Survivor's story: 'I was resourceful - I wanted to live'


Janine Webber, 80, fled her home in (then) Poland with one suitcase after the German army occupied her native Lwow in 1941. Taking refuge in a house just outside the town, she, her brother and mother hid in a hole beneath a wardrobe as “screaming” German forces entered and shot her father. Her mother died of typhus shortly afterwards. When she was nine, Ms Webber and her seven-year-old brother lived with a non-Jewish family, but were betrayed. She fled — her brother was killed by an SS officer. Never revealing her Jewish identity, she worked as a shepherdess, stayed in a convent and served as a maid before making her way to Paris six months after the war. She moved to the UK in 1956

“I always knew that they were killing Jews, so I never told anyone I was Jewish,” she recalls.

“After they shot my father, my uncle paid a family to look after my brother and me in the countryside. They were peasants. But the money must have run out, because the family brought over an SS soldier. I think he was German but he never spoke to me and I was afraid to look at his face. I noticed his boots and that he was armed. The family called me out of my hiding place and told me to start walking in front of him. I thought he would shoot me, but he didn’t, so I just kept walking.” Her brother Tunio was shot dead, but she kept walking until finding temporary refuge with a woman.

“I went home with her but was sent away when she found out I was Jewish. It was too risky for her to keep me. I didn’t tell her I was Jewish, I think she was told by the family who betrayed my brother and me. I knew I must never tell anyone I was Jewish.”

She remembers herself as “obviously resourceful. Maybe I wanted to live. People also warmed to me. I was a very sweet child and people believed what I said. I always wanted to improve my situation.”

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