Heroes Are Not Born
We don’t normally think of the Scots in terms of those who rescued Jewish people from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. We’re more familiar with Corrie Ten Boom born in the Netherlands and the German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer. But, when the name, Jane Haining, from Dunscore, Dumfriesshire in Scotland recently came to my attention, I determined to know more about her courageous selfless life.
Heroes are most often ordinary people who heed the call to use their lives in an attempt to save others. The following verses penned by the wisest man who ever lived reveal what is truly at stake,
Deliver those who are drawn toward death,
And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Surely we did not know this,”
Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?
He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?
And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?
Jane Haining was born at Lochenhead Farm in Dunscore, Scotland in 1897. She attended the local village school and earned a scholarship to the Dumfries Academy in 1909. Following training at Glasgow Athenaeum Commercial College, Ms. Haining worked as a secretary for 10 years while living in the Pollockshields neighborhood of Glasgow. Hailing from a deeply religious evangelically-minded family, she attended Queen’s Park West United Free Church.
At a meeting of the Free Church where the work of the Jewish Mission was presented, Jane leaned over to her friend and confided that she had found her life’s work.
In 1932 at the age of 35, she became the matron of the Girls’ Home at the Scottish Mission School on Vörösmarty Street in Budapest, Hungary. The Scottish Mission School was built in 1910 as a safe place for young Jewish and Christian girls to live and learn together. Many of the 315 students came from the city’s growing Jewish population.
In a 2013 interview, Rev. Aaron Stevens, the pastor of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest, described Jane Haining as, “the example of tolerance before tolerance was cliché. She was an authentic Christian witness among people of other faiths without forcing them to convert.” (1)
Quickly assimilating into the culture and gaining proficiency in both the Hungarian and German languages, Haining selflessly devoted her life to the young girls under her tutelage.
At 5:00 A.M. each morning, she personally went to a local market to ensure her girls would have the best available food for the day. She was so committed to the welfare of her students, she even cut up her leather luggage to make soles for the girl’s worn out shoes.
When the Second World War erupted, Jane was on furlough vacationing in Cornwall on the southern coast of England. Without hesitation, she abruptly ended her holiday and began the arduous journey back to Budapest with renewed determination to help the Jewish children at the school.
A year later, the mission ordered her to return to the relative safety of Scotland. She patently refused. As the war raged around her and Jewish people were increasingly the target of Nazi terrorism in Europe, she was again ordered to return to Scotland. Haining was adamant in her determination to stay.
When Germany invaded Hungary in March of 1944, she again refused directives to go back to Scotland saying, “If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness? I shall continue to do my duty and stick to my post.” (2)
For four years, Jane Haining protected dozens of Jewish girls in the tide of rising anti-Semitism and intense scrutiny by government officials. In the end, the son-in-law of a staff member who was caught pilfering the girl’s food betrayed Jane to Nazi officers.
On April 25, 1944, Gestapo agents raided the school searching both Haining’s office and bedroom. Within 15 minutes of the forceful intrusion, she was dragged away to a local prison for interrogation.
Shortly thereafter, she was transferred to Auschwitz death camp in Poland, tattooed with the number 79467 and sentenced to hard labor. In a postcard that somehow managed to reach a friend while Jane was at Auschwitz, she requested food and concluded the brief note with, “There is not much to report here on the way to heaven.” (3)
Although the death certificate sent from Auschwitz stated that she died in hospital on July 17, records confirm she was almost certainly exterminated with a group of Hungarian Jewish women on August 16, 1944.
Years later, one of her students recalled,
“I still feel the tears in my eyes and hear in my ears the siren of the Gestapo motor car. I see the smile on her face while she bade me farewell. I never saw Miss Haining again, and when I went to the Scottish Mission to ask the minister about her, I was told she had died. I did not want to believe it, nor to understand, but a long time later I realized that she had died for me, and for others.”
Her heroism is commemorated among the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Her memory is also honored in a commemorative stained glass window at Queens Park Church in Glasgow and with a memorial marker outside Dunscore Kirk in Dunscore, Scotland.
The life story of Jane Haining is a reminder that not everyone who helped protect and rescue Jewish people during the Holocaust has been widely or publicly celebrated. But, today’s text reveals that each individual—who played a unique role in preserving Jewish people during the Holocaust—will be amply rewarded (v. 12).
Jane Haining’s seemingly obscure heroism is not well known. But her life demonstrates that people of faith can choose to live with selfless courage, unswerving integrity and unwavering determination.
Jane Haining’s selfless life is a reminder that heroism doesn’t just happen. Heroism involves a choice. Jane Haining isn’t a hero because of the way she died, but rather because of the way she chose to live.
Firmly grounded in the foundation of God’s Word, Miss Haining’s conviction to live a selfless life set the precedent for resolve and determination to do all in her power to, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter” (v. 11).
No one is born a hero. But you can choose to live life heroically in spite of circumstances. The words of the apostle Paul apply when he encouraged all people of faith to, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).
1) Jane Haining portrait. (Photo credit: With special thanks, courtesy of The Church of Scotland/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Jane Haining and “her” girls having fun at Lake Balaton where their summer holidays were spent in a rented villa. (Photo credit: With special thanks, courtesy of The Church of Scotland/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Yad Vashem “Certificate of Honour” Commemorating the Life of Jane Haining located in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo credit: With special thanks, courtesy of The Church of Scotland/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Professor Eva Haller, one of Jane Haining’s “girls” who said she owed her life to her mentor, standing by one of the stained glass windows dedicated to the matron at Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church in Glasgow. (Photo credit: By Nick Ponty, with special thanks, courtesy of The Church of Scotland/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
5) Memorial marker honoring Jane Haining at Dunscore Parish Church, Scotland. (Photo credit: With special thanks, courtesy of The Church of Scotland/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
1) Evolution of the Scottish Mission in Budapest, Reformation Church of Hungary, August 15, 2013.
2) Elizabeth Quigley, “Documents ‘shed light’ on Scotswoman killed at Auschwitz,” BBC Scotland News, September 14, 2016.
3) Jane Haining, Yad Vashem Archives.
Copyright © Charles E. McCracken 2016, comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.