Holocaust Memorial Day marked with reflection and memories

People across the world are marking Holocaust Memorial Day which is dedicated to honouring all those, including six million Jews, who were murdered under Nazi rule during the Second World War.

The scope of the anniversary this year, which marks the date when the Auschwitz death camps were liberated, has been widened to include all victims of genocide in countries like Rwanda and Bosnia.

holocaust
Holocaust Memorial Day this year is dedicated to honouring all those who have died in genocides around the world.

Representatives of the Jewish community in the UK are using the anniversary to focus on the persecution of Uighur Muslims in China.

The Church of Scotland is committed to speaking out against injustice at home and in support of people who face persecution around the world.

In the past, Church of Scotland ministers and staff have been directly involved in protecting vulnerable people during incalculable moments of terror and fear.

One such story is that of the Forrai family who were sheltered by the Kirk in Budapest, Hungary near the end of the war.

Mum Klari and her two sons, Gabriel and Martin, were living in a “yellow star flat” in the ghetto and spent as much time as possible at the Scottish Mission on Vörösmarty which they first came into contact with in January, 1944.

Staff arranged for them to be given safe passage to the UK, via Switzerland and France, to be reunited with dad and husband, Elmer, who moved to Inverness before the war broke out.

Gabriel-Forri
Gabriel Forrai, 90 spend his teenage years in Inverness where he met his wife Eileen. He is pictured with his granddaughter, Grace.

Gabriel Forrai’s granddaughter, Grace, said she is eternally grateful to the Church of Scotland for saving her family’s life.

She said she and her father, Forbes, and sister Olivia would not exist if her grandfather, who is now 90, had been rounded up with as many as 20,000 Jews from the ghetto and shot on the banks of the River Danube.

The atrocity was carried out by the Arrow Cross Party between December 1944 and February 13, 1945 when Budapest was liberated by the Russians.

Miss Forrai, a telecoms professional, said her grandfather has a box at his home in Essex containing his Yellow Star of David, a cloth Scottish Mission armband, which illustrated that the wearer was under the Kirk’s protection, and a book of psalms bearing a Scottish Mission stamp.

Jane Haining, the only Scot to be honoured at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel for protecting Jewish girls, was the matron at the Scottish Mission boarding school between 1932-1944.

It is likely she met the Forrai family before she was arrested in April, 1944 and taken to Auschwitz in Nazi occupied Poland where she died around three months later.

Miss Forrai said: “My great-grandfather was a medical researcher and moved to Scotland before the war broke out.

“He was trying to get his family over but it was very difficult.

“My granddad and his brother were on the same passport as their mum and she was given the choice of leaving without the boys but she decided to stay with them and they were trapped in Hungary.

“The family were rounded up and moved in with my great-grandmother in a yellow star flat in Budapest where they lived with 12 other people.

“The boys and my great uncle were forced into slave labour and cleared up the rubble from bombed out buildings.

“My great-grandmother did not know if they would be coming home at night.”

Scottish Mission School
This book belongs to Gabriel Forrai who was helped by the Church of Scotland to flee to safety in the UK

Miss Forrai said food was very scarce in the ghetto.

“My granddad told me that they often only had one egg and some flour between the three of them to eat,” she added.

“They managed to avoid being rounded up and secured protection from the Scottish Mission somehow and survived until the end of the war.”

Miss Forrai said her grandfather did not speak a word of English when he first went to school in Inverness but soon learned the language and thrived.

He became a British citizen, studied medicine at a Scottish university and became a GP, moving back to Inverness where he met his wife, Eileen.

After completing national service in Germany, the couple moved to Durham in north-east England and then to London where he spent most of his career as a GP.

Miss Forrai, who lives in Essex, said: “As a Christian, I think it is fantastic that people in the Scottish Mission were still there helping people, despite the unimaginable horrors of war all around them.

“They stood firm and took in those desperately in need and protected them.

“I feel so very grateful because if they didn’t, my family could have quite easily been shipped off to Auschwitz or shot and I would not be here.”

Jane Haining
Jane Haining

The Church of Scotland has had a presence in Budapest for 180 years and the Scottish Mission School was located in a building next door to St Columba’s Church and is now a state school.

According to a book about Miss Haining, who grew up in Dunscore near Dumfries, staff saved “many” Jews by helping them emigrate to Britain.

Author Mary Miller 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.

“They (staff) 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.”

Auschwitz
Jane Haining died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 at the age of 47.