Monday, September 11, 2006

"That lipstick started to give them back their humanity" - Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO

"That lipstick started to give them back their humanity."

- Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO

The sentence is from an April 1945 diary entry by Gonin and is part of his account of the liberation and relief operation in the Belsen concentration camp, at which Gonin commanded the 11th Light Field Ambulance. He describes "vividly the scenes in the camp, the illnesses (and their origins) and the heroic deeds of the British relief force".

I found it while reading Banksy's manifesto. Here's the full quote, as reproduced by Banksy:
I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and childen collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand proping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.

Source: Imperial War museum - UK

It may seem odd, but on reading that line I thought of Beauty Night.

Beauty Night is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization founded, December 15th 2000, by Caroline MacGillivray. The organization provides makeovers and other wellness programs to marginalized adults and youth.

Their programs,
provide tools for clients to increase their self esteem and find the inner strength to make positive change in their lives.

What is a "Beauty Night"?
“Beauty Nights” are our original and most popular program. All throughout the year and at various locations, volunteers offer services such as hair cutting and styling, make-up application and lessons, basic manicures and pedicures, relaxation massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and healing touch. Our image consultants help clients pick out donated clothing to take away. Clients are served healthy, delicious snacks and treats. If the venue allows it, we play music or movies for our clients. And at each Beauty Night, we give away to each client a small gift bag filled with small necessities – and some treats – including soap, shampoo, razors, nail files, nail polish, etc.

Beauty Night events take place in drop-in centres, transition homes, clinics, groups homes, hospitals and, sometimes, in salons. Beauty Nights are our most popular events, for their fun, friendship and pampering.


FYI - Given Banksy's penchant for cultural mischief ... decided to get a reference for the quote.
--------------------- Tags for information about: for:vsef, Social Economy, BeautyNight, Banksy



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Blogger glamcat007 said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Someone read this to me and I wanted a copy of it.

3:16 p.m.  

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