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Ξ August 21st, 2005 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Politics and Society |




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.





Camp
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

 

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