A woman who cared for Holocaust survivors giving testimony during a famous court case in London has published an account of events 50 years on
Pensioner June Bennett-Self fought back tears as she recalled the bravery of the survivors who gave evidence against a doctor who subjected inmates at Auschwitz to harrowing suffering.
Mrs Bennett-Self was part of the legal team defending author Leon Uris who had been accused of libeling Polish doctor Wladislaw Dering in his novel Exodus. Mr Uris had accused Dr Dering of performing unnecessary operations on inmates without anaesthetic. The jury awarded Dr Dering a halfpenny in damages at the hearing, held at the High Court in London in 1964.
At the time Mrs Bennett-Self was 21 and looking for a job where she could use her language skills. She said: “I could speak French, Italian, and a bit of German. By accident I found this job which involved me talking to people who could potentially be anywhere in the world.”
Her task on the legal team — which was commissioned by the World Jewish Congress to defend Mr Uris — was to locate witnesses and take verbatim notes of what they said in court.
“I spent hours, days and weeks searching the medical records from the camps for the doctors’ name.
“Every time it came up I noted down the names and tattoo numbers of the victims he worked on. It made me so angry about what had happened.
“Once we found the victims, the information got passed on to people who tracked them down.”
When the survivors arrived in London, it was her job to look after them and shield them from media attention.
“They came from all over the world- — Israel, Europe and the United States. They were terrified. I would take care of them in the evenings before they were due in court.”
Where they stayed was kept a closely-guarded secret, but Mrs Bennett-Self revealed: “We hid them opposite the court because it’s the last place they would look.
“Every night of the trial I would look after them, give them a cuddle and tell them it was going to be OK.
“The second they had given evidence they were flown away and I never got to say goodbye. That broke my heart.”
The pensioner, who is not Jewish, says what she heard in court has stayed with her for half a century, and still moves her to tears.
She said: “The things Dering did to them were horrific — performing castration without any aesthetic on boys and girls. I can’t imagine the pain they felt.
“They were so brave to stand there and identify him and tell the court what he did.
“He was a coward. His defence was that he was forced to do it, but there were plenty of doctors at the time that refused to perform the kinds of hideous things he did.”
Mrs Bennett-Self’s book, called The Fourth Angel and available on Amazon, is self-published. “I wanted to tell my story and I hope it does that,” she said.