BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 12:37 GMT
Bearing witness to the Holocaust
Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture
Helen Bamber now, and as she was in 1945
As the UK prepares for its first Holocaust Memorial Day, Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, recalls how she counselled survivors of Belsen concentration camp.

Nobody can actually ever, ever express what it was like to know Belsen unless one had been there.

I have to say that I didn't go at the very beginning - I wasn't there at its liberation which was quite horrific and which we know well from our screens and from testimonies.

I went there some months later after camp one, which we saw on the screens, had been burnt down. It had been burnt because of typhus and raging disease.


The horror poured out of people

By the time I got there, there were mounds - people had been buried in great numbers in ditches.

But the survivors, the displaced persons, as they then became called, were herded into what had been the German Panzer Division's barracks.

These were stone, very dour, very dark and cold buildings in which people lived many to a room without any facilities.

I think one of the most difficult things for me was listening at first to people whose experiences were so dreadful and their losses so great. You felt quite overwhelmed and unable to find a way forward.

concentration camp
Helen Bamber listened to survivors' stories
You felt unable to see what you could possibly do in the face of such horror - and the horror poured out of people.

People were emaciated; many were still dying of course, or were very ill. They would hold to you and they would dig their fingers into your arms and hold onto you in an effort to try somehow to get to you the horror of what had happened to them. It was like some kind of vomit - I can only liken it to people vomiting - it came out in a rasping sound.

But slowly over time, I began to realise that what I could do was to listen and to receive - and that is something which is actually quite difficult to do.


Often you would just sit there rocking with somebody on the ground while they told their story

To receive, not to recoil, not to give the sense that you were contaminated by what you had heard but rather that you were there to receive it all, horrible as it was and to hold it with them.

Often you would just sit there rocking with somebody on the ground while they told their story and you would receive it.

Sometimes I found it necessary to say to people who I knew were not going to live: 'You are giving me your testimony and I will hold it for you and I will honour it and I will bear witness to what has happened to you.'

I think perhaps then and now - because I am now concerned with present day survivors from over 91 different countries - one is still bearing witness in the same way and that is the first gift you can give somebody who is a survivor.

Judenplatz in Vienna
Holocaust memorial in Vienna
I think it is important to have a Holocaust Memorial Day. I think it is also important to remember that there have been many other genocides and horrors and atrocities since then.

What we have to do is to make a link without belittling or changing in any way one disaster from another. We must see the disaster in its own right.

We must see the disaster in Rwanda and Sierra Leone and in other countries where we are seeing victims of torture.

It is important to understand that these things often happen because people do nothing.

I think that for many years prior to the Holocaust, people did nothing. People were told, governments were told, decision-makers were told, the public were not as well informed as they are today, but they were informed. People did know that a disaster was about to happen. Mein Kampf was written and read.

So I am concerned not only with remembering those who died, but with those who did nothing.

I think what we have to try to do through the Holocaust Memorial Day is remember that the ordinary person, the person in the street, can, by linking with others, do something and that to protest about atrocity, cruelty and torture today is very, very important.

This is an abridged version of a longer interview with Helen Bamber - to listen to it in full click here.



AUDIO VIDEO

FORUM

TALKING POINT
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes