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The University of Southampton
The Parkes Institute

Howard Rein Lecture Event

Howard Rein
18:00 - 19:30
27 October 2020
Online Event

Event details

Part of the Parkes Institute Annual Lecture Series 2020/21. Chaired by Professor Neil Gregor.

Dr Aimee Bunting with Dr Tony Kushner
Dr Aimee Bunting with Professor Tony Kushner

The Medical Liberation of Belsen: British Doctors as Co-Presents to the Holocaust

The medical liberation of Bergen Belsen concentration camp in spring 1945 was a complex operation involving scores of British doctors, including students, and nurses. Faced with an unprecedented health emergency, with tens of thousands at the point of death, it has not been without subsequent controversy – it was a story made up of many different elements - bravery and brilliant innovation as well as unwitting mistakes and insensitivities. This remarkable episode is becoming more firmly established in medical history and medical students’ work has also been recently memorialised in the form of a plaque in King’s College, London.

Our Howard Rein Memorial Lecture will take a different approach to the institutional work that has been so far carried out, focusing instead on the impact on the individual medical personnel who were there and whose lives were subsequently shaped by Belsen. We will discuss Brigadier Glyn Hughes who was one of the key figures not only in the medical liberation but also in shaping the memory of Belsen thereafter. Less well-known is Robert Collis, perhaps more famous in the rehabilitation of Christy Brown as represented in the film My Left Foot.

By exploring Collis especially, we will show the profound impact Belsen had on its medical liberators, in his case blurring his future identity between the categories of non-Jew and Jew. In turn, this profound impact – on those they helped and on themselves – we will suggest that we need a new category in Holocaust studies beyond those of ‘bystander’ or ‘witness’, using instead the term ‘co-presents’ which allows much more for their individual agency. In both the cases of Hughes and Collis, we would like to emphasise, the empathy with and care for the Jews and others they were helping was in the humane medical tradition that Howard Rein was such a wonderful example.

Speaker information

Dr Aimee Bunting ,Dr Aimee Bunting is Teacher of History and Sixth Form Tutor at The Godolphin and Latymer School in London. She was lecturer in Jewish history and culture at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish and non-Jewish Relations at the University of Southampton where Aimee taught a wide variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses on Jewish history and on the Holocaust. She is now an active Honorary Research Fellow at the Parkes Institute. Her research interests focus on the Holocaust and especially Allied responses and issues of representation. She has published articles on the liberation of Bergen Belsen and on British responses to the Holocaust both during the 1930 and 1940s and today. Aimee also works on Jewish responses to apartheid South Africa, the nature and use of Holocaust survivor testimony and museum representation of the Holocaust. Aimee has delivered papers at the Australian Association of Jewish Studies conference at the University of Sydney both in 2010 and again in 2012 as part of a joint University of Sydney and Parkes Institute conference on ‘The Holocaust and Legacies of Race in the Postcolonial World 1945 to the Present.’ Aimee has given papers in South Africa as part of the partnership between the Parkes Institute and the University of Cape Town, firstly at the 2010 conference on ‘The Archive and Jewish Migration’ and then in 2013 at the conference on ‘Jews, Colonialism and Post Colonialism’ where Aimee explored the responses of renowned Jewish actor Antony Sher to his childhood in apartheid South Africa. Aimee participated in the 2015 conference in Cape Town on the subject of ‘Old World/New World – Jews in Transition.’ Her paper considered the life and work of Dr Robert Collis, leader of one of the medical teams at the liberation of Bergen Belsen and co-present to the Holocaust, who went on to adopt two Jewish survivor children. She also gave a Holocaust-related paper in the ‘Jews, Race and Space’ 2017 Cape Town international conference and led her school Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in 2020 using the example of Eleanor Rathbone on the theme ‘Be the Light in the Darkness’ and regularly gives lectures to schools on Holocaust themes. Aimee is currently developing further work jointly with Professor Tony Kushner on the nature of the ‘co-present’ to the Holocaust in what will be a major monograph.

Professor Tony Kushner ,Tony Kushner is Professor in the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations and History Department at the University of Southampton. Educated at the University of Sheffield (BA and PhD) and the University of Connecticut (MA), he was formerly historian for the Manchester Jewish Museum. He then moved to Southampton to be director of the Parkes Institute in 1986, developing it to be one of the largest centres for Jewish studies in Europe.

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