Blue Coat was honoured to host Holocaust survivor Janine Webber on 21st April as the guest speaker at our weekly Sixth Form Special. Janine’s visit was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, who also organised a visit by a group of our Sixth Form History students to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland last term.
Janine was born in Lwow, Poland in 1932. Persecution of Jews in Lwow started very quickly after its German occupation in 1941. Janine and her family were forced to move to an area on the outside of town in preparation for the establishment of a ghetto. On hearing that there would be a Nazi raid one day, Janine, her mother, and her brother hid in a hole that had been dug under the wardrobe. The Nazis discovered the other members of her family and her father was shot and he and her brother were deported to a concentration camp.
Janine was moved to the ghetto and her uncle was able to find her a non-Jewish family outside of the ghetto who were prepared to hide her. She then went to live with another family with her brother but one day the Polish daughter of the family brought home an SS officer so she was forced to flee. Her brother was killed by the SS officer. She managed to find work as a shepherdess where she remained until the family she was living with learnt of her Jewish identity.
Janine’s aunt had given her the name and address of a Polish man, Edek who was the caretaker of a convent in Lwow and she went to him and hid in the attic of a building where she was reunited with her aunt, uncle and 12 other Jews in hiding. Janine’s aunt managed to obtain fake papers for her and she was taken to a convent.
Six months after the end of the war, Janine’s aunt returned for her. Together, they left for Paris. In 1956, Janine came to England to improve her English where she met and married her husband. Today, Janine still lives in London and regularly shares her testimony with schoolchildren
Janine’s talk was followed by a question and answer session to enable students to better understand the nature of the Holocaust and to explore its lessons in more depth. The visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s extensive all year round Outreach Programme, which is available to schools across the UK.
Sixth Form student Isaac Doel said about Janine’s talk: “The Holocaust is something many students, including myself, have a fairly basic understanding of but lack any in-depth knowledge, so Janine Webber’s account of the Holocaust was incredibly valuable to all the Sixth Form. Her vivid recreation of her harrowing experiences moved everyone as she told her story. After the German invasion of Poland, Mrs Webber’s life was turned upside down as the persecution of Jews began. After losing her father to the Gestapo, watching her mother die slowly in a ghetto and her younger brother being killed, all whilst under the age of 10, Janine survived the Holocaust by evading the Nazis as she moved from hiding place to hiding place using false identity papers. Students and staff had an opportunity to ask Janine questions, all of which were met with honest and sincere answers. It is likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to hear from a Holocaust survivor, and the entire Sixth Form benefited so much from this invaluable experience.”
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “The Holocaust Educational Trust educates and engages students from across the UK, from all communities about the Holocaust and there can be no better way than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Janine’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances and by hearing her testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.
“At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.”
For more information about the Holocaust Educational Trust please visit www.het.org.uk