‘She Was The Best of Us’: Calls Grow for Permanent Memorial to Scottish Holocaust Heroine Jane Haining
Politicians, religious leaders and media personalities in Scotland were this week calling for the erection of a national memorial in honor of a Scottish woman who protected Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of Hungary, only to later perish herself in the Auschwitz extermination camp.
As the world marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at ceremonies in Israel, Poland, Germany and elsewhere, several commentators pressed the case that a memorial to Jane Haining — who taught predominantly Jewish children at the school attached to the mission of the Church of Scotland in Budapest — was long overdue in her homeland.
Addressing the Scottish Parliament earlier this week, lawmaker Joan McAlpine pointed out that Haining had already been honored by Yad Vashem — Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust — as “Righteous among the Nations.”
Paying tribute to a “remarkable woman who stood up for others and paid the ultimate price,” McAlpine added that “the time has come for us to pay her a lot more attention in Scotland.”
Born in 1897 on a farm in Dumfriesshire in Scotland, Haining was appointed matron of the Girls’ Home of the Scottish Mission in Budapest. She arrived in the Hungarian capital in 1932, spending the next 12 years caring for 400 children from the ages of six to 16.
By 1940, faced with the worsening situation in Europe, the Scottish missionaries were ordered to return home. Haining refused to leave, believing that the children in her care needed her more than ever. In March 1944, Germany occupied Hungary and soon began to deport the Jews from the Hungarian provinces. According to Yad Vashem, “Haining was not deterred and stood by her students with great bravery, exposing herself to danger.”
On April 25, 1944, two Gestapo men appeared at the mission, searched Haining’s office and gave her 15 minutes to get her things ready. She was taken first to Foutca prison for questioning. Eight charges were laid against her, including working among Jews, visiting British prisoners of war and listening to the BBC.
Haining was then deported to Auschwitz, where she became prisoner number 79467 and was forced into hard labor. Her last message to friends was a postcard asking for food. She ended her letter with the words: “There is not much to report here on the way to heaven.”
Scottish parliamentarian Kirsteen Oswald described Haining as “the best of us — selfless and dedicated,” while her colleague Angus Robertson declared: “It is high time there was a statue of Jane in Scotland.”
Representatives of Scotland’s Jewish community were among the guests at the launch of an exhibition about Haining in the city of Glasgow.
Rev Ian Alexander, interim head of the Faith Impact Forum of the Church of Scotland, told the gathering: “We have worked hard to share the story of Jane Haining with as many people as possible since we found her handwritten will in an archive in 2016.”
He continued: “We are pleased that there is growing recognition that she is a unique figure in Scottish history whose story of bravery, selflessness, compassion and faith inspires us all.”