Thursday, 27 January 2011

Who's Who in Scottish Military history - Jane Haining

This is perhaps stretching the concept of someone with a "military" history, but on Holocaust Memorial Day, it is perhaps fitting to look at the life of one, and perhaps the most well-known, of the ten or so Scots who perished in the Nazi camps.

Jane Haining was born in 1897 in the small Dumfriesshire village of Dunscore. After being taught at Dumfries Academy, she gained further education in Glasgow before working at a threadmaker's in Paisley.

It was while attending a meeting about a Jewish Mission she told a friend "I have found my life's work". She subsequently worked at an orphanage for Jewish children in Hungary.

When war broke out in 1939 she was on holiday in Cornwall but she quickly went back to look after the children in her care. Despite numerous warnings by the British authorities, she refused to leave, saying "If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?"

When the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944 she was again told to leave, but again she refused. A month later she was arrested and charged with espionage. It is said she was also charged with weeping when sewing the yellow Star of David on to the clothing of the children.

She was imprisoned, then sent to a holding camp. Finally, she was sent to Auschwitz in May 1944 and tattooed with the number 79467. She died n the 17th July 1944, apparently from "cachexia following intestinal catarrh" - it is, however, said that she had been worked to her death.

Jane has never been forgotten for the sacrifice she made. Just last year she was added to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour register. There are also several memorials throughout Scotland.

The village of Dunscore has a small plaque which was originally in the Craig Church and is now in Dunscore Church, as well as a memorial outside next to the church. She is commemorated on the family gravestone in Irongray churchyard.

Dumfries Academy list her on a plaque of "notable pupils", and a memorial window to her is in Queen's Park Church in Glasgow.

Also in Glasgow can be found the medal presented to her half-sister when Jane was enrolled as a non-Jewish individual who is acknowledged as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It can be viewed free of charge at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life.

Jane's story has always had a personal touch for me. Jane's mother died when she was five years old. Her father then remarried a woman name Bena Maxwell. Bena was my great-great-aunt.

I was in occasional contact with Jane's half sister Agnes, or "Nan" as she was known in the family, until her death several years ago. She mentioned Jane a number of times in her letters, and I always got the impression in her words that she was immensely proud of her sister and the sacrifice she made. As am I.

Today of all days, we should take time to remember not just Jane, but all those who perished, in the hope that the events of those horrific times are never repeated.

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