Remembering Jane Haining: The brave Scots woman who lost her life saving Jewish school girls

Jane Haining(Photo: Church of Scotland)

On Sunday evening, a quiet torchlit procession will wind its way through the streets of Budapest.  Some 15,000 people are expected to take part in honour of the brave Scots woman who died in Auschwitz after refusing to leave the Jewish schoolgirls in her care. 

The March of the Living takes place in the Hungarian capital each year to mark the country's Holocaust Memorial Day. This year's march is being dedicated to Jane Haining, a farmer's daughter from Dunscore near Dumfries, who served as matron of the Scottish Mission boarding school in Budapest between 1932 and 1944. 

Many of the 400 students in her care were Jewish girls and when World War Two broke out in 1939, she refused to abandon them despite Church of Scotland officials advising her to return home. Her response to their concerns was that the girls in her care needed her in the "days of darkness". 

In 1944, the Gestapo entered the school and arrested her in front of her students.  The eight charges against her included working among Jews.  Former pupil Agnes Rostas described the students sobbing as she was led away.  Miss Haining, however, showed great courage, telling them: "Don't worry, I'll be back by lunch." 

She never did return to her beloved school, though, eventually being taken to the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland where she died two months after arriving.

Jane Haining and "her" girls having fun on Lake Balaton in Hungary where summer holidays were spent in a rented villa.(Photo: Church of Scotland)

Sunday evening's march will be led by Scottish Secretary David Mundell, the minister of St Columba's Church of Scotland in Budapest, the Rev Aaron Stevens, and UK ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay.

The procession will make its way to the 'Shoes on the Danube' Holocaust memorial near the Hungarian Parliament, accompanied by bagpipers. 

Mr Mundell said: "It is a huge honour, and a great privilege, to be asked to lead the March of the Living to mark Hungary's Holocaust Memorial Day.

"I am very proud that the 2019 march will remember Scottish missionary Jane Haining.

"An extraordinary, brave and selfless woman, Jane Haining sacrificed herself to protect Jewish schoolgirls in Budapest during the Second World War.

"Her unwavering devotion saw her lose her life in Auschwitz 75 years ago, aged just 47.

"She is a hero of which all of Scotland, Hungary and the world can be proud.

"The Holocaust was undoubtedly one of the darkest times in human history, but the courage and personal sacrifice of individuals like Jane Haining give us hope for the future."

Last week, Mr Mundell was in Miss Haining's hometown of Dunscore to visit the local church where a heritage centre celebrates her life. He also paid tribute at a cairn erected in her memory.

The exhibition features photographs, letters, documents and other personal items connected with Miss Haining, who was a Dux of Dumfries Academy.

During his visit to Budapest, Mr Mundell will also visit the Dohány Street Synagogue and join worshippers at St Columba's Church, which is next to the former site of the girl's school.

A memorial cairn for Miss Haining stands near Dunscore Church.(Photo: Church of Scotland)
The Rev Aaron Stevens with former Scottish Mission pupils who knew Miss Haining(Photo: Church of Scotland)

Rev Stevens said Miss Haining's legacy lived on in his own church and its work with refugees in the city.

"Jane Haining's service and sacrifice shows that caring for people from different backgrounds in no way compromises our faith," he said. 

"In fact, it just might be the fullest expression of it.

"Since I've had a chance to hear women share their childhood memories of the Scottish Mission, I treasure every opportunity to pass on those stories.

"As an English-speaking church in Budapest with an international congregation, it is natural for us to be involved in outreach among refugees.

"Compassion and hospitality is in our church's DNA."