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Helen Bamber

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Interview Summary:

Helen Bamber OBE was a psychotherapist and Human Rights activist. She was born in London in 1925 to parents of Polish background. Her father was active in helping refugees from Germany and refugees often visited the house. Helen joined the Jewish Relief Unit in 1944.  A few months after liberation in 1945, she was sent to Eilshausen to work with Henry Lunzer, the Head of the Jewish Relief in Germany and was part of the first rehabilitation teams to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  


After returning to the UK in 1947, she became a case worker for ‘the Boys’, orphaned Jewish children who were allowed to come into the UK. She met husband at the end of the war.  He came from Nuremberg and was interned and sent to Australia on the Dunera. Helen later worked for Amnesty International. In 1985 she founded the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture. She was awarded the OBE in 1995 and set up the Helen Bamber Foundation in 2005. She died, aged 89, in 2014. Dr Bea Lewkowicz interviewed Helen her for the AJR Refugee Voices Archive in 2003.  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.”

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@ AJR Refugee Voices 2020

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