Pupils bring moving story of Holocaust heroine to life

Jane Haining
Jane Haining

Pupils brought to life the extraordinary story of a brave Scot who sacrificed herself to protect Jewish girls during the Holocaust.

The performance by drama students at Braes High School in Polmont highlighted the heartbreaking moment when Jane Haining was arrested by the Gestapo and taken away to her eventual death.

Abbie Meldrum, 17, performed a monologue based on the personal testimonies of two women who were looked after by the matron at the Scottish Mission Girls School in Budapest, Hungary.

The scene included a depiction of Miss Haining, who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in July 1944, telling sobbing children “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day which seeks to highlight the dangers of denying fundamental human freedoms and allowing bigotry to flourish.

One of the organisers of the Braes High event, Callum Docherty, 17, said the Church of Scotland missionary had “restored his faith in humanity”.

Miss Haining, who was 47 when she died, was depicted by Amy Coull, 17.

The missionary’s haunting last words were recalled by one of ‘her’ girls Agnes Rostas.

The 80- year-old of Budapest revealed last September that she was among a group of children who looked on helplessly as secret police searched Miss Haining’s office and interrogated her for hours before arresting her on eight trumped up charges of espionage.

Miss Meldrum’s monologue was also based on a testimony by Juhasz Sandor, 83, who was personally looked after by Miss Haining, who grew up near Dunscore in Dumfriesshire, when she fell ill.

Both women, who lived in the boarding house between 1942-44, regarded Miss Haining like a second mother.

The performance was organised by sixth year pupils, Jess Reid and Mr Docherty who are Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassadors for the school.

They visited Auschwitz in November and addressed MSPs at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

The pupils focused on the story of Jane Haining because their teacher Fiona Malcolm, faculty head of social subjects, regards her as one of the most important figures in recent Scottish history.

Miss Meldrum said: “When you think about the Holocaust, you think about it happening in Europe, not here in Scotland.

“But to know that there was a Scot involved who had such a major impact is just inspiring.

“Jane Haining’s story should be taught in all schools.

“She had the opportunity to leave Hungary and save herself but she decided to put these girls first.”

Emotional connection

Miss Reid, 17, said her ambassador role, together with the story of Jane Haining, had deepened her understanding of the Holocaust.

“When you have a link to something through your own country, it makes what happened all the more real because you realise it was people like you who were there and suffered,” she added.

“Once you have an emotional connection to something, you feel more empowered to teach people about it and therefore carry these messages on in your own life.”

Mr Docherty said the Nazi regime and the Holocaust highlighted the “rise of evil”.

“Jane Haining was a very strong and courageous woman and her story shows us that, amidst all that evil, people are still capable of good deeds.

“It is just an amazing thing to think about and completely restores my faith in humanity.”

Braes High School
L-R Fiona Malcolm, Callum Docherty, Kay Keith, Ian Alexander, Itamar Nitzan and Jess Reid

Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said the portrayal of Miss Haining's story was “fantastic”.

“It added a richness to the whole presentation about the Holocaust and really brought it alive,” he added.

“I found it moving, it was very well done.”

Itamar Nitzan, who is originally from Israel but now lives in Edinburgh, gave a presentation about his grandfather who survived the Holocaust.

“I was very honoured to take part in this event and I was really moved,” he added.

“The fact that the Holocaust is taught in Scottish schools, capturing the history and atmosphere of the time, is very impressive.”

Rev Aaron Stevens, minister at St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest which is next to the school where Miss Haining worked, sent the pupils a video message.

He highlighted the work that the congregation, in conjunction with the Kalunba charity, carries out to support Syrian refugees.

Kay Keith, a member of Dunscore Parish Church which is opening a Heritage Centre which will celebrate Jane Haining, also attended the event on Thursday.

She said: “I thought the pupils gave a powerful and moving performance which so cleverly linked the historical to the present and posed that question, have we actually learned anything?

“They were a credit to the school and to staff commitment.”

Beacon of light

Ms Malcolm said: “The Holocaust was a dark period of European history and therefore it is incredibly important that we learn lessons from it for the future.

“Jane Haining was a Scot whose story is one of courage and sacrifice.

“She is a beacon of light that highlights the goodness of humankind and must never be forgotten.”

Around 80 people attended the event which is supplemented by an exhibition about the Holocaust which will be on display in the school for a week.