Human rights campaigner Helen Bamber dies, aged 89

Helen Bamber

Human rights campaigner Helen Bamber has died, aged 89, the charitable foundation set up in her name has said.

Ms Bamber began helping victims of torture and atrocities of war in 1945, when she worked with survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.

In a career lasting nearly 70 years she worked to promote human rights and set up the Helen Bamber Foundation in 2005.

Film stars Colin Firth and Emma Thompson paid tribute to a "human rights icon".

In a statement Ms Bamber's foundation said it was "with deep anguish" that it was announcing the death of its founder.

It said she had helped "tens of thousands of men, women and children to confront the horror and brutality of their experiences".

'Life-changing'

Ms Bamber, who had Polish Jewish ancestry, was born in north London in 1925 and lived in the area for the majority of her life.

As a teenager she had joined protesters opposing Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists.

In 1945, she was a member of one of the first relief teams to enter the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, helping survivors and the "many thousands" from the camps who remained displaced after the war ended.

Two years later, she was appointed to the Committee for the Care of Children from Concentration Camps, to take care of 722 young orphan children who had been incarcerated at Auschwitz concentration camp.

She helped to establish the first medical group in the British section of Amnesty International, which recorded testimony and documented evidence of human rights violations.

Ms Bamber founded the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture in 1985 and was named European Woman of Achievement in 1993.

She was awarded an OBE in 1997.

She also helped with the 2013 film The Railway Man - about a British officer captured by the Japanese in the Second World War - in which Firth starred.

The actor said his first meeting with Ms Bamber had been "life-changing", saying the compassion she had showed touched him for life.

'Great listener'

"I marvelled that anyone could find the strength to engage with so many desperate stories without being engulfed by them," Firth said.

"Her courage, wisdom and pragmatism were formidable."

Emma Thompson, who is president of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said Ms Bamber was a "great listener and an incredible interpreter" who never let her "imagination run dry".

TJ Birdie, executive director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said Ms Bamber was a "heroine in so many people's stories", helping those whose "voices have been taken away".

She said "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".

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