Jane Haining, a Scottish woman killed by the Nazis for her work among Jews in wartime Hungary, has found the biographer that she deserves. Soberly, movingly, Mary Miller tells the story of her life, and her death, in the service of an ideal. An inspiring tale of quiet heroismNeil MacGregor
Seventy-five years ago, on 27 January 1945, the Red Army arrived at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau to liberate the camp. Since 2005, this date has been remembered as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and today, 27 January 2020, ceremonies will mark the anniversary across Europe and the wider world.
Throughout these seventy-five years survivors of the camp have spoken out about their experience and the need for remembrance. They have retold and recreated the most painful of memories and have done so with great dignity. They have taken school children by the hand and looked world leaders in the eye and they have pricked the conscience of the world again and again as they spoke of the unspeakable. They have done so in the name of those who did not survive.
Many of these survivors are now elderly and a high percentage have died since the last major anniversary five years ago. It is now up to others to tell the stories of those who died and those who survived but who are no longer here to speak for themselves.
This then is a fitting date on which to remember the life of Jane Haining, a remarkable Scots woman who died in Auschwitz just a few months before the liberation of the camp. Recognised in 1997 as Righteous Amongst the Nations for her part in protecting Jewish school children and their families, Jane Haining was born and raised a country girl in Dunscore, Dumfriesshire. She trained as a Church of Scotland missionary and was posted to Budapest as matron to the Church of Scotland School there. Against all advice, she refused to leave when the war drew closer to the city. She knew that the children needed her ‘in their darkest hour’ and she fought to keep them out of the camps. She made the ultimate sacrifice. She herself was eventually charged with working amongst Jews and was taken to Auschwitz where she died aged 47.
Mary Miller wrote Jane Haining’s biography last year. Talking to the BBC at the time she commented:
Jane was an ordinary person who became extraordinary through her love and courage and eventually laid down her life for her commitment.
She did not compromise, and in our own difficult times there is a challenge there for all ordinary people tempted to look away from evil and find reasons to say: ‘There is nothing we can do.’
Jane Haining reminds us that there is always something we can do.
Jane Haining has been recognised in Budapest in an exhibition in the city’s Holocaust Memorial Centre. A plaque to her memory and her Hero of the Holocaust Medal, Awarded by the UK Government in 2010, hang on the wall of a newly created Heritage Centre in Dunscore Church. A memorial cairn stands close by. In 2019, the torch-lit ‘March of the Living’ in Budapest, attended by more than 10,000 people commemorated her life and her sacrifice. Birlinn were proud to publish her biography. and to help to keep her message alive.
Lest we forget