The Lipstick Effect
Recently my friend, Philip Wood from Citizen Citizen told me about a fascinating occurrence, something totally counter intuitive, that really grabbed me at a gut level. He pointed me to this article about an excerpt from the diary of one of the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from the Nazis in 1945. In January I blogged about “What Inspires You?” This real life story inspired me with hope.
And it’s also a story about lipstick.
Essentially, what Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin wrote about was the month he spent at Bergen-Belsen (one of the most notorious death camps of the holocaust), and the atrocities and horrors he saw there, along with the helplessness and shame the British soldiers felt in their inability to save every single person. But amidst all the misery, an interesting thing happened. A package full of red lipsticks arrived.
At first, the British were flabbergasted that someone in their ranks had thought a box of lipsticks would be any help at all in saving the victims of the death camps. They were in dire need of medical supplies, food. So many more pressing things in order to save lives. Wouldn’t lipstick be incidental, even an offensive offering to those in dire need?
Never underestimate the power of hope in saving a life. The lipsticks got out, and suddenly, the prisoners were reminded of a life beyond the walls of Bergen-Belsen, before there was a war. Suddenly, everyone was wearing lipstick. They didn’t have proper clothes, but they had lipstick. And that red lipstick, as Colonal Gonin put it so eloquently, started to give them back their humanity.
I don’t know how to integrate this information into my own obviously more comfortable and privileged life, but I do know that there is a message in this story. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and to share this harrowing yet somehow lovely account, in Colonel Gonin’s own words. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a rewarding one.
Hope in a tube of lipstick,