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Banksy : Manifesto

An extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel
 Mervin Willett Gonin DSO
who was among the first British soldiers
to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

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 children 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.


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