing passage unquoted, it's from the book the smell culture reader, quoting olga lengyel who wrote of her experience in auschwitzthe hideousness of this account is dumbfounding:

the most striking example is lengyel's account of one of the appearances of the feared irma griese, the "blond angel," an exceptionally beautiful" ss woman. "her beauty was so effective that even though her daily visits meant roll call and selections for the gas chambers, the internees were completely entranced, gazing at her and murmuring, 'how beautiful she is.'" it is in this "aesthetic torture," degrading the prisoners by hinting at the world outside, that smell plays an explicit role and in fact comes very close to being used actively as an "instrument of torture" and being perceived as such.
"wherever she went she brought the scent of rare perfume. her hair was sprayed with a complete range of tantalizing odors: sometimes she blended her own concoctions. her immodest use of perfume was perhaps the supreme refinement of her cruelty. the internees who had fallen to a state of physical degradation, inhaled these fragrances joyfully. by contrast, when she left us and the stale, sickening odor of burnt human flesh, which covered the camp like a blanket, crept over us again, the atmosphere became even more unbearable." 




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