The Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG) is supporting the final stages of The Forever Project to help complete the testimonies of the survivors who have participated.              

Among the 3D testimonies recorded is that of Janine Webber, who was born in Lvov, in the Ukraine. Given their shared birthplace, Ms Webber’s story particularly resonates with Mikhail Fridman, co-founder of GPG: “Her story is important for citizens of Lvov, in western Ukraine. Before World War II, Lvov was part of Poland and by 1939, it was home to over 200,000 Jews.”

Mikhail went on to say: “This project has huge significance to me personally. I was born into a Jewish family in Lvov after WWII. And I knew many people including my grandmother and father who had survival stories to tell. The Jewish community in Lvov and elsewhere suffered terribly during the war but unlike in Poland, where the history of Auschwitz, and the other death camps, are well known, what happened in the Ukraine and elsewhere in Soviet Territories occupied by the Germans is less known and documented.”

Mikhail Fridman was interviewed about his family history and why The Forever Project is so important to him. The full interview is below:

Q - Why is this UK testimony project so important?

Janine’s testimony is very important. In her case, as well as providing invaluable testimony for future generations of the UK, her story is also important for the citizens of Lvov, in western Ukraine. Before WWII, Lvov was part of Poland, and by 1939, it was home to over 200,000 Jews. Sadly there are very few survivors to tell the story of what happened in Lvov or on the Eastern Front as the Germans advanced into Eastern Europe and Ukraine – in their effort to capture Moscow.  So Janine’s testimony is incredibly important. It’s also important personally to me. The urgency of creating the National Holocaust Centre Forever Project in the UK cannot be under estimated as fewer and fewer survivors remain to tell their story. 


Q - Why is it so important?

Preserving personal testimonies are critical for the next generation, who unfortunately may not be able to hear a Holocaust survivor speak in person. These testimonies help us understand issues today that are sadly becoming increasingly more pressing in the modern world, such as propaganda, fake news, racism and prejudice. This project also has a huge significance to me personally. I was born into a Jewish family in Lvov after WWII.  It’s a beautiful old European city with an opera house, theatre and cobbled streets. As Janine says the Jewish community in Lvov and elsewhere suffered terribly during the war but unlike in Poland, where the history of Auschwitz, and the other death camps, are well known, what happened in the Ukraine and elsewhere in Soviet Territories occupied by the Germans is less known and documented.


Q – Why is this not well known?

During Soviet times the mass murder of the Jews in WWII was kept quiet. Both the Soviet citizens themselves and the wider world were barely, if at all, aware of the mass murder  of Jews in Soviet territories during WWII. Yet  more than 1.3 million Jewish people were murdered across these territories by the Germans and their accomplices as the German army advanced. These were children, men and women, and the elderly from Babi Yar and other areas. In Lvov alone, German police shot thousands of elderly and sick Jews as they crossed the bridge on their way to the ghetto, and later sent more than 65,000 to their death. In the former USSR, these atrocities were kept a secret for years, and commemorating it was forbidden.


Q – What effect did intense warfare have on German policy towards Jews?

The intensity of the war in the Ukraine meant that the Germans decided they didn’t have enough troops to guard all these millions of Jews. Thus began what is now called Holocaust by Bullets – an almost military solution – in which they corralled together and shot Jews – which meant that the Germans could save resources previously used to build, guard and feed the ghettos. This is the missing bit of the Holocaust story that I don’t think many know. This happened before the Germans decided to set up the death camps in Poland, which happened as a consequence of Holocaust by bullets. Because the Germans learnt that to kill Jews with bullets, was expensive and shooting women and children undermined military morale. Many don’t know of this – they don’t know, for example, of the massacre of Ukrainian Jews at Babi Yar in Kiev.


Q – When did the Holocaust by  bullets happen? 

As the Germans advanced towards Moscow they moved in an easterly direction. First they went to the Czech Republic, then to Poland, and then to the Soviet Union. As they advanced, they came across more and more Jews. When they got to Poland - as you can hear in Janine’s story in Lvov - they decided they should round up the Jews and somehow isolate them, because it was difficult to ‘manage’ them. The Germans took control of the country quickly, giving them the capacity to create, manage and control the ghettos.  But when they attacked the Soviet Union and the Ukraine, it was real fight and it drained their resources. They began to humiliate and murder Jews on mass in the streets of Lvov, Bialystok, Kuanas, and others. The first victims of these troops, the Einsatzgruppen, were usually men – but from 1941, Jewish women and children were also murdered. On one occasion, more than 23,500 Jews were murdered over three days in Kamenets-Podolski, while in Kiev, most of the Jewish population of the town was murdered at the Bar Yar ravine. Between Christmas and the New Year of 1941-42, around 50,000 Jews from Odessa and the surrounding area were murdered. Even after the Nazis had set up extermination camps, they continued these mass shootings in the East, in Poland and in the occupied Soviet territories.


Q – What happened in Ukraine? 


In places like Kiev, the Germans put up posters ordering Jewish families to go to a certain place at a certain time. Jews went to the ‘meeting’ voluntarily, not knowing what was going to happen to them. Thinking they might be transported out of Kiev, they bought clothes, expecting to work in factories or similar. But the Germans then shot them all within two or three days.  Many of the young men were fighting with the Soviet Army, so they were shooting women, pregnant women, elderly women, children and babies. This happened in the end of September 1941.


Q – Why is this important to you? 

A neighbour of mine in Lvov, where I grew up, was a survivor from Babi Yar. We lived together in the same building, and, back in 1941, she had two very small sons. At the time of the Babi Yar massacre, one of her sons was around six months old, and the other one was one and a half. She went to Babi Yar with her sons wrapped like bundles so that she could carry the two of them. While she was waiting with other Jews, she got a bad feeling: she intuitively felt something was wrong. She could see people disappearing: going, but not returning.


Q – What did she do? How did she survive?

Babi Yar is the ravine, and she asked the German who guarded them if she could go to the lavatory. And he said okay.  He followed her and didn’t look at her.  The ravine is surrounded by a forest, and as her sons were wrapped in the bundle, she rolled them down the slope when the guard wasn’t paying attention. Then she rolled herself. He saw her move and took a couple of shots, fortunately not injuring her.  She hid in Kiev for couple of days, and then she managed to escape from Kiev by foot to return back to Soviet-controlled territory, where she survived. My business Partner German Khan’s family was not so lucky. He lost 13 or 14 relatives - all killed in Babi Yar.


Q – What about your family? What happened to them in the Ukraine?

My grandmother and father, who was only one years old at the time, escaped the German advance.  They were evacuated to the Urals. Otherwise, as Jews, they would not have been likely to survive.  The Soviet government evacuated people who were somehow connected with a certain kind of factory as part of the war effort. This was a huge part of the Soviet story. They transferred the whole production of military goods to the East, so my grandmother fortunately escaped everything and spent four years in Urals, which was still under control of the Soviet army.


Q – Where was your grandfather? What happened to him?  

My grandfather was sadly killed near Zhitomir by the Germans, later in the war. Like many others my grandfather was conscripted into the Soviet army. Many Jews fought in the Soviet army against the Germans. But the German advance into Ukraine was very fast and he ended  up behind enemy lines but managed to hide and survive. In 1943 in civilian clothes he managed to return back to his home town, which was still occupied by the Germans, to search for his family near Zhitomir.  My grandparents lived together in a house which was split in two before the war. When the Jews were rounded up and killed or evacuated like my grandmother, people took their homes. The family who took my grandparent’s house saw him when he came back looking for his family. And they were probably afraid that he could potentially demand his house back, as they had now occupied the whole house. They informed the police who caught and killed him. He was betrayed, and relatives of that family are still living there now. 


Q – How are you ensuring these Holocaust testimonies are preserved for future generations?

By supporting projects like the National Holocaust Museum, which is playing an important part in ensuring that Holocaust survivors and their stories live on in the UK, I hope future generations will be able to learn from these terrible events. One of the first projects I supported through Genesis Philanthropy Group, which I co-founded along with my business partners, was Yad Vashem in Israel, which is the most comprehensive Holocaust Museum in the world. Partnering with Yad Vashem laid a foundation for helping this narrative of the Holocaust in the Soviet territories, ‘Holocaust by bullets’ take its correct place in the history of the Holocaust and become part of educational curriculum in Europe, Israel, former Soviet Union and North America. As a result of a multi-year in-depth research and academic work – and testimonies like Janine’s - this "Holocaust by bullets" can now start to be also integrated in how history is taught and how Holocaust and all of its victims are remembered in the UK and in Europe.


The full press release can be downloaded here