Holocaust survivor inspires Ripley students

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Students from The Ripley Academy heard a harrowing account from a Holocaust survivor who managed to evade the Gestapo.

Janine Webber, 84, was invited to the academy by students Ben Bradley and Gemma Smith, both 17, after they visited Auschwitz earlier this year.

Ben and Gemma visited the former Nazi extermination camp in a trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust as part of its Lessons From Auschwitz project.

The project is based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ and is a four-part course which explores the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance to today.

As part of the course, Ben and Gemma are expected to share their experience with others so they decided to invite Janine in to give a talk.

Janine spoke to students at Amber Valley Sixth Form, based at The Ripley Academy, and showed photos of her family while she talked about her life.

She said: “I was born in Lvov in Poland. There were 130,000 Jews and most of them perished or were killed during the war but I’m one of the very few people who managed to survive.”

Janine talked about the many times that she and her family had to escape the Gestapo.

She said: “One day, I heard the Gestapo screaming and shouting. My father came running in and said the Gestapo are after me. He escaped by jumping from the second balcony of our home to the first floor underneath. They didn’t find my father and I couldn’t understand what was going on. I said to my mother ‘why do they want to take my father’ and she said it was because we were Jewish. That was the first time I realised there was something different about me.”

Janine’s mother died of typhus and her father and brother were both shot.

After moving from place to place, eventually Janine went into hiding with her aunt and uncle who were among 13 adults trying to escape persecution.

She said: “We were in a small building and one night we dug a hole under the floor, a sort of bunker. It was small and there was no room for walking. There was very little food and I survived on slices of bread and raw onions. We stayed in that hole for a year.”

Janine and her aunt left the hole and changed their identities before becoming a maid and living in various children’s homes.

She said: “I came to England to improve my English when I was 24 and I met an English man and had two sons and I have two grandsons. I always try to teach my sons to be tolerant and not to persecute others.”