BBC Airs Documentary on Jane Haining, ‘The Scot Who Died in Auschwitz’
BBC One Scotland on Sunday aired a documentary telling the story of a non-Jewish woman who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp and became the only Scot officially honored for working to protect Jews during the Holocaust.
Jane Haining: The Scot Who Died in Auschwitz tells the story of a farmer’s daughter from the south of Scotland who spoke up in defense of Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and Britain declared war on Germany. At the time, Haining was working in Budapest at the Church of Scotland mission school and taught both Christian and Jewish children. Haining treated all her pupils with fairness and equality, according to the BBC report.
“We never felt we were not equal with each other or with the Christian pupils,” said former student Dr. Zsuzanna Pajzs. “We did not even notice who was Christian and who was Jewish.”
Before the start of World War II, Hungary’s Nationalist government imposed anti-Semitic laws in an effort to undermine fascist sympathizers before ultimately deciding to ally with Germany. Authorities began detaining Jews who lived in Budapest for decades without citizenship and Hungarian Jews lost jobs, social standing, civil rights and respect, the BBC noted.
The Church of Scotland, worried for the safety of its missionaries, sent letters to Haining urging her to return home. She refused and wrote, “If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?”
“She could not grasp the evil in which she was functioning,” said Annette Lantos, a former pupil of Haining’s. “It was not part of her ability to understand what she was confronted with. She lived in a different world. A world that was civilized and reasonable and rational, where people did not kill each other for no reason.”
Nazi troops invaded Budapest in March 1944. Weeks later, Haining reprimanded the cook’s son-in-law at the mission school for eating food intended for the students. The cook ratted Haining out and the next morning Gestapo police arrived at the school to arrest her. She was apprehended on suspicion of “espionage on behalf of England,” according to the BBC.
Gestapo police originally took Haining to a local prison but she was soon transported to the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Poland. She survived in the camp for two months and died at the age of 47. According to her death certificate, she died of “cachexia following intestinal catarrh.”
Around 12,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz every day and most went straight to the gas chambers, the BBC noted. In total, more than 1 million people were killed at the death camp.
In 1997, Haining was posthumously named to the Righteous Among the Nations list at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. The British government also awarded her a Hero of the Holocaust medal in 2010.
BBC One’s Sunday broadcast of Jane Haining: The Scot Who Died in Auschwitz commemorates the 70th anniversary of Haining’s death. The documentary is the first television program ever made about the heroic Scot.