It feels ironic to me that at the same time as thinking and writing about the issue of silence, I seem to have so much to say! One thought led to another, however, and there wasn’t enough space in my last post to write about a headline that impacted on me before leaving for Scotland.
On August 21st, the national papers reported the death of Helen Bamber, psychotherapist and human rights activist.
I was really saddened by news of her death – ‘the loss of another wonderful woman whose life affected those of others in so many ways,’ as Susie Orbach commented.
I had the good fortune to meet Helen Bamber in a professional capacity some years ago when she was the founder of the organisation, then known as The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, now named the Freedom from Torture. Passionate, warm, articulate and compassionate beyond belief, hearing her speak inspired me for many years to come. I was (and will continue to be) completely in awe of her immense courage and extraordinary capacity to take on the pain and suffering of so many men, women and children.
Thinking about her death as I write this, takes me right back to the issue of silence. Helen Bamber didn’t stay silent. She spoke up and became a crucial voice for others – for those who were so traumatised by what they’d experienced at the hands of their fellow human beings, that they were silenced by their pain.
At first, Helen Bamber said she felt useless in the face of so much suffering. Gradually, however, she realised that, while she couldn’t change the past, she could at least listen.
‘People wanted to tell their story and I was able to receive it,’ she told an interviewer from ‘The Observer’ in 2008, when relaying her experience of working with survivors of Nazi concentration camps.
‘They would hold me and dig their thin fingers into my arm and rasp this story out … 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.’
Helen Bamber helped to establish the first medical group in the British section of Amnesty International, which recorded testimony and documented evidence of human rights violations.
Thank goodness for the likes of her – courageous enough not to remain silent; to speak up against the horrors of the Holocaust and the subsequent world-wide atrocities and violations of human rights – and essentially, enabling victims of torture to find their own voice to do the same:
‘The crucial lesson to master is how to hold, contain and sustain people who have suffered immense atrocity and loss.’ to quote Helen Bamber, herself.
A truly remarkable woman. Here’s an extract taken from the Helen Bamber Foundation literature, just a small part of the extraordinary legacy she has left behind her:
‘For almost seventy years, Helen dedicated her life to those who suffered torture, trafficking, slavery and other forms of extreme human cruelty. She began her career aged 20, working with survivors of the holocaust in the former concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. Since 1945, she has helped tens of thousands of men, women and children to confront the horror and brutality of their experiences.’