By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary hosts an exhibition honoring a Church of Scotland missionary killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau for protecting Jewish children in Budapest. Jane Haining was the only Scottish woman known to have died in the Nazi-run extermination camp in occupied Poland. The exhibition ‘Common Fate’ is held for the first time at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center, 73 years after her death.
Marking its opening, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said Haining’s story was one of “unimaginable courage.” While working at the girls’ home of the Scottish Mission school in Budapest, she refused to return to Scotland despite appeals from church officials.
She reportedly said that the children needed her in the “days of darkness“ and that she saw them as “children of God.” Many of the 400 pupils at the Scottish Mission school were from a Jewish background.
The missionary was arrested at the school on April 25, 1944, and detained by the Gestapo; the feared secret police of Nazi-Germany. While students were able to escape to safety, Haining was charged with working among Jews and taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. She died there in a gas chamber, aged 47.
British Ambassador Iain Lindsay called Haining “a Holocaust hero of great pride” for Britain. He said Haining was also a symbol of freedom of religion, who came to work as a Scottish church missionary to Catholic Hungary, where she saved Jews.
Budapest named a central section of the Danube river embankment after Haining in 2010. Israel awarded the martyred missionary the title Righteous Among the Nations in 1997.
Spokesman Zoltan Toth-Heinemann of the Holocaust Memorial Center said Haining was “a unique figure” in Hungary’s Holocaust history “because all the other players including the Holocaust rescuers or victims or perpetrators were local people.”
He stressed that she was “the only one who had the chance to choose to stay there to risk her life to save the children or just leave and come to back to Britain.”
Her detention underscored Hungary’s controversial role in the Holocaust, or Shoah, in which at least 600,000 Hungarian Jews died. Hungary was a close ally of Nazi-Germany during most of the war.
Recently discovered personal items show that late Bishop László Ravasz of the Reformed Church in Hungary wrote to his Synod how he unsuccessfully tried to intervene with Hungarian authorities to enable Haining’s release from prison before she was sent to Auschwitz. The items were placed in the National Library of Scotland.
Toth-Heinemann said he had just visited the area to get inspiration how to “keep up her memory, to share her great story.”
He wants to help “educate young generations to learn that sometimes it is important to make a sacrifice.”
Teacher Fiona Malcolm of the Braes High School in Palmont near Falkirk, Scotland, teaches Haining’s story to third-year pupils.
Malcolm recalled that she recently visited Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and was “privileged to see the name of Jane Haining in the Garden of Remembrance” there. “I am in Danscore the village where Jane Haining was raised. It breaks my heart when I look around, and I see that beautiful part of Scotland where she grew up and how she ended her days in the hellhole that was Auschwitz.”