The missionary Jane Haining was one of the only Scots to be killed by the Nazis in a death camp during WW2.
She defied orders to return to Scotland in 1940, after the outbreak of the war, from the Scottish Jewish Mission in Budapest where she was matron. She continued in her work, making sure the girls in her care were fed, educated, loved and respected in the most difficult of times.
She did not abandon them.
Jane Haining’s life was filled with love, laughter, friendship and support, qualities she used to great effect in her time in Scotland and Hungary. The influences from every aspect of her life shaped her. It is important the story of this brave, committed and caring woman is known in the country of her birth.
Jane Haining was born on 6 June 1897, in Lochhead Farm in Dunscore, Kirkcudbrightshire, now Dumfries and Galloway. She was the third daughter of Jane (nee Mathison) and Thomas Haining. Alongside her sisters Alison and Margaret, she grew up to be familiar with the daily and seasonal tasks, and weather range, experienced by a farming family.
While Jane’s young life was rich in love and friendship, she also had to face grief and loss. In 1902, she experienced the death of her mother, shortly after the birth of her younger sister, Helen. Jane’s mother had suffered from pernicious anaemia before her pregnancy and did not survive the birth of her fourth daughter. Baby Helen died later, a second sorrow in a short time for the family.
Jane began her school life in Dunscore Village School. She was a quick and keen learner and was reading from an early age. Having successfully completed her bursary examinations she followed her sisters on to Dumfries Academy. Jane excelled at school, she received 41 prizes over her 6 years, gained Higher Leaving Certificates in English, Mathematics, Latin, French and German and was Dux in her final year. Her name is listed on the board which hangs in the school today. Her faith and character were formed in those years.
A significant backdrop to Jane’s later school life was the 1914-1918 war. It was a turbulent time of conflict and social unrest. Many young men served in local regiments, women worked in factories and fields and looked after families at home. Jane would know many of the young men who signed up for local regiments and died in battles such as the Somme in 1916. Young men are remembered in the war memorials around the country, Jane’s small village of Dunscore has 40 names on its memorial. Meanwhile, across the country the fight for women’s suffrage and rights continued. In Govan, Glasgow Mary Barbour and Helen Crawford were successfully mobilising women to fight rent increases.
A working woman
After leaving school in 1915, Jane went back to Lochhead Farm to work with the family at a time of great labour shortage. At the age of twenty she moved to the city and trained in the Glasgow and West of Scotland Commercial College. An able student, she gained employment after graduating in the office of the Counting House of J.P. Coats in Ferguslie, Paisley. Her first position was as a clerk but her ability was recognised while working there. She made progress to be a secretary to one of the directors, Matthew Peacock. He recognised her talents while at J.P. Coats and she may have continued to advance her career, had her calling to be a missionary not been so strong. Matthew Peacock continued to be a friend throughout Jane’s life.
Although Jane worked in Paisley she lived in the south side of Glasgow. There she attended Queen’s Park West Church, enjoying her time as a Sunday school teacher and with the youth in the Band of Hope. She is remembered for her generosity to her Sunday School class, especially for the buns she provided at her own cost.
A diploma course at the Glasgow College of Domestic Science provided Jane with the qualification to be a matron in a children’s home. While in Manchester, in her first post of this kind, she saw an advert for the post of matron in the Scottish Jewish Mission School in Budapest. Her application was accepted and a new life in another country awaited. In April 1932 Jane went to St Colm’s, the Church of Scotland training college for women missionaries in Edinburgh. The ethos at St Colm’s suited Jane and she carried it on in her work in Budapest – good routines and organisation, Bible study, practical and academic studies and a fine range of recreational activities. This was a happy time of collective and personal learning that prepared Jane for the next stage in her life as matron at the Scottish Mission for Jewish Girls in Budapest.
Scottish Jewish Mission School, Budapest
In addition to educational excellence the Scottish Jewish Mission School aimed to nurture a Christian community. Strong bonds with staff and girls were developed and Jane’s talents for language, organisation and understanding the needs of others were allowed to flourish. There were rules and routines to follow but also time for individuals and particular needs.
Although busy in work there was always an element – or even a good dose – of fun included in the educating of young minds. Festivals and achievements were celebrated and parties held. Saturday outings in and around Budapest took place, including skating in the winter. Summer holidays were arranged at Lake Balaton with the girls, and staff, enjoying swimming, cycling, and walking in the warm summer days.
Jane formed good relationships with her colleagues and became a good friend of the head teacher at the school, Margrit Prem, who had also trained in St. Colm’s in Edinburgh. In 1939 Jane took some time to return home, and Margit Prem accompanied her. They travelled around Scotland and Northern Ireland visiting church groups and returned to Dunscore. After visiting her sister Margaret in Bromley , Kent they headed for Devon and Cornwall. On 3 September 1939, whilst in Cornwall, Britain declared war with Germany. Their holiday ended and they made the very difficult journey back to Budapest through northern Europe. Jane spent the autumn evenings back in the school making a photograph album of this trip for Margrit Prem as a Christmas present. The album exists as a treasured possession of the Prem family.
In the years before the outbreak of war, Jewish families suffered from the anti-semitic attitudes and laws introduced by the Hungarian Fascist Government. Many Jewish families had businesses and homes taken by force. The school was under great pressure to take more girls, as it was seen as a safe space for them. More pupils and less income (parents couldn’t afford to pay the fees as they had done before) meant that the school experienced many challenges in staying open. Schreder, the son-in-law of the school housekeeper, was a fascist sympathiser.
Agnes revealed that Jane’s last words to the children when she was taken by the gestapo were “don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.
The Church of Scotland Communications Committee minutes from 1940, record the letters sent to the Scottish Jewish Mission. They ‘recommended’ that Jane leave Budapest, but she declined. In a telegram she declared:
“UNABLE TO TRAVEL ALONE STOP NO BRITISH LEAVING STOP LOCAL CONDITIONS FAVOUR REMAINING STOP– JANE HAINING”
Most difficult of times
The years from 1939 to 1944 were increasingly difficult for those trying to keep the school functioning well and providing the girls in their care with physical and emotional support. Using all her skills, contacts and determination Jane provided food despite scarcity and increased costs.
The situation was very difficult by Christmas 1943, when Jane cut up her own leather suitcase for presents for the staff and girls, to use as new soles for their shoes during the harsh winter.
By 1944 the German army had occupied Hungary and conditions and scarcities were worsening. The mission was obliged to sew yellow stars on the clothing of the Jewish girls. Jane was seen crying as she sewed on the stars.
Mrs Kovacs the school housekeeper had been dismissed from her post in keeping with the new Nazi laws. She was an ‘Aryan’ (falsely used by Nazis and others to mean white people) so could not work for the benefit of Jewish girls. One morning her son-in-law, Schreder, was found by Jane in the school kitchen complete with a new leather jacket and boots. He had stayed overnight in the school and was eating food needed for the girls.
Jane ordered Schreder to leave. He left but did not go back to the barracks. Schreder went to the Gestapo.
On the morning of 25 April 1944 two Gestapo officers entered the mission and arrested Jane Haining. She was charged on 8 counts:
1) That she had worked among the Jews.
2) That she had wept when putting yellow stars on the girls.
3) That she had dismissed her housekeeper, who was an Aryan.
4) That she had listened to the ews broadcasts of the BBC.
5) That she had many British visitors.
6) That she was active in politics.
7) That she visited British prisoners of war.
8) That she sent them parcels.
She admitted to all the charges except being active in politics.
Jane spent time in the city jail in Buda and shared a cell, in appalling conditions, with other women, including a friend Frances Lee. Her positive attitude helped the community in the jail maintain good spirits. With their array of clothing, in various states of cleanliness and repair, Jane organised a fashion parade and gave an ‘appropriate’ commentary which raised morale with fun and laughter.
Soon after, Jane was ordered to leave the city jail. Her friend Frances recalled that in collecting her belongings together, Jane had forgotten to pack her beloved hairbrush which she got great pleasure from using. Jane would not need her hairbrush again. Jane Haining arrived in Auschwitz on 15 May 1944, at the age of 47 in a transport of 31 Hungarian Jews. On arrival she was stripped, tattooed with the number 79467, disinfected, hair shaved, before being issued with striped clothing and clogs.
In Jane’s last letter to the head of the mission dated a few days before she died, she asked for food to be sent and referenced her fondness for her beloved Dunscore stating “even here on the way to heaven are mountains”.
There is no record of how Jane felt or all that she endured at Auschwitz. She died in a gas chamber, according to the Dumfries and Galloway Standard (27 September 1944), on 17 July 1944. Esther Balasz, one of Jane’s pupils at the Scottish Mission remembered her in this way: “What was her secret, how could she reach people so effectively? It was genuine living love. She could have chosen security, but she knew she must stay with her flock. She died in the same place and in the same way as her children did. She followed Christ’s example to the very end.”
“Miss Haining and all the others wouldn’t want memorial speeches or floral tributes. Our tribute to them, who ever contributed to the Scottish Mission, is not to let anyone be alone in their sorrow or in their joy, but to give love in abundance.”
‘If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?’