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Helen Bamber

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Born in UK
Mode of Arrival:
UK citizen

Interview Summary:

Born in London in 1925 to parents of Polish background.  Father was active in helping refugees from Germany and refugees often visited the house.  Evacuated to Yorkshire.


At the end of the war she wanted to get involved in reparation and joined the Jewish Relief Unit in 1944.  Went to Kibbutz and learnt Yiddish, map reading and other skills.  One important lesson she learnt was that everyone could be helped, but perhaps one should concentrate on the young.  She worked for two years with survivors in Bergen Belsen.  


When she came back to London she worked with the ‘Boys’, the orphaned boys and children who were allowed to come into the UK.  Met husband at the end of the war.  He came from Nuremberg who was interned and sent to Australia on the Dunera. Later she worked for Amnesty and in 1985 founded the Medical Foundation for the victims of Torture.  The building where the interview was conducted and the Foundation is housed was given to the Foundation by the family of a German Jewish refugee, who thought that the work of the Foundation is an important legacy which links the fact of the German Jewish refugees to the refugees of today.

My father knew about Kristallnacht. We knew a lot of what was going on, and people did. The fact that people said they didn’t know, if you wanted to know, you would know, and my father wanted to know. For my mother, it was hard for her. We got poorer and poorer. Probably my father’s finances were involved to some extent. The war came.

I had a certain training in bearing quite difficult situations. I found that there was an organisation called the Jewish Relief Unit that was training people to go to Germany or elsewhere immediately after the war and I joined. There was discussion with people about what to expect and how we were going to cope, and we were posed certain very difficult questions. One difficult question was: what do you do in the face of people you cannot help? What do you do, faced with that? The answer I came up with and I hope I am correct, was that we had to learn that we couldn’t help everybody.

I do believe that the Jewish community and many have helped enormously in different ways, with clothes, with support for the Medical Foundation. It is important to be able to say, “This is from somebody you don’t know, you have no idea and will probably never meet them, but they care sufficiently through their own suffering and background to want to give something, however small.”


@ Refugee Voices 2020

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