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Liquid Fire – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman

April 4th, 2012 · No Comments · Description, Writing, WW2

During a German artillery attack on the right bank of the Volga during the Battle of Stalingrad:

Suddenly he realised what had happened: the oil-tanks were on fire. Flaming oil was streaming past towards the Volga.

It seemed impossible to escape from the liquid fire. It leaped up, humming and crackling, from the streams of oil that were filling the hollows and craters and rusing down the communication trenches. Saturated with oil, even the clay and stone were beginning to smoke. The oil itself was gushing out in black glossy streams from the tanks that had been riddled by incendiary bullets; it was as though sheets of flame and smoke had been sealed inside these tanks and were now slowly unrolling.

The life that had reigned hundreds of millions of years before, the terrible life of the primeval monsters, had broken out of its deep tombs; howling and roaring, stamping its huge feet, it was devouring everything round about. The fire rose thousands of feet, carrying with it clouds of vaporised oil that exploded into flame only high in the sky. The mass of flame was so vast that the surrounding whirlwind was unable to bring enough oxygen to the burning molecules of hydro-carbon; a black, swaying vault separated the starry sky of autumn from the burning earth. It was terrible to look up and see a black firmament streaming with oil.

The columns of flame and smoke looked at one moment like living beings seized by horror and fury, at another moment like quivering poplars and aspens. Like women with long, streaming hair, the black clouds and red flames joined together in a wild dance.

The blazing oil formed a thin film over the water, hissing, smoking and twisting as it was caught by the current.

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