Jane Haining was a Christian missionary who worked with Jewish communities in Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 40s who in 2010 was posthumously named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.
She was born in Dunscore, Scotland, in 1897 the daughter of Thomas and Jane Haining. Her mother died when Jane was just five-years-old and as she grew she took on the role of caring for the family.
Although shy and retiring, Haining did well at school and at the age of twelve she won a scholarship to study at Dumfries Academy and her leaving certificate showed higher passes in English, mathematics, Latin, French and German. She then took a business course at the Athenaeum in Glasgow before becoming a secretary at a thread-making company in Paisley.
She worked at the company for ten years and given her deeply religious background, she became involved in life at the Queen’s Park West Church where she set-up a missionary library. Then in 1932 Haining attended a talk on missionary work among Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and this inspired her to apply for the role of matron at a Jewish girls’ home in Budapest.
Haining was on holiday in Cornwall when war broke out in 1939 and she immediately made the arduous journey back to Hungary. She was advised to return to the UK but refused saying: ‘If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?’
Despite being under police surveillance, Haining continued to look after the 315 in her care. Food was scarce so she made trips to the market at 5 am and when her girls’ shoes wore out she cut up her leather luggage to make them new soles.
She struggled through the austerity of wartime Hungary until in 1944 the country was invaded after the pro-German government had been deposed. Again she refused to leave and a month later she was arrested by the Gestapo and charged with offences that included spying, working with Jews and listening to the BBC. Haining freely admitted the charges except those of political activity and she sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp in May 1944.
What happened next is uncertain. It seems likely that she died in the gas chamber along with a group of Hungarian women in August 1944, although her death certificate says that she ‘died in hospital, July 17, of cachexia brought on by intestinal catarrh’.
Haining was one of ten Scots to die in the concentration camps and she is remembered in a stained glass window at Queen’s Park Church in Glasgow as well as in a part of the embankment in Budapest named in her honour.
In 2016, a collection of documents and photographs emerged in the attic of the Church of Scotland that shed new light on Haining’s work in Hungary, including a list of what she wanted to happen to her belongings in the event of her death.
A remarkable woman, Haining is also enrolled as a non-Jewish individual who is acknowledged as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Below is a BBC Scotland programme on her life.