Friday’s Fabulous Female: Helen Bamber
This week’s Fabulous Female is Helen Bamber, an amazing woman who went to the Belsen concentration camp to help Holocaust survivors at merely the age of 18, and who has never stopped fighting for people. Today at the age of 87 she is still fighting for victims of torture and trafficking, through her non-profit organization.
Her Work Across the Decades
Born in May, 1925 in the UK, Helen Bamber worked as a secretary for a doctor during World War II. At the end of the war she volunteered to help rehabilitate, both physically and psychologically, the thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors. Only twenty years old, Helen did an amazing job and quickly became one of the people in charge of organizing the relief efforts.
In 1947 she returned to England, but continued her work with the Jewish refugees while simultaneously studying to become a psychotherapist, specially trained to work with disturbed young adults and children.
Throughout the years she continued to work with the most vulnerable people, helping to start Amnesty International in 1961, and The Medical Group in 1974, which became the Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture in 1985.
Helen Bamber has frequently talked about the importance of being there for the victim, and how that might play the crucial role in their recovery.
‘People wanted to tell their story and I was able to receive it. They would hold me and dig their fingers in and rasp this story out. Somehow it was like a vomit. It didn’t matter what language it was in, or what the words were. 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 realise that that was all I could do – I couldn’t solve anything. But I could listen.’
These days her focus has somewhat shifted, to people who have undergone a different kind of torture, from being the victims of trafficking. Her foundation helps and supports some of the, conservatively estimated, 4,000 women who are trafficked each year. Bearing witness to their pain and their experiences:
The girl was one of the lucky ones – she managed to run away. But her body, says Bamber, still bears the scars. ‘She is very fearful. She is fearful of going to be bed at night because of the nightmares. She is fearful of walking down the street because everyone will know what happened to her. She is fearful to look in the mirror because it reminds her of what was done to her body. She is fearful of everything and everyone and above all she is fearful of being sent back.’
When she was asked what kept her going, she answered:
‘I don’t know if the reason I do what I do has a particularly noble motive behind it,’ she says finally. ‘I suspect that if I didn’t do something about what I feel is something that should no longer exist in a civilised world, I would be very depressed. I don’t have enormous expectations but the word compulsion is not an erroneous one. I am compelled to do what I do. And I think by now, reaching the age that I have, and the experience that I have, I believe that I do it quite well in the consulting room.’
That, however, doesn’t keep her from being for euthanasia – and even considering that she might choose that route herself one day:
‘I would like to think I would have the courage to put an end to it if I had to.’ To work? I ask. ‘No, to myself. Perhaps that will frighten people and I should not say it. But I would like to think I had some control if it comes to that.’
Did you know about Helen Bamber and the amazing work she does?
Any other Fabulous Females that I should know about and feature?
- Posted in: Equality ♦ Friday's Fabulous Female ♦ History ♦ Human Rights
- Tagged: Amnesty International, Bamber, England, equal rights, Friday's Fabulous Female, Helen, Helen Bamber, history, Holocaust, human rights, Human trafficking, List of Holocaust survivors, sexual abuse, strong women, torture, torture victims, trafficking, trafficking victims, Twentieth Century, victims, women's rights, World War II