February 2024
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Jane Haining, Auschwitz’s Scottish Christian Martyr..

We are delighted to publish this second Letter from Scotland received from our dear friends Iain and Margaret. A very moving story…

Hello again from Scotland, Marie-Agnes, Jean-Claude and Janice!

I wonder whether you remember driving that time from Wanlockhead (home to the Lead-Mining Museum) all the way to Wigtown, to explore the many bookshops? The journey would have taken you through part of Nithsdale, just north of Dumfries, a relatively quiet but very pleasant part of Scotland. Drumlanrig Castle, with its art treasures, and Ellisland Farm – where the poet Burns tried farming for the last time – are two of its main attractions.

Dumfries & Galloway Wanlockhead Road © 2006 Scotiana

H V Morton wrote about this area, too, in his travel books of the late 1920’s and early 30’s: “In Search of Scotland” and “In Scotland Again.” (I know he’s a particular favourite of yours, Marie-Agnes!)

But who would suspect a link between this quiet corner of Scotland and the most appalling event of the Second World War – the Holocaust that spread through Europe, as country after country fell under Nazi domination?

That link was Miss Jane Haining, the heroic Church of Scotland missionary born near Dunscore, but who died in the vile prison-camp of Auschwitz. Her name has been added to those of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Jerusalem.

Jane Haining

Jane Haining was born on the 6th June 1897, at Lochenhead Farm, just a short distance from the village of Dunscore. Her parents were deeply religious. When Jane was just five years old, her mother died in childbirth. Grievous and bitter though this loss was, it may have played some part in making Jane the outstandingly self-reliant and resourceful woman she was to become.

A clever girl, Jane excelled at school, winning a bursary to attend Dumfries Academy. In the senior school, she was the leading pupil in her year (‘dux,’ as we say in Scotland.) She had a particular flair for languages, and was an early boarder at Dumfries – both relevant to her later life’s work, as we shall see.

Jane, now 18, moved up to Glasgow, where she took a secretarial course, and soon had a job with J & P Coats Ltd, of Paisley, the famous threadmakers. She progressed to become secretary (‘P.A.’ we might say today) to the Company Secretary – a senior and responsible job. And Jane had also by now joined Queen’s Park West Church, quite close to the rooms where she stayed in Forth Street, Pollokshields. (This same Church is now known as Strathbungo Queen’s Park Church.)

Glasgow Queen's Park Baptist Church - Wikipedia

Jane Haining was active in Sunday School work, a knowledgeable and hard-working teacher; kindly too, bringing each week a bag of cream buns for her pupils. She founded a library of books on Missionaries, in which she had, even then, a particular interest.  It may be significant that Jane had a cousin already doing missionary work in India, sent by a Canadian church. Around 1927, Jane Haining seems to have first felt herself called to this work. Her employers at Coats’ persuaded her to stay on, giving them time to train a successor.

Five more years were to pass before Jane’s work began in earnest. Following another year-long course in Glasgow, this time at the College of Domestic Science, Jane Haining arrived finally at the Scottish Mission in Budapest, Hungary. It was September 1932, and she’d been appointed Matron of the Girls’ Hostel attached to the School there (which you can still see in ‘Vorosmarty utca’ – Vorosmarty Street.)

Budapest then, as now, was a beautiful city. Jane loved it from the start. The Scottish Mission, housed in a handsome five-storey building, had a long history, stretching back to the 1840’s. The School  had its own head-teacher and staff –  the head of the Junior School set about teaching Jane Hungarian, and in three years she had an excellent command of this difficult language.

Hungary Budapest Mujegpalya Ice Rink - Wikipedia

In Jane’s charge were 30 to 40 girls, mostly from a Jewish background, many orphaned or otherwise uncared-for. The total roll of the School – which had an excellent reputation – exceeded 400 pupils at times. It’s important to understand, I think, that the Scottish Mission did not set out directly to ‘convert’ young people – this was actually against the law in Hungary. Rather, the Mission aimed to show these deprived youngsters Christian love in action, surrounding them with care and kindness; so that,  in years to come, many of them would turn towards Christianity.

To this end, it was thought good that some of the girls – a quarter, or so – should be Christian. Jane Haining had the idea of keeping in touch with the girls who left each year, by holding an ‘At Home’ on Sunday afternoons, open to all who wished to visit. These reunions were an important feature of the Mission’s work.

Jane loved her girls, and they loved her, too – but what was she really like? A simply-written letter explains; received at the Mission  after Jane’s death, from a girl called Anna.. .. (She is tearful, having been brought to this strange place by her mother, who couldn’t cope.)

“Suddenly I heard a nice voice. ‘Oh, you would be our little Anna.’ I could not see anything except a couple of beautiful blue eyes and I felt a motherly kiss on my cheek. So this was my first meeting with Miss Haining, and from this very moment I loved her with all my heart.”

Jane declined to return to Scotland when war broke out in 1939; later, it was reported that she’d cut up her suitcases, using the leather to repair the girls’ shoes. Abandoning the children was never in her mind.
‘If they need me in days of sunshine,’ she wrote in one letter home, ‘how much more do they need me in days of darkness?’

Budapest Jane Haining plaque © The Girl from Noddy's House -Flickr

The Scottish missionary must have felt in particular danger – if, indeed, she thought of herself at all – after the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944. Very soon she was under arrest. The incident that prompted her seizure by the Gestapo seemed trivial enough in itself – she’d challenged a young man, Schreder by name, who’d been helping in the kitchen, accusing him of stealing from the girls’ meagre supply of food. But this fellow was an ardent Nazi, a member of the Hungarian Nazi Party, and he denounced her. From the ‘Gestapo Villas’ in the Buda Hills, Jane was taken to the ‘Fo utca Prison’ (Fo Street Prison) in Budapest, then to the dreaded Auschwitz camp.

Appeals from the Church of Scotland, the Hungarian Reformed Church and the Swiss Government were ignored. Brave and saintly Jane Haining died in Auschwitz on 17th July 1944.

Irongray churchyard Jane Haining family Memorial © Iain McEwan

The Church of Scotland has been prominent in commemorating the life of this heroic missionary. A pair of stained-glass windows in Jane’s old church in Glasgow  – one to each side of the entrance – were amongst the first memorials. There are plaques, of course, at the site of the Mission in Budapest. And a small cairn was built in 2005 to Jane’s memory in the grounds of Dunscore Parish Church.

Dunscore Jane Haining Memorial © JamesPicsSK - Picasa

The State of Israel honoured Jane Haining in 1997, when her name was added to those of the Righteous Among the Nations (or ‘Righteous Gentiles’  –  non-Jews who, often at great risk to themselves, helped Jewish people during the Holocaust.) A tree was planted, and Jane’s name  inscribed on the wall in this section of the huge Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Yad Vashem Memorial Hall of Names - Wikipedia

Jerusalem Yad Vashem Memorial Hall of Remembrance - Wikipedia

In Glasgow, too, a dignified and memorable ceremony took place on 8th December 1997, in the new St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. Mr Moshe Raviv, Ambassador of Israel to the UK, presented Jane Haining’s medal and certificate from the Yad Vashem Authority to her step-sister, Mrs Agnes O’Brien. (These items are now displayed in the St. Mungo Museum, very close to Glasgow Cathedral.)

Glasgow St Mungo's Museum © 2001 Scotiana

Mr. Ben Helfgott, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Committee in Britain, spoke first. (Mr. Helfgott is himself a concentration-camp survivor, and was instrumental in having Jane’s heroism recognised by the Israeli authorities.) The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Alexander McDonald, replied on behalf of Mrs O’Brien. “This award is a timeous reminder of a life lived faithfully, both in service and in sacrifice.”

Assuredly, the memory of this courageous Scotswoman will endure for all time.

Holocaust Righteous medal Wikipedia

A bientot, Marie-Agnes, Janice et Jean-Claude!>


15 comments to Jane Haining, Auschwitz’s Scottish Christian Martyr..

  • Agnes

    Dear Iain
    I found your article about Jane Haining fascinating. What a courageous lady -a real Scottish heroine.
    Thank you for making me aware of the Scotiana Website. I look forward to further reading.
    With Many Thanks and Best Wishes

  • Iain McEwan

    Holocaust Memorial Day falls on 27 January.

    It was on 27 January 1945 that soldiers of the Red Army liberated the huge Auschwitz camps at Oswiecim, Poland, so 2015 sees the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation. As the Holocaust begins to pass from living memory, it is appropriate that Memorial Day has been instituted.

    This year, only about 300 Camp Survivors will be able to attend – most just children or teenagers when the war ended. About 7,500 prisoners – some barely alive – were found by the Russian troops. Days earlier, 60,000 others had been moved out at gunpoint, leading to the deaths of many thousands.

    It is estimated that 1,100,000 people died in the Auschwitz camps alone, either in the gas chambers or through abuse, starvation or disease.

    In the last months of the war, the Nazi commandants planned to remove all evidence of this mass murder by razing the Camps to the ground, but so rapid was the advance of the Red Army that most of the buildings were simply abandoned.


  • Willie Thompson

    ‘The History of Glasgow Caledonian University: Its Origins and Evolution’ 1998, by Willie Thompson and Carole McCallum is dedicated to the memory of two people, one of whom is Jane Haining.

  • Iain McEwan

    Thank you for your Comment, Willie.

    It’s good that Jane Haining’s name should be commemorated as widely as possible, for I’d think it’s best known today to students of history.

    It has been suggested that a street or square might be named (or renamed) in Jane’s honour here in Scotland, perhaps in Glasgow or in Dumfries. (There is precedent for this in the creation of Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow.)

    Or a senior school might bear Jane Haining’s name, for although a missionary, she was also a teacher. (Every major city in France, it seems to me, has its Lycee Jean Moulin, one of the greatest heroes of the Resistance to Nazism. I’ll ask Mairiuna about this.)

    Here in the UK, a committee of MP’s has just reported that they consider it essential that all of our young people at school should be taught about the Holocaust, the war-time project to murder the entire Jewish populations of all the countries in Europe under Nazi control. Our MP’s were concerned that we might not have enough suitably-qualified teachers to achieve this.


  • Iain

    The BBC published on 7 June the memories of Mme Magda Birraux, a former pupil of Miss Jane Haining. (Mme Birraux, of Lausanne, Switzerland – a Hungarian Christian – is now 96 years of age.)

    “Miss Haining loved the girls very much and was like a second mother to us. She had a very good sense of justice and always treated the pupils, whether Jewish or Christian, equally. She was even-tempered, tall, strict but fair and always set a good example.

    “No girl was ever dismissed on account of her parents being unable to afford fees. Miss Haining kept uniforms which girls had outgrown and gave them to less well-off parents. Twelve teachers instructed us in secretarial skills, and in English, German and Hungarian. We went skating in the winter, to the cinema, and to gymnastics lessons and museums. Miss Haining took us for long walks in the woods and to tearooms for tea and cakes. She paid for everything.”

    I’ve often asked myself the question: did Jane Haining truly understand the danger that faced her? On the morning that she was arrested by the Gestapo, she reassured the girls cheerfully that she would be back by lunchtime. Although she may well have heard rumours of ‘disappearances’ or even of atrocities in the East, I suspect that she had the greatest difficulty in believing that such stories could be true. Her own moral background was so utterly alien to all of this.

    We mustn’t forget that the Holocaust project was pursued clandestinely. There were lies and deception at every step of the way, even to the gates of Auschwitz itself. Only in time would the world come to know the depths of evil of the Nazi gang who had seized absolute power in Germany, at the heart of European civilisation, the land of Goethe and of Beethoven.


  • Iain

    The BBC’s report of 7 June 2017 included some particularly interesting photographs, which I’d never seen before. This link should take you to BBC News – South Scotland: I hope it is successful.


  • Iain

    The annual March of the Living marks Holocaust Memorial Day in Hungary. This year’s March, a torchlit procession of up to 15,000 people, honours the memory of Miss Jane Haining and is planned for 14 April. The link – below – is to the News website of the Church of Scotland, where details are also given of the book on Miss Haining that has just been published (the first full-length book about Jane of which I’m aware).

    The author is Mrs Mary Miller (of Glasgow), the title ‘Jane Haining – A Life of Love and Courage’.


  • Iain

    This link is to the splendid film on Jane Haining made by 1A Productions for BBC Scotland in 2014, the 70th anniversary year of Jane’s cruel death in Auschwitz. The story of Miss Haining’s life, work and ultimate murder is narrated most sensitively by Sally Magnusson.


  • Iain

    During the Wigtown Book Festival, which runs until Sunday 6 October, a display on Jane Haining can be seen in Wigtown Parish Church between the hours of 10.00 and 16.00. (The items are on loan from the Holocaust Memorial Centre, Budapest.) Mrs Mary Miller, Jane’s biographer, will also speak about the Scottish missionary’s life and work, and give readings from her book.


  • Andrea Selleck

    What is the name of Jane’s mother and father? I’m trying to see if I have a family connection to her. I’m related to a Margaret Haining Smith that lived in
    Dumfries, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, United Kingdom.

  • Iain

    Hello Andrea,
    Thank you for your interest in our post. I’m sorry not to be able to give the full names you ask for – or, for that matter, the dates. Finding out whether you have a family connection to Jane Haining may be quite difficult, for I would guess that there could be several dozen Haining families here in South-West Scotland. Have you considered asking whether anyone at the Dumfries & Galloway Family History Society might be able to help?
    Kind regards from the team at Scotiana,

  • Donna

    Hello Andrea
    Jane Haining’s parents were Thomas John Haining (1866-1922) and Jane Mathison (1866-1902), who married in 1890. Jane’s mother died in the birth of her sixth child in 1902 when she was five years old. Thomas John Haining remarried in January 1922 to Robertina Maxwell, and died in June 1922, leaving a pregnant and grieving wife, who gave birth to their only child in November 1922.

  • Iain

    Hello Donna,

    Thank you for your interest in Scotiana and for the helpful information you have given. It’s clear from what you write that Thomas John Haining’s last child – born in November 1922 by Robertina, his second wife – must be Agnes, later to become Mrs Agnes O’Brien, the lady who accepted in Glasgow Jane’s medal from the Israeli Ambassador.

    Thomas Haining’s two marriages explain how there came to be a difference of 25 years between the ages of Jane (b.1897) and her step-sister Agnes (b.1922).

    In November 2016, 14 relatives of Jane Haining attended an afternoon reception in Edinburgh given by the Church of Scotland, where many were able to see for the first time Jane’s handwritten Will, photos and other artifacts.


  • Iain

    It was announced on 27 January, Holocaust Memorial Day, that a new educational project is to be developed, bringing Jane’s story – and the history of the Holocaust generally – to fresh generations of young people. The Jane Haining Project will in time see the production of online materials, as well as classroom teaching materials, and perhaps an Essay Competition. Mr William McGair, a senior teacher at Dumfries Academy, will lead the educational side.

    Jane was not in robust health when she was taken to Auschwitz on 14 May 1944, crammed in a cattle-wagon with 90 others. Nevertheless, she was judged fit to work as a slave-labourer, and had her arm tattooed with the number 79467. Eight weeks later, she was dead.

    Jane Haining’s name was added to those of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, in 1997, the only Scot to be commemorated in this way.


  • Iain

    The death was announced on 16 June of Sir Ben Helfgott, prominent amongst those who brought to the attention of the Yad Vashem authority the courage and sacrifice of Jane Haining, so that her name, her love and her heroism are remembered today.

    Born close to Lodz in Poland in November 1929, Sir Ben attained the age of 93. At nine years old, he had witnessed scenes of indescribable barbarism as the Nazis launched their savage invasion of Poland. Before his eyes, a village of wooden houses was burnt to the ground and their occupants cut down as they tried to flee. It was a scene from Hell, and for years afterwards the child suffered nightmares.

    Somehow, Ben Helfgott survived a succession of concentration camps, perhaps partly on account of his blond hair, for he could pass as a non-Jewish Polish boy. Of Ben’s immediate family, only one sister, Mala, survived; of his Junior School class, 22 of the 24 boys were murdered.

    Ben came to Britain in 1945 as one of the 732 orphaned Jewish children resettled here. Not tall, he nevertheless developed a powerful physique and in a matter of years achieved considerable success as an Olympic weightlifter. But Ben Helfgott’s life’s work was in commemorating and memorialising the Holocaust, the Shoah, and it was for his devotion to this task that he was knighted in 2018.

    (The Daily Telegraph newspaper has also published an Obituary notice for Sir Ben, with much detail.)


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