In the quiet village of Dunscore in rolling countryside ten miles north of Dumfries in southern Scotland, you’ll find a modern memorial stone close to the parish church.  It was put there by the community showing their pride in a local woman who had died seventy-seven years ago.  She was brought up on a farm near the village and attended the local school before moving on to Dumfries Academy, where she excelled academically.  It was the launch pad for an extraordinary and courageous life that was to end in the death camp at Auschwitz.

I came across Jane Haining when I was doing research for my latest book, Mammon in Malmö, which appears in paperback this week in the UK.  I had never heard of her until we reached Budapest where I sent Anita Sundström on a seemingly impossible mission to discover a number of Dutch masters that had been looted by the Nazis during their occupation of the Hungarian capital in 1944.  We were staying in a flat overlooking the Danube, and the quay a short distance along the river was called Jane Haining Rakpart.  Intrigued, I started to look into what had brought this Scots woman so far from home and why was she being honoured by the Hungarians.

After school, Jane moved to Glasgow.  She took with her strong Christian beliefs, and while working as a secretary for a well-known thread manufacturer she began teaching at the Sunday school of Queen’s Park West United Free Church.  It was when she attended a meeting of the Jewish Mission Committee and heard Rev. Dr. George Mackenzie, the committee chairman, speak of his missionary work that she realised that she had found her calling.  To that end, she studied for a diploma for a qualification in domestic science and housekeeping and then found employment for her new-found skills.  In 1932, she answered an advertisement in the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work for the position of matron at the girls’ hostel attached to its Jewish mission school in Budapest.

She worked in the Vörösmarty Street Mission building, looking after the boarders, a mix of Jewish and Christian girls.  She cared deeply for her charges in a world that was becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.  In 1939, she returned to Scotland for a visit with the headmistress of the school, Margit Prém.  It was to be Jane’s last to Dunscore.  With war erupting, she was advised by the Church of Scotland Mission Committee that she should not return to Hungary; but she didn’t want to abandon her girls.  Her answer was that if the children needed her in days of sunshine, they had much more need of her in days of darkness.

Life was difficult during the war years, made increasingly perilous after the Nazis moved into Budapest in 1944.  In the courageous daily struggle to protect and feed her girls in a dangerously hostile environment, where trains packed with Jews were trundling remorselessly towards Auschwitz every day, it was only a matter of time before the Gestapo came calling.  When they did – she was betrayed by the son-in-law of the Mission cook – she faced eight charges.  Among them were helping Jews, weeping when sewing on yellow stars on the girls’ clothing, sending parcels to British prisoners of war and listening to the BBC.  Jane admitted to all the charges except being active in politics.

Jane Haining died in Auschwitz on or about the 17th July, 1944.  Her life is commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, at her church in Glasgow and in Dunscore.  I gave her a mention in Mammon in Malmö – it seemed the least I could do in memory of such a remarkable human being.

There’s an excellent book on her life by Mary Miller entitled Jane Haining: A Life of Love and Courage if you’d like to find out more.