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Caring for Torture Victims

Lawrence Bush
August 20, 2017

Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in 1985, died at 89 on this date in 2014. Born in London in 1925, she worked briefly as a secretary for the National Association of Mental Health, which treated military veterans of World War II, then joined a Jewish effort to help survivors of the Holocaust at the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp site in Germany, where she spent two and a half years distributing aid and listening to survivors’ stories. Bamber joined Amnesty International upon its founding in 1961 and became head of its British chapter before founding her Medical Foundation (later renamed Freedom from Torture). The organization has helped more than 50,000 torture victims in ninety countries — including a Palestinian victim of Israeli torture on whose behalf she went to Israel to testify in 1993. Torture, Bamber wrote, is “a total perversion of all that is good in human relationships. It is designed to destroy not only the physical and psychological integrity of one individual, but with every blow, with every electrode, his or her family and the next generation. The body betrays and is often discarded, a body to be hated for its scars and injuries, a body which is a constant reminder even if there are no scars or remaining injuries.”

“Her approach was to treat the whole person, often in group therapy, which she saw as giving alienated victims a sense of community. She recruited dozens of professionals to treat more than 2,000 victims a year, and worked with many patients herself as a psychotherapist — which she became through experience, she said, rather than an academic degree.” --Douglas Martin, New York Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.