A teacher has been hired to tell pupils the story of a Scottish woman who died in a concentration camp during the Holocaust after refusing to abandon Jewish girls in her care.
Jane Haining, from Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway, was a Christian matron at the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, Hungary, in the 1930s where more than 400 girls of mostly Jewish background were studying.
When war broke out, despite knowing her life was in danger, she refused to leave their side and is reported to have said: “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
After the German occupation of Hungary in 1944, Miss Haining was betrayed by the school cook’s son-in-law, a future SS soldier, whom she caught stealing scarce food meant for the girls.
She belonged to a small group of Holocaust victims who were given the choice to leave but instead decided to stay and risk their life. In Miss Haining’s case, that was to save children.
Her story of loyalty and courage led to the Jane Haining Project (JHP) being set up by a cohort of Christian and Jewish people.
To tie in with this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, the group has announced it has hired teacher William McGair to tell Miss Haining’s story in schools across Scotland.
Teachers at Dumfries Academy, Miss Haining’s old school, and Woodfarm High School in Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, have agreed to run a pilot scheme between April and June this year.
Feedback will then be discussed before JHP looks at plans to roll out education material on Miss Haining’s life to schools across the country.
Mr McGair, a history and sociology teacher, said he is looking forward to ensuring the selfless missionary’s life and legacy is more widely known, and hopes that teaching it will broaden discussions about the cause and impact of other genocides in countries such as Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda.
“She was an ordinary person who found herself in extraordinary circumstances and her story helps bring the Holocaust to life in a relatable and meaningful way as it puts a face and name to one of the millions of people murdered by the Nazis.”
Miss Haining was a farmer’s daughter born in the village of Dunscore, near Dumfries, in 1897.
She started working at the Scottish Mission School in 1932 and managed to help keep the children, many of whom had been abandoned by their families, safe for about a decade until she was betrayed.
She was arrested in April 1944 and former pupil Agnes Rostas, who witnessed the incident, revealed that her haunting last words to sobbing children were: “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch.”
Historians said Miss Haining was charged with eight offences and jailed in Budapest. She was then taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau by rail in a cattle wagon along with scores of others on May 14, 1944.
The 47-year-old, who suffered from poor health, was given the number 79467 and was likely forced into slave labour with women said to have worked in mines for 14 hours a day with a food allowance of two clear bowls of soup.
The Church of Scotland, of which she was part of, said German officials claimed she was admitted to hospital but succumbed to cachexia – wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness – following intestinal issues.
But the church said there are doubts over the validity of this “official” claim.
Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, where more than 1.1 million people were murdered, 90% of them Jewish, on January 27, 1945.
The liberation date now marks the annual Holocaust Memorial Day.
Speaking on the day of commemorating victims, Rev Ian Alexander, a member of the JHP’s committee, said: “Jane Haining showed tremendous courage in the face of intolerable evil and her heart-breaking and inspirational story is as important today as ever.
“It is fitting that the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is ‘ordinary people’, and we are delighted that William has agreed to take this important work forward in schools as we seek to ensure that her memory is kept alive for generations to come.”
Miss Haining’s bravery led to her being posthumously awarded a Heroine of the Holocaust medal by the UK Government.
She is also the only Scot to be named Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel’s memorial to victims of the Holocaust.