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Helen Bamber

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 07 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5924
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg

Human rights advocate who cared for victims of torture and other abuses for nearly 70 years

Helen Bamber was 20 years old in 1945 when, as she put it, her journey began. The second world war was over, but countless victims remained. Bamber, who lived in London, wanted to help them. She joined the Jewish Relief Unit and was dispatched to Germany to work at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

When liberated in April 1945, the camp held 60 000 starving and diseased inmates, and 13 000 corpses that had not been buried. Conditions were so horrific that an additional 4000 inmates died after liberation. When Bamber arrived months later, the original camp had been burned to the ground in an attempt to halt a raging typhus epidemic and lice infestation. Remaining inmates were moved to the nearby German Panzer Division’s barracks.

Bamber, who was less than five feet tall, later recalled seeing “awful sights, amputees, gangrene, festering sores.” She saw women who had lost loved ones, “pounding the floor, sobbing, pulling their hair, banging their heads against the wall.” She listened as survivors told her everything “over and over and over again,” like “a pouring out of some ghastly vomit like a kind of horror.”

“The most …

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