Jane Mathison Haining was born on the 6th of June, 1897.
For many decades since the tail end of the Second World War, Jane Haining was one of Scotland's unsung heroines, but thankfully that has changed recently, in the first decade of the 21st Century, with a lot of overdue and well deserved media attention. Jane Haining was a Presbyterian missionary who died for her beliefs, but she didn't die defending the faith in the 19th Century, she died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. Jane's story is one of personal sacrifice and selfless heroism. As a matron in a Kirk mission for disadvantaged Jewish children in Hungary during World War II, when the Gestapo came calling, Jane Haining refused to abandon her charges and that bravery cost her life.
One of only ten Scottish people believed to have been killed in a Nazi death camp, Jane has been dubbed 'Scotland's Schindler' by some of the
more hysterical newspapers. Jane was no less brave than Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,200 Jews, but as Ben Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor and a Chairman of the Yad Vashem Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “When the children were taken away she went with them to Auschwitz. She was not able to save them, but she looked after them. What she did was a supreme act of mercy and kindness.”
In a 2010 Telegraph newspaper report, Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, whose namesake, Deborah Pollock from Glasgow, died in Auschwitz, in 1942, said, “Jane Haining was a remarkable woman who took a stand by refusing to leave the Jewish orphans in her care, defying calls for her to return to Scotland. Her form of resistance ultimately ended with the sacrifice of her own life and stands as an example of how ordinary people can do extraordinary things that make such a difference.”
Nobody truly knows how Jane Haining died or at least, if there are any witnesses left alive, they're not telling, for obvious reasons. That's not so much a matter of controversy as a simple lack of knowledge. Some websites, including that of her own Church, Queen's Park West, state that she died of starvation on the 17th July, 1944. According to Elizabeth Walker in the book, 'Legacy of Scots', and the Independent newspaper, it is “almost certain” that she was gassed with a group of Hungarian women on the 16th of August, 1944.
The uncertainty arises partly because the Nazis sent her death certificate to the Church of Scotland. You might wonder why they'd go to all that trouble, but Jane was a British citizen and the Russians were fast approaching. Jane's death certificate reads, “Miss Haining, who was arrested on account of justified suspicion of espionage against Germany, died in hospital, July 17, of cachexia brought on by intestinal catarrh.” Jane's last letter was sent on the 15th of July, in which she wrote to Margit Prem, the headteacher in Budapest, “There is not much to report here. Even here on the way to Heaven there are mountains, but further away than ours.” Gassed or starved, either way, No. 79467, Jane Haining, was murdered by the Nazis.
Poor Jane was charged with eight offences in total: 1. that she had worked amongst the Jews (true); 2. that she had wept when seeing the girls attend class wearing the yellow stars (she admitted that); 3. that she had dismissed her housekeeper (a member of the Hungarian Nazi party); 4. that she had listened to news broadcasts of the BBC; 5. that she had many British visitors; 6. that she was active in politics (the only charge she strenuously denied); 7. that she visited British prisoners of war; and 8. that she had sent parcels to British prisoners of war.
Jane Matheson Haining was born at Lochanhead Farm, near Dunscore in Dumfriesshire, on the 6th of June, 1897. Her mother died when Jane was five, but of course, Jane went to Dunscore Village School like any other child, from where, in 1909, she won a scholarship to Dumfries Academy, where she included Latin, French and German in her studies. In 1915, Jane trained at the Commercial College at Glasgow's Athenaeum and, on completion, got a job as a secretary at the Paisley pirn makers, J. & P. Coates Ltd.
During her ten years in Paisley, Jane lived in Glasgow's Pollokshields and attended the Queen's Park West United Free Church, where she did Sunday school work, founded a Missionary library, and became a monitor in the Band of Hope. Fatefully, Jane got 'the call' and, resigning from Coates, she took a Diploma at the Glasgow School of Domestic Science. Jane then worked for a time in Manchester and it was there that she saw an advertisement in 'Life and Work' for the job of Matron at the Girls' Home of the Church of Scotland Jewish Mission Station in Budapest. Despite the fact that Jane couldn't speak Hungarian, she was appointed to the post and, in June 1932, after training at St. Colm's, she set out for Hungary.
The Mission cared for 315 children, aged between six and 16 years, most of whom were Jewish, but not all as “ it was considered salutary that there should be some Christian girls amongst them.” Many of the pupils were orphans from broken or poverty-stricken homes. Jane looked after 50 of them and learned to speak Hungarian. She returned home only twice; in 1935 and 1939. When the Second World War broke out during the latter visit, Jane returned to Budapest. In 1940, as the situation became more dangerous, all Scottish missionaries were advised to return home, but Jane declined to leave.
Later, after the Nazi invasion of Hungary in March 1944, Jane again refused to leave when ordered home, saying, “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?” Her sister, Nan, later recalled that Jane “would never have had a moment's happiness if she had come home and left the children.” The Nazis began deporting Jews from Hungary and life in Budapest became indescribably hard. The last chapter in the life of Jane Haining began in April, 1944, when the Gestapo arrived. Jane had been 'denounced' by a cook, a member of the Hungarian Nazi party, whom she'd accused of eating the rations meant for her girls.
On the 25th of April, Jane was arrested by two officers and taken to the Fő utca prison in Buda for interrogation. Church leaders begged for her release, but to no avail. Jane Mathison Haining was then moved to a holding camp in Kistarcsa, from where, in May, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where on the 17th of July, 1944, she died 'in hospital'.