New exhibition in honour of Scots missionary opens in Budapest
Published on 26 October, 2017
A special exhibition honouring a Scot who died in Auschwitz has officially opened in her adopted home city of Budapest.
The story of Jane Haining, who was given a death sentence for protecting Jewish school girls in her care, is on display at the Holocaust Memorial Centre in the Hungarian capital.
It features photographs, documents, letters and other artefacts relating to the brave and selfless boarding house matron from Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway.
The exhibition was formally opened yesterday by the UK Ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, who spoke movingly about “this hero of Scotland and of Hungary”.
"Jane Haining was an extraordinary woman in extraordinary times," he said.
"Despite advice, warnings and orders, she risked her life in the darkest days of the 20th century to save young Jewish girls in a foreign country.
"Her bravery and her courage was exceptional.
"She is Scotland’s only Holocaust hero and one of the few British holocaust heroes who paid the ultimate price in the Holocaust.
"This is a fitting moment to pay tribute to Jane through this very special exhibition in this very special place.
"It is not only the 120th anniversary of Jane’s birth and the 85th anniversary of her arrival in Budapest, but the 27th of October is International Religious Freedom Day.
"And Jane, a Scottish Presbyterian, a Church of Scotland missionary, came to Catholic Hungary and ended up saving Jews.
"She embodied what International Religious Freedom Day aims to commemorate and celebrate.
"In 21st century Europe, there can be no place for anti-Semitism, no place for Islamophobia, no place for religious discrimination or persecution of any kind."
Agnes Rostas, who attended the Scottish Mission School between 1942-1944, also spoke at the event.
The 81-year-old is a Jew and only learned of the mother figure's tragic fate decades later at a memorial event in St Columba's Church of Scotland , which is next door to what is now a state-run primary school.
Recalling when Miss Haining was arrested after being betrayed, Mrs Rostas, said: “On the morning of that day German officers were visiting Miss Haining and from our bedroom window across the hall, we could see her room.
“After hours of questioning we could see that the two officers were taking her away and as they were going down one set of stairs, we hurried to another set to follow them down.
“We were sitting at the foot of the stairs crying and she looked back and said to us ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch’.
“That was the last time I saw her and I found out 40 years later she had died in Auschwitz.”
Miss Haining was 47 when she died – her official cause of death was cachexia following intestinal catarrh - in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944.
The Church of Scotland was represented at the event by Rev Iain Cunningham, convener of the World Mission Council, and Rev Aaron Stevens, minister of St Columba’s Church.
Mr Cunningham, minister at Kirkton Church in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, said: “It was a privilege to be present at the opening of the exhibition.
“It is wonderful to know that many more people, especially those in Budapest, will get to hear the inspiring story of this quiet but courageous Scottish woman whose faith and love shone brightly in ‘the days of darkness’.”
Mr Stevens, who leads the church where Miss Haining worshipped between 1932-44, said there is much to commend about the exhibition.
“What I shall treasure are the preparatory meetings I had with the team of the Holocaust Memorial Centre,” he added.
“It was in those behind-the-scenes encounters I saw how her story had touched each of them on a personal level, and how dedicated they were to getting everything right.
“As a result of their hard work, anyone who visits the exhibition will be moved by her service and sacrifice.”
A piper played a haunting rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ in the beautiful setting of the synagogue, which is at the heart of the Memorial, to bring the ceremony to a close.
The director of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial thanked the Church of Scotland for its assistance in making the new exhibition possible.
Centre spokesman Zoltan Toth-Heinemann said: “Jane Haining’s story is an important part of the Holocaust history in Budapest.
“She was unique because all the other players – rescuers, victims and perpetrators – were local people.
“She was the only one who had the chance to choose if she would stay there and risk her life to save children or just leave and return to Scotland.”
Miss Haining is the only Scot to have a place among the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel.
Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, whose constituency covers Dunscore, said: “When we reflect on one of the darkest times in human history, it is the unimaginable courage of individuals like Jane Haining that provides us with hope and a belief in the compassion of others.
"Her dedication to her pupils was unwavering.
"I am delighted that this new exhibition will not only remember her extraordinary bravery, but that her story can serve to educate and inspire others.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "It is important to learn from historical events such as the Holocaust and Jane Haining’s remarkable and brave story is one from which we can all learn.
"Jane’s story and countless others must be remembered and shared in the hope that we will never allow such atrocities to take place again."