Good listenerHelen Bamber

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

Born in Britain to Polish Jews in 1925, as Bamber grew up in London her father would read to her from Hitler’s Mein Kampf and had her listen to speeches from Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels to teach her how easily politicians could manipulate language and, thus, their followers’ perceptions. As Jews, “I was well aware that we would be annihilated,” she remembered later. “By the time I was 10 I knew it all.” But she survived the blitz on London and, when Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated, Bamber, who wasn’t quite 20 years old, volunteered to aid the victims there. She had already been working for Britain’s National Association of Mental Health, which treated soldiers returning from the front, but had to defy her mother to join the Jewish Relief Unit, who worked under the United Nations to help Holocaust survivors.

She was sent to Belsen, where about 70,000 had died, as the personal assistant to the Director of the JRU, to care for 12,000 survivors. “People wanted to tell their story and I was able to receive it,” she said in 2008. “They would hold me and dig their fingers in and rasp this story out…. They would rock back and forth and I would say to them, ‘I will tell your story. Your story will not die.’ It took me a long time to realize that that was all I could do.” After 2-1/2 years of that, she returned to Britain, just as child Holocaust survivors started to arrive, and she worked with them, too. When that work drew to a close, she went on to work as a social worker in hospitals, but in the late 1950s she learned of the horrific torture being inflicted in other wars, such as the Algerian War. She joined Amnesty International when it was started in 1961, and helped it set up a medical section staffed with specialists in treating torture victims. In 1985, she split off on her own, creating the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, now the largest organization in the world that works exclusively with torture victims. In less than 30 years, it has helped more than 50,000 torture victims from more than 90 countries. She was so dedicated to the treatment of torture victims that in 2002 she resigned as the foundation’s director to give her more time to treat patients. She retired in 2013, but still pitched in as “Director Emeritus”. She died August 21, at 89.

From This is True for 24 August 2014