Fresh insight into school life with 'wonderful' Jane Haining

Magda Birraux
Former boarding school pupil Magda Birraux was looked after by Jane Haining for six years.

She is the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during the Holocaust.

Jane Haining was born 120 years ago to the day yesterday and to mark the anniversary one of her former pupils has decided to share her memories of the loving but strict matron for the first time.

Magda Birraux’s moving testimony provides a deeper insight into the character of the woman who died in the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp - prisoner 79467 - in July, 1944.

The 96-year-old attended the Scottish Mission boarding school in Budapest, Hungary between 1933-39.

And like so many former pupils, she regarded Miss Haining, who died aged 47, as her “second mother”.

Uniforms

Mrs Birraux said: “She was wonderful and looked after all of us very well, morning and night.

“She was even tempered, tall, strict but fair and always set a good example.

“Miss Haining had a very good sense of justice and always treated the pupils (Jews and Christians) equally.”

Mrs Birraux, the daughter of small business owners, enrolled as a boarder when she was 12.

She said the matron was a highly competent financial manager who arranged weekend excursions for “her” girls for “no extra charge”.

Mrs Birraux, a Hungarian Christian, said: “No girl was ever dismissed on account of her parents being unable to afford fees.

“Miss Haining kept uniforms which girls had outgrown and gave them to less well-off parents.”

Jane Haining
Jane Haining

Mrs Birraux, who now lives in Lausanne, Switzerland and attends the Scots Kirk, said the boarding house was run independently from the school, which had 12 teachers.

“The pupils were taught secretarial skills, English, German and Hungarian,” she recalled.

“In the winter we went skating, had gymnastics lessons, visited museums and went to the cinema to watch films starring Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland.

“Miss Haining took us for long walks in the woods and to tearooms for tea and cookies.

“She paid for everything.”

Love

Mrs Birraux said Jewish children in Budapest were discriminated against from 1933 but the matron, who started working at the school in 1932, made sure that the girls in her charge “were not affected”.

“She loved these girls very much and was like a second mother to them,” she added.

“Many of them were separated from their parents and so Miss Haining wanted to give them all the love that she could.”

Mrs Birraux recalled that boarders rose at 6.30am and had to bathe in cold water to save the school money.

“Lessons began at 8am and the first one was Biblical Knowledge,” she said.

“Miss Haining always said grace before each meal.

“And when we had lunch at 12.30pm, she would examine our hands and nails before we ate to ensure they were clean.”

Jane Haining and "her" girls having fun on Lake Balaton where summer holidays were spent in a rented villa.

The Church of Scotland advised missionaries to return home from Europe during the dark days of the Second World War.

But Miss Haining repeatedly refused and wrote “if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness”.

Mrs Birraux said she remembers the day she heard a minister at the school arguing with Miss Haining over her determination to say in Budapest.

“We had a minister called Mr Knight (Rev George A.F Knight) and he lived in the house with his wife and child before the war broke out,” she recalled.

“He told Miss Haining that he was joining the Army as a chaplain and asked her to give up her job, leave everything to the school governess, and return to Scotland with him.

“We overheard that because our dormitory was beside Miss Haining’s office and rooms.

“He talked very loudly and was angry that Miss Haining appeared not to understand that soon the war would break out.

“He told her ‘you are in danger, you are an alien’.

“But she said ‘I have to stay here’ because the governess would not be able to manage’.”

Worn out shoes

Miss Haining did not allow newspapers in the boarding house to protect pupils from the horrors of the outside world.

She cried with the girls when she sewed yellow stars, bearing the word Jude, onto their school uniforms.

Hungary was an ally of Germany during the early years of the Second World War but relations soured and the Nazis occupied the country in 1944.

Mrs Birraux surmised that the Hungarian authorities left Miss Haining and the other teachers at the Scottish Mission School in peace until that year because many of the girls’ fathers were members of the ruling political party.

The matron managed to keep the children safe for four long years of hardship and clothing with yellow stars attached were never worn in the school.

It is said that she went to a market at 5am most days to buy food for the girls and cut up her leather luggage to make soles for their worn out shoes,

Miss Haining was eventually betrayed and reported to the Nazis by the cook's son-in-law whom she caught eating scarce food intended for the girls.

Mrs Birraux said: “She sacrificed her own life to protect the girls because if she left and returned to Scotland she would have been safe.”

Some of the girls Jane Haining looked after.

Miss Haining, a former Dux at Dumfries Academy who was fluent in Hungarian and German, was arrested by two Gestapo officers at the Scottish Mission.

They gave her 15 minutes to gather her belongings and charged her with eight offences.

Miss Haining was detained at Foutca Prison in Buda, moved to a holding camp at Kistarcsa then transferred to Auschwitz Birkenau in Nazi occupied Poland in May 1944.

Sacrifice

At least 1.1million people died in the Auschwitz concentration camps, some of which were equipped with gas chambers, but the true circumstances behind the matron's death are unclear.

According to her death certificate, Miss Haining died of "cachexia following intestinal catarrh".

In 1997, after an initiative from her former church Queen's Park West in Glasgow where two stained glass windows bear tribute to her “service and sacrifice”, and a 10-year investigation by an Israeli board, Miss Haining was named as Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem's sacred Yad Vashem.

She has a memorial cairn at Dunscore Church and was awarded a Hero of the Holocaust medal by the UK Government in 2010.

A new Heritage Centre is to be opened at the church later this year and will celebrate the life of Miss Haining.