Written by: Josh Minister
In the summer of 1944, a woman, unknown to many, stood out from the misery and suffering of those about to enter the barracks at Auschwitz. Her pale skin and bright blue eyes indicated that she was not Jewish. She had been transported from a holding camp in Budapest to Auschwitz where she died, supposedly of ‘cachexia following intestinal catarrh,’ however, it is unknown whether this is the truth, or whether she died in the gas chambers. She died only within a few weeks of arriving. She sacrificed herself helping and protecting Jewish children in her care. Her name was Jane Haining.
She was born in Dunscone in 1897, and her mother died when she was only five years old. As a result, she assumed her mothering role from an early age as she took on much of the care of her younger sisters. This is where Jane’s nurturing side stemmed from, and arguably spurred her on to join the Scottish Mission in Budapest, to assist Jewish schoolgirls.
Jane was immediately adored by the hundreds of children whom she looked after. Many children were orphans, or from impoverished families and so she assumed a maternal role to them. In a letter she talks of a new girl arriving at the school which reflects Jane’s gentle and loving nature:
“She seems to be a lonely wee soul and needs lots of love. We shall see what we can do to make life a little happier for her.”
She bravely stayed in Budapest when war broke out, and disobeyed orders from the Church when told to return for her safety. Haining stated that ‘If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?’ This quote has become synonymous with Jane as it deeply reflects her bravery, and her love for her students. In the years after the war, her former students said that she was not able to recognise that she was working in what the Nazi party considered evil work.
In March 1944, Nazi troops marched into Budapest. It is said that Haining wept as she sewed on the yellow stars that branded her children as Jews. Her open sympathy for the Jews put her in danger, and the morning after scolding the cook’s son-in-law for stealing food intended for the girls, the Gestapo arrived at the school. Jane was arrested on suspicion of ‘espionage on behalf of England’. The words ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch’ still resonates with her former pupils to this very day.
Jane was a political prisoner and was taken to the labour camps where inmates were beaten and chased with dogs. She survived just two months and died at the age of 47. Over a million people were executed in Auschwitz, among them No. 79467, Jane Haining.
She was posthumously honoured by the UK government for ‘preserving life in the face of persecution’ and is the only Scot to be officially recognised at Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel. In 2017, she was the focus of a new exhibition in the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest. Spokesman Zoltan Toth-Heinmann said the Church of Scotland said that Jane was a ‘unique and important’ figure. Her story had been neglected in the city and Mr Toth-Heinmann said he was determined to ensure that as many people as possible learned about her extraordinary story and bravery in the face of evil.
In Scotland, a heritage centre inside Dunscore Parish Church, now in part tells the story of Jane and has attracted many people who want to learn about her story. In Glasgow, where she attended church at Queen’s Park West in the Crosshill area, now has a stained-glass window in memory of a woman who was driven by her devout Christian faith.
Jane’s story is now known among many British Holocaust scholars and is recognised across Europe as someone who persevered through evil demonstrating the principles of love, generosity, and bravery.
Image: Photograph of Jane Haining