Documents 'shed light' on Scotswoman killed at Auschwitz

By Elizabeth Quigley
BBC Scotland news

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image captionJane Haining was arrested on suspicion of espionage in 1944

They've been hidden away in an attic for years, but newly discovered documents shed further light on a Scotswoman who died in Auschwitz.

Jane Haining is the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life to help Jews in the Holocaust. She died in the Nazi concentration camp in 1944.

The items discovered include her will, more than 70 photographs of the Jewish girls she risked her life for and a letter outlining efforts to release her.

They were all found in the attic space of the Church of Scotland's head office in George Street in Edinburgh and will now be placed in the National Library of Scotland.

Her handwritten will, dated July 1942, meticulously lists what is to happen to her belongings in the event of her death - her fur coat, her wireless, her typewriter and her watches.

The collection also includes several documents outlining efforts to try to secure her release.

It's a rare glimpse into the life of this remarkable Church of Scotland missionary.

image captionThe documents were discovered in the attic space of the Church of Scotland's head office in George Street in Edinburgh

Rev Ian Alexander, secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said it was "vitally important" to remember Ms Haining as she embodied so much of the "internationalist's spirit".

"She is a Scottish woman who offers herself to go to work elsewhere in the world, to work with those who are deprived and disadvantaged in that area," he said.

"She learns German and she learns Hungarian to be able to go and work in the Scottish mission.

"That international lesson has been part and parcel of the Church of Scotland and it's great that we still have this link with the reformed church in Hungary and are working together on contemporary church issues, so she's got a great legacy."

'Days of darkness'

This weekend the Church of Scotland marks 175 years of working in Hungary.

In 1932, Ms Haining saw an advert for a job as matron to the Scottish Mission to the Jews in Budapest. She left her home in Dunscore in Dumfriesshire to work there.

But as the Nazis swept through Europe, this work became increasingly dangerous. The Kirk urged her to come home but she refused and wrote: "If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?"

In 1944, Ms Haining was arrested on suspicion of espionage. She was taken first to a local prison before being transferred to Auschwitz.

A letter discovered in this collection sheds more light on her final months.

image captionThe missionary died in Auschwitz aged 47

Rev Alexander said: "We discovered a typed-up report from the Reformed Church in Hungary where the Bishop, Laszlo Ravasz, is writing in 1945 about how he tried to intervene with the Hungarian authorities... to try and get Jane Haining out of prison after her arrest before she was moved out to Auschwitz."

The document is the bishop's report to the Synod in Hungary in 1945, but it is unclear which month it refers to.

"In the document he remembers that she was so committed to being in Hungary that she declared that she 'would stick to my post no matter what'," he said.

'Do my duty'

In his address to the Synod, the bishop said: "Her superiors three times ordered her home, but she always replied that the Hungarian people were so true-hearted, honourable, and chivalrous that among them not a hair on her head would be touched.

"'I shall continue to do my duty,' she declared, 'and stick to my post'."

Ms Haining died in Auschwitz in 1944 aged 47.

Today, work continues in Hungary.

David Bradwell is the refugee co-ordinator for Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees.

He told the BBC: "Jane Haining was working to support Jewish refugees and Jewish people needing protection. The connection between what is happening today is really very real.

"We've seen over the last 12 months particularly alarming numbers of migrants and refugees crossing into Hungary and the response of the church locally, especially St Columba's Church of Scotland in Budapest, to offer accommodation, educational support and friendship to some of the refugees.

"It really connects with some of the work that Jane Haining did all those years ago."

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