Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 26th January 2023.
My thanks to my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid for bringing forward the debate and my commendations to Andrew Western on an excellent maiden speech.
I want to tell the House the story of an ordinary person who became extraordinary through her love and courage, who did not look the other way and who eventually laid down her life for her commitment. When Jane Haining was arrested by the Gestapo at the school where she worked in Budapest one morning in April 1944, she told the children in her care:
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back by lunch.”
She did not come back. Instead, from one of Budapest’s police stations, Jane was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Unlike the 12,000 Hungarian Jews who were arriving daily to the horror of Auschwitz, Jane’s journey started not on the cobbled streets or Budapest or the Someşul Mic side town of Cluj but in the rolling farmland of my native Dumfriesshire. Her so-called crime, unlike the Hungarian Jews she arrived with, was not her ethnicity but her faith and courage. Like almost all who arrived at the camp at that time, Jane died within a few weeks—at just 47—in conditions that few can comprehend. She was the only Scot to die in the holocaust.
Jane had, in a very literal sense, given her whole life to others. As a young girl in Dunscore in eastern Dumfriesshire, she had given it to her younger sisters for whom she had become the carer on the death of her mother. After her graduation from Dumfries Academy, where she had excelled in languages, she worked as a secretary in Paisley and Glasgow before finally finding her calling as a missionary in the Church of Scotland.
From June 1932, Jane was the matron of the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, a boarding house for Jewish and Christian girls. Life and work at the school was overtly Christian, but Jewish parents were keen to see their daughters attend the school not only because of the quality of the education but because of how the girls were accepted. As one commentator noted:
“Jewish girls who came here were not seen as second-class pupils. They were just welcome.”
That must have felt precious to the pupils and their parents as the persecution of the 1930s become more prevalent and pernicious.
Even before the start of world war two, the Church of Scotland had repeatedly advised Jane to leave Budapest, but she refused. After her final visit to her home in Scotland in 1939, she wrote
“if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me now”?
It is a testament to Jane and a reminder of our capacity for good that her concern was always the children’s needs, not her own safety. Her courage and selflessness, though, cost Jane her life.
When the Nazis swept into Budapest in March 1944, Jane was arrested within a month. Her crimes, according to the Gestapo, included that “she had wept” when, as prescribed by law, she had sewn yellow stars on to the pupils’ clothes. Her sympathies for the Jewish people had been revealed to Nazi authorities by the son-in-law of the cook at her school, whom she had scolded for eating food intended for the girls in her care.
Jane was rightly recognised in 1997 by Yad Vashem as one of the righteous among the nations. She is also recognised as a national hero in Hungary. It was there in 2019 that I, as Secretary of State for Scotland, had the privilege of leading thousands of people through the streets of Budapest on the march of the living, an annual event to mark Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which movingly that year was dedicated to Jane and started in a street named after her.
Here in the UK, Jane is remembered with a cairn outside Dunscore parish church, and an informative exhibition within it. For those wishing to know more about her life, I encourage them to look to Mary Miller’s book on Jane’s life, “A Life of Love and Courage”, to find out more. While her life, like all those taken in the holocaust, cannot be restored, it can and must be remembered, and I would certainly like to see it remembered more fully and more widely.
As the holocaust and its victims move further into memory, it is right that we do more to ensure that current and future generations comprehend the scale of the horror, but also the impact of each individual loss, and through Jane’s example—the example of an ordinary person—remember that for all the evil in the world, if we do not compromise or look away then, like Jane, there is always something that each individual can do to combat it. As Rev. Aaron Stevens of St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest eulogised:
“Jane Haining’s service and sacrifice shows that caring for people from different backgrounds in no way compromises our faith. In fact, it just might be the fullest expression of it.”
May God bless Jane Haining. She was truly a light in the darkness, and may her light shine even brighter in the future.