Highbury Grove School pupils hear harrowing tales of Holocaust survivor

Janine Webber, centre, speaks to pupils at Highbury Grove School today as part of Holocaust Memorial

Janine Webber, centre, speaks to pupils at Highbury Grove School today as part of Holocaust Memorial Day - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of Highbury Grove School pupils were moved by the stories of Holocaust survivor Janine Webber today.

It was part of a special assembly held as part of Islington Council’s efforts to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Ms Webber, 83, told her harrowing tale of growing up in Nazi-occupied Poland and the loss of her family during the war.

“The Germans had an unusual system, men first then women. One day when I was in our flat with my brother I heard the screams from the Germans that we call Gestapo.

“My father came rushing in and he said ‘the Germans are after me’ and locked the door. He then jumped from the second floor balcony on to the first floor balcony and hid underneath.”

“I couldn’t understand what was going on, I said to my mother: ‘Why do they want my father? And my mother said it’s ‘because we are Jewish’. It was the first time I realised that there was something different about me, I used to play in the streets with other children and I never asked myself who I was and became very frightened.”

Students were saddened as she told the story of her father’s death and her eventual separation from her family.

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“One day we were warned that the Gestapo would be coming, so my parents dug a hole under the wardrobe which was in our room, and when we heard the German soldiers approaching we hid in the hole: my mother, my brother and myself. But there was no room for my father and my grandmother.

“They were found and I heard the Gestapo screaming and I heard my grandmother screaming. When they left and we came out of our hole my mother very soon said to me that they had shot my father. I don’t know what happened to my grandmother.”

Ms Webber and her remaining family were later taken to the ghetto which was known for its poor conditions. Her mother died in the ghetto shortly after contracting typhus.

“My mother was lying on the bed and she was looking at the distance, she wasn’t looking at me or talking to me. I was so upset and frightened that I ran out. I didn’t even hug her.

“Very soon my uncle told me my mother had died.”

After leaving the ghetto and managing to find shelter with several non-Jewish families by hiding her Jewish identity, Ms Webber sought the help of a Polish man, Edek, from an address her aunt had given her.

When she arrived at his address, she was reunited with her aunty and uncle, and later managed to get fake papers to be taken to a convent.

Shortly after the war her aunt returned for her and they left for Paris, where she started her new life before later moving to England.

“I met an English man and have two sons and two grandsons and I love them very much.”

“I try to teach my sons to be tolerant, not to persecute people who have a different colour skin or a different religion.”

Becky Hulme, head of history at Highbury Grove, said: “We were approached by Islington Council to host the assembly.

“We jointly believed it would be a great benefit for such an event to be held in a school. It’s the first time an event of this kind has been held in any school.”