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Janine Webber, Holocaust Survivor talks on prejudice at Chigwell and Hainault United Synagogue
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Tuesday 13th August 2019

Tisha B'Av is always an emotional day. It was made even more so last Sunday when Holocaust survivor, Janine Webber addressed the Chigwell and Hainault United Synagogue community. For nearly an hour and a half, both in telling her remarkable story and answering questions, Janine spoke with an eloquence and fluency that belied her 87 years. Her audience was captivated and as Rabbi Boruch Davis commented, we lived her story through her eyes.

 

Born in 1932 into an ordinary Jewish family in Lvov, Poland, Janine lived with her parents and brother in a modest apartment. Always a happy child, she often went to Shul on Shabbat with her adored father. When the Nazis occupied Poland in 1941, Janine and her family hid. By hiding behind holes in wardrobes and by her father on one occasion jumping from a 2nd floor balcony and breaking his leg they avoided arrest until the Nazis eventually discovered her father and shot him dead. The disconsolate family moved to the Lvov Ghetto with other family members including her 19 year old aunt, Nina. Soon afterwards Janine's mother was struck with typhus and died in a rat infested cellar in the Ghetto. On her Aunt's advice, 9 year old Janine and her 7 year old brother crawled under the fence and tried to escape but soon returned after being blackmailed by Polish children to give them their precious coats. Escaping again the children took refuge with a Polish farmer who let them stay in his stables. After being forced to move, they again crawled back into the Ghetto where their Uncle found a Catholic family to look after the children. Unfortunately, the Nazis caught them. Her darling brother was shot but for some unknown, miraculous reason the soldier let Janine escape.

 

It was soon afterwards that Janine met a remarkable Catholic Pole called Edek. This courageous 19 year old underground fighter, took pity on Janine. Edek hid Janine,  Nina and her Uncle together with 11 other Jews first of all in a loft and then what amounted to  hole in the ground for a year. One consequence was that Janine lost her ability to walk properly but in subsequent years she defied the doctors to recover. Edek's courage has resulted in him being honoured at Yad Vashem and last year Janine collaborated with an unlikely source - an English rapper and composer called Kapoo and film director Malcolm Green - to make a short documentary about Edek. 

 

Through her ingenuity, Nina managed to obtain false papers and encouraged Janine to survive by spending the rest of the war years pretending to be a Catholic girl. She variously stayed with members of the Polish community, in a Convent, as an 11 year old maid with a Polish family and then had to take Holy Communion to maintain her false identity.

 

After the war, Janine was rescued by her Aunt and spent time in Paris in a Jewish Children's Home. She became fluent in French and at the age of 24 came to England where she married and now has 2 sons and 2 grandsons. Nina also moved to the U.K.  Like many survivors, Janine was encouraged not to talk about her experiences. She lived with nightmares for many years. Now she regularly tells her story around the U.K. including at the National Holocaust Centre in Nottingham. Janine concluded her talk by telling the community how she has taught her children to "stand up to prejudice." This she has done throughout her life and we normal mortals can only admire her courage with awe and wonder.

This was an evening that will long live in our collective memories. Our very grateful thanks to Rabbi Goodwin for organising

Article by Ian Murray at Chigwell and Hainault United Synagogue

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