Human rights champion Helen Bamber dies

By Marcus Dysch, August 22, 2014
Helen Bamber (Photo: Helen Bamber Foundation)

Helen Bamber (Photo: Helen Bamber Foundation)

Veteran human rights champion Helen Bamber has died at the age of 89.

Following the Holocaust, Ms Bamber began her compassionate work by helping victims of torture and atrocities.

She was born into a Polish-Jewish family in north London in 1925 and as a teenager joined efforts to combat Oswald Mosley’s fascists.

At the end of the war Ms Bamber joined relief teams at liberated Bergen-Belsen and later worked specifically with more than 700 child survivors of Auschwitz.

Ms Bamber’s decades of work were recognised with an OBE for services to human rights.

She is the heroine in so many people’s stories

Speaking after winning Jewish Care’s Woman of Distinction award in 2008, she recalled growing up in the 1930s “at a time of great deprivation, unemployment and hardship. The Jewish community was very much the scapegoat.

“I felt I had lived with the knowledge for a long time that terrible things had happened in the world. But there were survivors and I felt something could be done to help them.”

Simon Morris, chief executive of Jewish Care said: “We were delighted to acknowledge her tremendous achievements.

"She was a real aichet chayal and news of her death comes as a great loss to the community.”

After working with Amnesty International, she founded the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in 1985, through which thousands of people were helped.

She later established the Helen Bamber Foundation, which assists those who have suffered domestic slavery, ethnic violence and forced prostitution in countries including Rwanda, Ethiopia and China.

“I feel my work is not done and my younger colleagues need to take it on, which they are doing,” she said. “As long as I have a voice and I believe in the truth of what I am doing, I have a job to do.”

TJ Birdi, executive director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “Helen’s lifelong ability to always speak truth to power was a quality that is rare and has inspired so many.

“Always working with the most vulnerable and marginalised, in the most difficult of circumstances, with Helen it was possible to stand at the edge of the world and know how to first find, and then hold an ember of life after atrocity.

“Refusing to be a bystander, her lifelong ability to represent those whose voices have been taken away was a rare and inspiring quality that earned her respect at the highest levels.

“Helen’s iconic status as one of the top 100 women of our time represents the strength in her belief of finding and maintaining dignity for others. Through doing this, she believed we found dignity and humanity in ourselves.

“Tens of thousands of survivors and their families know that Helen personally changed their lives, and many more have been spared further atrocity by her work. I will be eternally grateful to have worked alongside her.

“She is the heroine in so many people’s stories and we, together with an extraordinary team, will in turn bear witness to her story by leading her Foundation to change more lives.”

Karen Pollock, CEO of Holocaust Educational Trust said: "She was an inspiration to us all.

“She gave the survivors she worked with - who had endured years of brutality - dignity and hope."

World Jewish Relief campaigns manager, Richard Verber said they feel a strong link with her achievements as a campaigner because of her work with the Jewish Refugee Council, who they fund.

He said:“Her humanity in the face of sheer brutality provides a beacon of hope for all of those who seek a more just world.

“We hugely admire her work, helping society’s most vulnerable people.”

Last updated: 11:09am, August 28 2014