How I survived the Shoah and why I share my story

Janine Webber explains why later generations must learn that despite our differences, it is our humanity that should bind us together

January 26, 2023 18:43

I am a Holocaust survivor. I am just an ordinary person but I have experienced (and persevered through) extraordinary circumstances.

I was born in Lwow in Poland in 1932 to my parents Alfred and Lipka. When I was nine years old, in June 1941, the Nazis invaded. The persecution of Jews began immediately and many people were murdered within weeks of the invasion.

As the Nazi threat increased, my family and I had to leave our home and move into an area on the edge of the city in preparation for the establishment of a ghetto.

We were only allowed to take one small suitcase and were forced to live in a small, cramped house with my aunt’s family and two other families.

The living conditions were appalling and we lived in constant fear of Nazi raids. My parents dug a hiding place under a wardrobe but it was only big enough for my mother, my brother and me.

One day, the Gestapo forced their way in and took my father and grandmother away. They shot my father and I never saw my grandmother again.

I then had to move into a ghetto with 120,000 other Jews. The conditions were atrocious and the overcrowding was unbearable.

Everyone was starving and it wasn’t long until disease started to spread. My mother fell ill with typhus and my uncle hid her in the cellar to protect her. Not soon after, she died. She was just 29.

My uncle was frightened of what could happen to me and my brother. So he arranged for a Polish farmer to hide us and my aunt Rouja.

However, it was not the refuge we had hoped for. The farmer locked me away and harassed my aunt, who ran away to escape him.

I was ordered to leave and my uncle found another farming family willing to hide me and my brother.

But the family’s daughter soon brought a member of the SS to the farm. For some reason, he let me go but they killed my brother. He was just seven.

My aunt had given me the name and address of an emergency contact — a Polish man, Edek, who was a caretaker at a convent. I went to him and he hid me in an attic. It was here that I was reunited with my aunt and uncle and 12 other Jews. Edek was an ordinary man but he was a hero. He put himself in great danger by hiding us.

The situation was becoming more dangerous so Edek moved us into an underground bunker. I stayed there for almost a year. There was no fresh air, no daylight and only bread and raw onions for food. It was difficult to move around and my legs grew so weak I began to lose the strength to walk.

My aunt arranged false papers for me. I learned all the details of my new identity as a Polish-Catholic girl and went to live in a convent in Krakow. I then lived with an elderly couple as their maid until the war ended.

Six months after liberation, I was reunited with my aunt. We continued to fear antisemitism and eventually moved to Paris.

In 1956, I came to England, met my husband and started a family.

I share my testimony to remember the six million Jewish people who were murdered; to remember my family and to honour those who helped me survive.

I hope that those who listen learn about the Holocaust and remember the innocent people who were murdered.

But I also hope that they will live their lives knowing that we are all human beings and that, despite our differences, it is our humanity which should bind us together.

We must never forget the Holocaust and, above all, we must not hate.

Janine Webber contributes to the Holocaust Educational Trust’s outreach programme, which enables schools, universities and other organisations across the UK to hear the testimonies of survivors in person or online

January 26, 2023 18:43

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