Scots Holocaust heroine's last will and testament uncovered
Published on 14 September, 2016
The discovery of a handwritten will and unpublished photographs has cast new light on the extraordinary story of a Kirk missionary who is the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls in the Holocaust.
The document and images - depicting carefree, happier times before the veil of darkness fell - provides a fascinating and compelling insight into the life of Jane Haining who died in Auschwitz- the most notorious extermination camp the world has ever known.
Her crime - caring for and providing safe haven to Jewish schoolgirls, many of who were orphans, at a church-run school in Budapest, Hungary.
Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council, said: “Jane Haining was a matron in the girl’s home of the Scottish Mission and her story is one of heroism and personal sacrifice."
The priceless archive, which includes several documents outlining efforts to try and secure her release from the death camp provides a deeper glimpse into the life of a quiet farmers daughter who died a Christian martyr in July, 1944 at the age of 47.
A ring with red and black stones that personally belonged to prisoner 79467 in the days before she left Scotland has also been recently unearthed.
Fully aware of risks
Mr Alexander said: "The most poignant discovery is her last will and testament which says ‘to be opened in the event of my death’ and dated July, 1942.
“It states, in her own handwriting, ‘I, Jane Mathieson Haining being in my right mind, do hereby with my own hand give directions for the disposal of my possessions in the event of my death’.
“She lays out what her legacies are to be and who is to receive her wireless, typewriter, fur coat and watches.
“It is a wonderful document and tremendously exciting to have something that Jane Haining herself has written. It gives a sense she was fully aware of the risks she was taking”
Mr Alexander said the story of Jane Haining – who died in the same camp as some of “her” Jewish girls – was heart breaking but also truly inspirational.
“Scottish missionaries were advised to return home from Europe during the dark days of the Second World War but Jane declined and wrote 'if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness,” he added.
Inspiring and moving
Rev Susan Brown, minister at Dornoch Cathedral in the Highlands and convener of the Europe Committee of the World Mission Council, added: “The previously unseen documents and photographs have, for me, evoked fresh feelings of awe about this already tremendously moving, inspiring and important story.
“To hear of Jane’s determination to continue to care for ‘her’ girls, even when she knew it put her own life at risk, is truly humbling.
“In Budapest, I’ve come across the street named after her on the Pest side of the river Danube and then seen her name engraved on a memorial beside the tree of remembrance in the Synagogue. You realise the impact this ordinary but courageous young woman has made on the city,” she added.
This weekend marks the 175th anniversary of the Church of Scotland Mission in Budapest, which was home to a sizable middle-class Jewish population in the 1930s.
The new material, which will soon be handed over to the National Library of Scotland, was recently re-discovered in a box in the World Mission Council’s archive at the Church offices in Edinburgh.
Miss Haining, as she was known to her girls, was born in 1897 and grew up near Dunscore in Dumfriesshire.
She worked as a secretary at threadmaker company J&P Coates Ltd in Paisley for 10 years before she moved to Budapest in 1932 to work as a matron in the Jewish Mission School, which had 315 pupils, 48 of whom were boarders.
Despite being under surveillance, the blue eyed "house mother" with a heart of gold managed to keep the children safe for four long years of hardship until she was betrayed by the cook's son-in-law whom she caught eating scarce food intended for the girls.
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 with eight offences.
She was accused of working amongst the Jews; weeping when seeing the girls attend class wearing the yellow stars; dismissing her housekeeper; listening to news broadcasts on the BBC; having many British visitors; being active in politics; visiting British prisoners of war and sending British prisoners of war parcels.
Miss Hainin vehemently denied talking about or meddling in politics.figure>
Won't harm hair on my head
Many of the new images – around 70 in total - were taken of the girls and Scottish Mission staff on the shore of Lake Balaton where summer holidays were spent in a rented villa.
One of the documents discovered is an extract from a report delivered to the Reformed Church in Hungary’s Synod in 1945 – around 12 months after Miss Haining, who was forced into slave labour, had died.
Mr Alexander said: “It reveals that Bishop Laszlo Ravasz approached the Prime Minister’s office to try to have Jane freed, but it seems either he was not listened to or that the Nazis had already had her moved out of the local prison so as to prevent any local attempts to free her.
“In his address to the Synod he said ‘her superiors three times ordered her home, but she always replied that the Hungarian people were so true-hearted, honourable, and chivalrous that among them not a hair on her head would be touched.
“’I shall continue to do my duty,' she declared, 'and stick to my post'.”
Mr Alexander said Jane Haining, who 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, is an “incredibly important figure” in Scottish history and he would like to see the school curriculum better developed to highlight her story.
“It is vitally important to remember Jane Haining because she embodies so much of the internationalist spirit and has a great legacy,” he added.
“It is part and parcel of the Church of Scotland and it is great today that we still have this link with the Reformed Church in Hungary and still work with them on contemporary issues.”figure>
The Kirk has a translation of the last letter Miss Haining wrote – a missive written in German and in pencil to Miss Margit Prem, the Hungarian headteacher who ran the Scottish Mission in Budapest, on a letter-form headed Konzenstrationslager Auschwitz.
It was dated July 15, 1944 – two days before she died.
The letter is mainly concerned with the welfare ofothers, food and the practical details of the school:
It reads: "Margit, what are you thinking of doing with theflour? What is upstairs is the best... Have you usedup the eggs too?”
"I think of you day and night lovingly andlongingly. I am waiting of news of what everyoneis doing, including your family, Margit. Is your oldaunt still alive?
"There is not much to report from here.
"Even here on the way to Heaven are mountains, but furtheraway than ours. I send appropriate greetings to thewhole family and kiss and embrace you. Yourloving Jean."
Hero of the Holocaust
At least 1.1million people died in the Auschwitz concentration camps, some of which were equipped with gas chambers, but the true circumstances behind Miss Haining’s death are unclear.
According to her death certificate, she 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.