To mark Holocaust Memorial Day today Lewis Wright speaks to a survivor of the Nazis who continues tirelessly to work to keep alive the memory of what happened to her family
AS a child, Janine Webber became very good at concealing herself.
Not for innocent childhood games of hide and seek, but because she wanted to live another day.
Born in Lwow in Poland (now part of the Ukraine) in 1932, Janine Webber spent much of her childhood waiting for the SS to smash their way into her home.
Her hometown was occupied by the Red Army in 1939 and then fell under Nazi control when Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941.
Immediately, Janine and her family were forced to leave their home, permitted to take just one suitcase of possessions with them, and allocated just one room in a ghetto house that would temporarily house her entire family.
Janine’s parents dug a hole under a wardrobe, in which three people could fit in the event of a raid.
When the fateful day arrived, Janine was joined by her mother and brother in their hiding place, but there was no room for other family members to join them and they were forced to take their chances hiding in the loft.
They were discovered and Janine’s father was shot. She was just nine years old. Her cousin, Nina, saw her father and 12-year-old brother deported to an extermination camp.
Now 72 years since the end of the Second World War, Janine is still living in London – where she moved with the intention of improving her English back in 1956 – and she continues to travel around the UK with the support of the Holocaust Educational Trust, sharing her story with thousands of young people in schools, universities and colleges across the country.
“It is very important for me to share my story," she said. "Nobody would know what happened to my family, to the Jewish community in Lwów which was almost completely decimated, if I did not speak. I also want students and adults to be aware of the danger of intolerance, of cruelty towards some minorities”.
Her journey will bring her to Durham in just over two weeks, where she will recount her testimony to over 100 students from the city’s university, with a number of local schools also invited to the event, which will be held at Josephine Butler College on Wednesday, February 15.
After her family were discovered, Janine’s uncle found her a refuge with a non-Jewish family, who were prepared to hide the nine-year-old along with her aunt.
Having spent a lengthy period locked in a small room on her own, the door was one day hauled open and Janine was forced to leave once again.
The Polish daughter of the family she was living with had brought home an SS officer – who she would later discover had killed her younger brother.
Janine continued to move around in order to avoid the Nazis, working first as a shepherdess, before returning to Lwów having attained false papers, where she worked as a maid for an elderly couple.
Six months after the end of the war and still fearful for her safety as a Jewish woman in Poland, Janine – now reunited with her aunt – decided to start a new life in Paris.
Ten years later, Janine migrated once more, this time to the UK with the aim of improving her English, and it was in this country where she met and married her husband. The pair had two sons and two grandsons together, and, over 60 years later, Janine still lives in London today.
“How can life go on?" she said. "I can only tell you how I understand it. After the murder of so many Jews how can life be rebuilt? How can we come to terms with that genocide and the killing of people, of children nowadays? How to adjust to life when one witnesses so much cruelty?
“These are questions which I keep asking myself.”
Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 is today Friday, January 27 and marks the 72-year anniversary since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet forces in the final months of the Second World War. The theme for this year’s commemorative events around the world is how can life go on?