Time to honour Jane Haining, Scotland's Schindler

SHE has been described as Scotland's Schindler for refusing to abandon dozens of Jewish orphans in Budapest during the Second World War.

But Jane Haining, who paid for her beliefs with her life, has yet to be formally recognised in Britain for her heroic deeds.

Today, as Britain marks Holocaust Memorial Day, The Scotsman joins senior politicians in calling for a change in the honours system so Ms Haining can be properly honoured for her courage and selflessness.

The Holocaust Education Trust's campaign today receives support from leading figures including Alex Salmond, the First Minister, and David Mundell, the shadow Scottish secretary.

And it has met with a sympathetic hearing from Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, who has praised Ms Haining's heroic refusal to leave the children she was teaching when the Nazis invaded Hungary.

Ms Haining and the children were eventually sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland where it is believed their lives were ended in a gas chamber.

Jane Haining left her home in Dumfries in 1932 to work as a missionary in Hungary. At the outbreak of the Second World War she ignored orders and advice to return to Scotland.

Her half sister, Nan O'Brien, recalled when she made a pilgrimage to Auschwitz in 2000: "It was no surprise that she refused to come back when war was declared. She would never have had a moment's happiness if she had come home and left the children."

When Germany invaded Hungary in 1944 she was arrested along with the children and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her name is now inscribed near to Oskar Schindler's on the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel.

Schindler saved nearly 1,200 Jews by employing them in his ammunition and enamelware factory. The story was made famous in the film Schindler's List.

Ben Helfgott, a concentration camp survivor who was instrumental in getting Jewish recognition for Ms Haining, 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."

The campaign aims to gain honours for Ms Haining and five other Britons recognised in Israel as Righteous Among the Nations – a title for non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust – but who have never received any formal, widespread recognition in their homeland.

The complex rules surrounding the Honours and Decoration Committee mean that currently people who have died cannot be honoured unless they lost their lives in combat.

The trust is now calling on the UK government to ask the committee to review the rules so that Ms Haining and the others, including Tommy Noble, a Scot, can be honoured posthumously because of the exceptional circumstances.

The Cabinet Office has refused to comment formally, but the campaign has been encouraged by the response from the Prime Minister who praised Ms Haining's bravery in his latest book, Wartime Courage: Stories of Extraordinary Courage by Ordinary Men and Women in World War Two.

He also spoke about Ms Haining on his first trip to Israel as Prime Minister last summer.

Mr Brown last night told The Scotsman: "The theme of this Holocaust Memorial Day is standing up to hatred. We all like to think that we know what we would do in the face of hatred – that in a moment of decision we would honour our obligations to resist brutality and to stand with its victims.

"That is why I so admire Scottish missionary Jane Haining who ran the Jewish Girls' Home in Budapest and refused all appeals to return to Scotland and to safety after the Nazis overran Hungary. She is a hero of which all Scotland and the world can be proud and I applaud the Holocaust Educational Trust for highlighting the courage of Jane and others like her who stood up to hatred."

The campaign has received the backing of Mr Salmond. He said: "Jane Haining was a truly remarkable Scot, whose extraordinary courage against tyranny and devotion to duty deserve to be remembered and properly recognised. This campaign, to allow the posthumous awarding of honours to people like Jane Haining, is a very worthy cause."

Labour East Renfrewshire MSP Ken Macintosh will this week put down a motion supporting the campaign calling for a change in the rules, which is expected to get widespread support from MSPs.

"It is absolutely right that we should not forget and properly honour people like Jane Haining and I fully support this campaign," he said. "While it is good that she and the others have been recognised in Israel, it is wrong that she has received no formal recognition in her own country."

Tavish Scott, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, is also supportive. He said: "It would be right to explore the potential to recognise outstanding bravery in the face of circumstances we cannot imagine."

There is recognition of Ms Haining's sacrifice in her native Dumfries, in the form of a plaque in her honour at the Kirk of Dunscore, where she worshipped.

Local Conservative MP David Mundell said that formal recognition for her was overdue.

"There is no doubt that she and the others like her deserve to be honoured in this country for the sacrifice they made."

The Church of Scotland has also thrown its weight behind the campaign.

Karen Pollock, the Holocaust Education Trust's chief executive, said: "We believe that the time is right to raise awareness of British Holocaust heroes and heroines.

"Their brave acts have never been appropriately recognised in this country so we are calling on the government to review the statutes so that these British heroes can receive a posthumous honour which they truly deserve."

BACKGROUND

THE Holocaust Education Trust was established in 1988 to promote awareness of Nazi atrocities during the Second World War. It is best known for organising trips to Auschwitz for young people aged 17 and 18 to help them to understand better what happened in the concentration and death camps.

The programme received a huge boost when it caught the attention of Gordon Brown, when he was chancellor, and won direct funding to roll it out across Britain.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families now helps to fund the visits of English youngsters, but last year trips for young Scots were under threat. After The Scotsman highlighted the possibility of the trips being cancelled, the Scottish Government agreed to provide funding.

The trust uses the experiences of Holocaust survivors and the visits to Auschwitz to teach students about the dangers of all kinds of prejudice and hatred. It was also instrumental in getting Tony Blair to inaugurate Holocaust Memorial Day.

Missionary died a martyr for her Jewish orphans

WHEN the Nazis entered Budapest in 1944, Jane Haining, a Scottish missionary, was given the chance to go home.

But she refused to abandon the Jewish orphans in her care and within months paid with her life for her decision in the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Jane Haining was born in 1897 in Dunscore, Dumfries and Galloway, into a Presbyterian family.

In 1932, she volunteered to become matron of a girls' home run by the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, where she quickly became fluent in Hungarian. She was responsible for 50 of the schools and 400 pupils, most of whom were Jewish and many of whom were orphans.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, she was in Cornwall on holiday, but immediately returned to Budapest and ignored orders to return to Scotland.

She again refused to leave Hungary following the Nazi invasion in March 1944, saying: "If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness."

She is said to have wept as she sewed the Star of David on to the uniforms of her wards.

But her letters show that even before war was declared she was preparing to stand by her wards.

During the dark days of 1938 and 1939, the number of Jewish refugees coming to the school increased, mostly children fleeing from the Nazis in Austria.

She became aware that the Church of Scotland Mission had become a place of sanctuary.

She wrote: "What a ghastly feeling it must be to know that no-one wants you and to feel that your neighbours literally grudge you your daily bread."

In April 1944, she was arrested for a series of trumped-up offences, including working with Jews and listening to the BBC. At first she was imprisoned in Buda, before being sent to the holding camp at Kistarcsa, and finally, in May 1944, she was taken by train to the infamous death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Although she was not sent immediately to the gas chambers, her letters from Auschwitz show clearly that she was starving, writing obsessively to her friend Margrit about apples, fresh fruit and bread.

She died in July 1944, officially of "cachexia following intestinal catarrh." However, according to Charles Walker's 1988 book, Legacy of Scots, Miss Haining was probably gassed along with a batch of Hungarian women on 16 August, 1944.

One of her former wards later recalled: "I still feel the tears in my eyes and hear in my ears the siren of the Gestapo motor car. I see the smile on her face while she bade me farewell. I never saw Miss Haining again, and when I went to the Scottish Mission to ask the minister about her, I was told she had died. I did not want to believe it, nor to understand, but a long time later I realised that she had died for me, and for others.

"The body of Miss Haining is dead, but she is not alone, because her smile, voice and face are still in my heart."

There are two memorials to Jane Haining – stained glass windows in Queen's Park church, Glasgow, where she worshipped, and a plaque in the little Kirk of Dunscore.

FACT BOX

THE Scotsman has joined the Holocaust Education Trust in calling for a review of the rules of the UK government's honours and decorations committee.

Currently, they do not allow posthumous awards unless the death was in combat.

We want the rules to be amended so that honours can be awarded posthumously in exceptional circumstances.

The others who deserve our recognition

FRANK FOLEY: Known as the Stourbridge Schindler, he was a British secret intelligence service officer who used his role as a passport control officer to help thousands of Jews escape from Nazi Germany. He died in 1958.

ROBERT SMALLBONES: As the Consul-General in Frankfurt-am-Main, he helped Mr Foley to save thousands of Jews by arranging papers for them to come to Britain.

RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: The son of the wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, is on the list for his work in 1944 in Yugoslavia, where he set up a military mission after volunteering to be parachuted behind enemy lines with the author Evelyn Waugh.

CHARLES COWARD: Known as the Count of Auschwitz. After numerous PoW escape attempts, Sergeant Coward was transferred to Auschwitz III, a Labour camp. There he managed to smuggle food to Jews and even got dynamite to help the Sonderkommando rebellion in a partially successful attempt to blow up the gas chambers. At the end of the war he is believed to have saved 400 Jews by giving them documents from dead non-Jews.

TOMMY NOBLE: Another Scot, he was among a group of British PoWs who found a Jewish girl, Sarah Hannah Rigler (ne Matuson), who had escaped from a death march. They hid and fed her in camp and saved her life.