Holocaust Memorial Day: Genocide survivors share their stories
- Credit: Archant
Janine Webber grew up in the Polish city of Lwow, surrounded by her loving mother, father and brother. But her life was ripped apart by the horrors unleashed by the Nazis and at a time when she should have been enjoying the frivolity of childhood, she was all but alone.
And now, 70 years on from the end of the Second World War, Janine, who spoke at Havering’s Holocaust Memorial Day reception, has recalled the most painful chapter of her past, which began at the age of nine.
Janine was born in 1932 in Lwow (now Lviv, part of the Ukraine) and grew up in a flat with her moderately religious family, made up of mother Lipka, father Alfred and younger brother Tunio.
Life was how it should have been, until 1939.
Janine, now 82, said: “When the war started Germany and Russia had an agreement to divide Poland in two and the Russians came when I was seven.
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“For me life didn’t change. But then in 1941 the Germans started moving east and came to Lwow.
“That is when the persecution of Jews started.”
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The Nazis began rounding up Jewish men and the family was placed in grave danger for the first time.
Alfred rushed into their home shouting that the Nazis were after him and, fearful for his life, he jumped from the family’s balcony to the one below.
He hid while his wife let the Germans inside.
Alfred escaped with a broken leg. But he was not as fortunate during his next encounter with the Nazis, when the family were living in a small house after being ordered to leave their flat.
Janine said: “We heard they were coming. My parents had made a hole under the wardrobe and my mother, brother and I hid.
“But my father and grandmother hid in the loft and they caught them and shot my father.”
Janine is uncertain as to her grandmother’s fate, but believes she was killed.
The family was to suffer even more heartache.
In the “appalling” conditions of the Lwow Ghetto, Janine saw her mother die of typhus and later, when she and Tunio stayed with a Polish family, they were betrayed.
“The SS killed my seven-year-old brother,” said Janine, “But they didn’t kill me.”
Janine went on to hide at a number of places, including a convent by pretending to be Catholic, and ended up in a children’s home in Poland.
But, with antisemitism still rife, her aunt took her out and they moved to France.
In 1956, Janine travelled to England and eventually settled. She now lives in London with husband Edward, 84, and has two sons and two grandsons.
But the terror of her past has always remained.
“I tried to bury it inside me. I was hoping I would forget, but I don’t think you can forget a traumatic experience like that.
“That is why I talk and visit places.
“I feel if I didn’t tell my story, nobody would know what happened to my family.”
A time of bloodshed and the most inhumane of acts has borne a charity with a positive message of change for the future, thanks to Eric Murangwa.
Eric founded Football for Hope, Peace and Unity after Rwanda was savaged by its 1994 genocide, which saw an estimated 800,000 people killed in 100 days.
Most of the victims were Tutsis and most of the perpetrators Hutus.
Through the charity, Eric promotes the values of tolerance and reconciliation among Rwandan youths, but it would never have existed had he been another of the genocide’s
The former footballer, who spoke at South Hornchurch Library on Thursday, was thrust into danger as a Tutsi, with five armed men storming into his home to look for weapons they believed were being hidden.
Eric saved himself by proving he was a footballer at Rayon Sports and, over the coming months, hid with teammates and others.
He eventually ended up at a camp for internally displaced people outside Kigali.
His immediate family survived the genocide, but 35 relatives were killed.
Eric, who moved to the UK in 1997, said: “What surprised us was how quickly it happened.
“In a few days, the whole country was against the Tutsi people. It was very hard to go through and very scary.
“Everybody thought life would never be the same but I have tried to move on, I can’t stay in that time.
“I wanted to lead my life, but also to help others; help young ones to learn not to be affected negatively by what happened, so it doesn’t come back to haunt them in their future.”
Otto Deutsch, 86, spoke to a “wonderful audience” at Gidea Park Library, in Balgores Lane, on Monday.
Vienna-born Otto arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport just a week before his 11th birthday in 1939, to escape the Nazis after they annexed Austria.
He was taken in by a Christian family in Morpeth, Northumberland, but his parents and 17-year-old sister were murdered at the Maly Trostenets death camp near Minsk, Belarus.
Otto, who has previously lived in Collier Row, but calls Southend home, said: “You can’t imagine people existed who could face innocent people and shoot them.
“It is unbelievable.
“It is important that we who survived those terrible days talk about it, because we are now in our late 80s and early 90s and there will come a time when there won’t be any witnesses at all.
“It was such a long time ago, but the feelings never go away.”