janine-webberThis week in college the Year 9 students were very fortunate to hear the testimony of Janine Webber, a Holocaust survivor.

Janine was born in Lwow, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine) in 1932. From 1939, Lwow was occupied by Russian forces, until 1941 when the German army occupied the town. Persecution of the Jews of Lwow started very quickly after the German occupation, and Janine and her family had to leave their apartment and all of their belongings and move into an area outside of the town, in preparation for the establishment of a ghetto.

When Janine’s family left their home, they were permitted to take only one suitcase. They were allocated one room in a house for the whole family to live in. Janine’s cousin, Nina, had already moved into the house with her parents and brother. Janine’s had a bed in the corridor. Janine’s parents dug a hole under the wardrobe, which three people could fit into. The day that Janine’s parents heard that a German raid was coming, Janine, her brother and her mother went into the hiding place. The Nazis discovered other members of Janine’s family hiding in the loft, and Janine’s father was shot. Nina’s father and 12 year old brother were deported to a concentration camp.

After a few weeks, the ghetto was established and the family once again had to move. Soon after arriving in the ghetto, janine-webberJanine’s mother became very ill with typhus. Her uncle was able to find a non-Jewish family outside of the ghetto who was prepared to hide Janine, who was by this time was 9 years old, as well as her aunt. For some time, she was locked in a small room on her own, until one day the door was unlocked and she was ordered to leave. Janine went on to live with another family, this time with her brother who was around 7 years old at the time. One day, the Polish daughter of the family that they were hiding with brought home an armed SS Officer. Janine once again had to flee, this time leaving behind her brother who she later learnt had been killed by the SS Officer. She managed to find work as a shepherdess, where she remained until the Polish family she was living with learnt of her Jewish identity and fearing for their safety brought her a train ticket to return to Lwow.

Janine’s aunt Rouja had given her the name and address of a Polish man, Edek, who was the caretaker of a convent in Lwow, and encouraged her to contact him in the case of an emergency. Janine went to Edek on her return to the town and he hid her in the attic of a building, where she was reunited with her aunt Rouja, an uncle and 12 other Jews in hiding. Soon they dug a hole under the floor of the stables and they all moved into it. The conditions in the hole were very poor, and Janine’s aunt and uncle, realising that she wouldn’t survive there much longer, managed to obtain false papers. Janine had to learn all of the details of her new identity, which was of a girl who was a survivor of a village whose inhabitants had been killed by the Ukrainians. Her aunt took her to a Polish committee which was established to help Poles who had been persecuted by Ukrainians, who took her to a convent. Janine went on to live with the Priest for a while, before moving to live with an elderly couple, where she worked as a maid.

Six months after the end of the war, Janine’s aunt returned for her. She was still afraid to admit to being Jewish and fearful of antisemitism in Poland, it was decided that they should leave for Paris.

In 1956, Janine came to the UK to improve her English, where she met and married her husband. They had two sons and two grandsons. Today, Janine still lives in London and regularly shares her testimony with schools.

Janine’s testimony will stay with our students and staff for a long time. The remarkable thing that was so inspirational about Janine was her positivity.  Despite all the unthinkable things that Janine witnessed and lived through, she is full of hope and happiness for the future.  Her quest for life and appreciation for all things in this world that is bright and beautiful has never left her.  She urged her young audience to be aware that it is possible to make a difference in society and to stand up to injustice when it happens.