Scots Holocaust heroine helped Jewish people emigrate to Britain
Published on 3 April 2019
A Scots missionary saved “many” Jews from the Holocaust by helping them emigrate to Britain, according to new research.
Jane Haining assisted Hungarian women in securing jobs as domestic servants five years before she was taken to the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp where she died in 1944.
She was arrested by the Gestapo on eight charges, including working among Jews in her care at the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, Hungary.
The revelations about the kindly but strict “mother figure” matron, who survived in the camp for just two months, are revealed in a new book about her life which is being launched in Glasgow tonight.
Author Mary Miller has cast fresh light on the “ordinary, yet extraordinary” woman from Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway who refused to abandon “her” girls and laid down her life to protect them.
She wrote: “Jewish refugees from countries swallowed up by the Nazis were pouring into Budapest, still believing the situation of Jews to be less life-threatening in Hungary than in the surrounding countries.
“At Budapest, the appeals for assistance have been so numerous that queues have lined up at the Mission building.
“Rev George Knight (Mission leader) wrote of ‘the new seriousness the present conditions induce’, and the Mission somehow stepped up its efforts to help.
“They believed by then that the only way to save the Jews was through emigration, and by February 1939 the Mission was putting on courses in farming, cattle breeding and other subjects to help refugees to get jobs abroad.
“Jane Haining taught domestic management and gave lectures on social life in Britain.
“George Knight commented that Jane Haining was an able teacher, many a housewife in Britain can testify who received into her home a refugee domestic servant from Hungary.’
“The Mission started a Servants Registry to assist with emigration.”
Miss Haining refused to return home after war broke out in 1939, despite advice from Church of Scotland officials, saying the Jewish and Christian girls in her care needed her in the "days of darkness".
The hardback book, titled Jane Haining - A Life of Love and Courage, states that Mr Knight was “outraged” by the mounting antisemitism in Europe”.
He decided that the objective of the Scottish Mission School, which had around 400 pupils, most of them Jews, was to “educate Jews and Christians together in order to fight the antisemitism that was endemic”.
The moving and thought provoking book stated: “At the school, twice as many Jewish parents applied for places as could be offered.
“George Knight recognised that ‘parents know that within our walls there is a haven from the fierce antisemitism of the world outside.’
“Jane Haining’s time was increasingly occupied with counselling desperate parents and trying to help families spiritually and materially.”
The 256-page book, which contains many photographs, states that Miss Haining wrote of a mother of twins who broke down in her office.
“The mother ‘was at the stage when she was thinking of adding some poison to their food and ending it all – and now help had come to her from a quarter from which she had never looked for it’.
“Jane’s own outward calm and courage meanwhile sustained the children in her care.”
The book highlights a letter written by Miss Haining in which she wrote: “What a ghastly feeling it must be to know that no one wants you and to feel that your neighbours literally grudge you your daily bread.
“We have been enabled even in a small measure, to lighten the lot of an oppressed people and to provide an oasis in a troubled world where they can be sure of a friendly reception.”
The book is being launched at Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church, where Miss Haining was a Sunday school teacher when she lived in Glasgow and worked in J&P Coats thread factory in Paisley.
The building has two stained glass windows in tribute to the Christian martyr, who was regarded by her peers and young charges as a “tower of strength who radiated serenity and love”.
Miss Haining was a woman who, despite being powerless against intolerable evil, refused to consent to the division of humanity into “them and us”.
Mrs Miller of Glasgow, whose husband Rev John Miller was the Moderator of the General Assembly in 2001-02, said: “When Birlinn publishers offered me the opportunity to write a biography of Jane Haining, I felt both privileged and immediately excited.
“I had come across part of Jane’s story a few years before, and as someone who has been responsible for many groups of children over many years, I understood the absolute rightness of what she did.
“I pondered whether I would have had the courage to do the same.”
Following the outbreak of war, Miss Haining, spent years protecting the pupils from the increasing danger facing Jews in Europe and matters came to a head in March 1944 when the Nazis invaded Hungary.
She was betrayed by the Mission cook’s son-in-law, a future SS soldier called Schreder, whom she caught stealing scarce food meant for the girls.
Miss Haining was arrested by “German officers” in April 1944 and former pupil Agnes Rostas, who witnessed the incident, revealed that her haunting last words to sobbing children were “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.
She never returned to the Scottish Mission, where she worked between 1932-44, and died in the notorious camp in Nazi-occupied Poland - branded prisoner 79467 - at the age of 47.
The fluent Hungarian and German speaker was said to have passed away due to "cachexia following intestinal catarrh" but there are doubts to the validity of this ‘official’ claim.
Mrs Miller said the focus of the book is on Miss Haining’s life, what she did, where and with whom.
“The story emerges as she lived it, with one episode following another and without knowledge of the future to come,” added the author.
“But we know the end before the beginning, and that gives the story layers of additional significance.
“I was forced to realise that amongst other things this is a book about the Holocaust, and that in the story of one woman we recognise the individuality of each of the six million innocents who were murdered.
“It forces us to look at how all the good done in the loving and generous lives of Jane and her colleagues was apparently swallowed up by the evil that overtook them.”
Mrs Miller said the situation challenged people of faith to ask themselves ‘what sort of God would allow it, can there really be a God at all?’
“Jane was an ordinary person who became extraordinary through her love and courage and eventually laid down her life for her commitment.
“She did not compromise, and in our own difficult times there is a challenge there for all ordinary people tempted to look away from evil and find reasons to say ‘there is nothing we can do.’
“Jane Haining reminds us that there is always something we can do.”
Miss Haining is the only Scot to be officially recognised at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel, and is the recipient of a Hero of Holocaust medal from the UK Government.
Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, welcomed the publication of the book.
“Jane Haining’s story is heart-breaking, but also truly inspirational,” he added.
“Mary Miller has done a great service in the depth of research in this book, offering fresh insights into Jane’s upbringing and the formative influences which so prepared her for her life, witness and service to her God, her Church, and ‘her’ children in Budapest.”
“Jane was a woman who was simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary.”
Jane Haining - A Life of Love and Courage is priced £14.99 and will be available from Birlinn Books from April 11, and in other outlets.