Holocaust heroine to be celebrated at new Heritage Centre

Jane Haining
Jane Haining

A new Heritage Centre is to be opened to celebrate the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls in the Holocaust.

Jane Haining’s extraordinary story of heroism, bravery ;and personal sacrifice which resulted in her dying in Auschwitz in 1944 will be celebrated at the facility within Dunscore Church near Dumfries, which is expected to open later this year.

An existing room near the front of the A-listed building will be extended and modified and will feature a large glass door, folding exhibition panels and a TV monitor to show relevant films

It will feature photographs, letters, documents and other personal effects relating to the brave Kirk missionary, who was born at Lochanhead Farm near the village in 1897 and attended the Craig Church in Dunscore with her family.

Exciting development for Dunscore

A copy of her handwritten last will and testament, which was found in the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh last year, will likely be on display.

The renovation work, which has been approved by the Kirk’s Committee on Church Art and Architecture (Carta);will be part funded by a £106,400 grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Historic Environment Scotland. (HES)

A memorial cairn for Miss Haining, who was the matron at the Scottish Mission School in Budapest, Hungary between 1932-44 and looked after Christian and Jewish girls whom she treated equally, stands near Dunscore Church.

Dunscore Church
Dunscore Church

The news was welcomed by Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland.

He said the story of Miss Haining – who died in the same camp as some of “her” Jewish girls at the age of 47 – was heart breaking but also truly inspirational.

Mr Alexander said: “This is an exciting development for Dunscore congregation.

“The Heritage Centre will include information on the life of Jane Haining, a woman who was simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, and will highlight how her life in the church, the village and the community shaped her, and prepared her for her future work.

“The life of faith weaves itself through the whole history of the village, and having a warm and welcoming Church will offer opportunity for people to be transformed today and also go out and change the world.”

Miss Haining, a former Dux at Dumfries Academy who spoke Hungarian and German, was in Cornwall on holiday when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and she immediately returned to her post in Budapest.

She refused orders for her superiors to return home several times, famously writing “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness.”

Don't worry I will be back by lunch

For four long years Miss Haining protected and sheltered the girls in her care until she was betrayed by the school cook’s son-in-law whom she caught stealing food.

She was arrested by the Gestapo and former pupil Agnes Rostas revealed in September last year that her haunting last words to sobbing children were “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.

Miss Haining never did return to the school, located next to St Columba’s Scottish Church, and was held in a Budapest prison for several months before being transferred to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland where she died a slave labourer.

Miss Haining, who is likely to have perished in the gas chambers,was posthumously named as Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem's sacred Yad Vashem in 1997 and awarded a Hero of the Holocaust medal by the UK Government in 2010.

Rev Ian Alexander
Rev Ian Alexander

The Heritage Centre will also focus on the history of Dunscore Church – the current building dates back to 1823 - and the village.

The grant money will also be used to carry out urgent repairs to the roof, walls and windows and make the building more accessible, flexible and welcoming – the work as a whole is expected to start as soon as possible.

The church has suffered considerable damage from winter storms in recent years and there is a need for repairs to stonework, pointing, gutters and to internal plasterwork.;

Peter Gunnell, chairman of the Church Board, said: “We are delighted to have secured the funding needed to carry out the essential repairs and the alterations to the church.;

“Dunscore Church has a small, energetic congregation and for many years we have been looking for ways to make the church warmer, more welcoming and suitable for increased community use.

“This funding helps us to achieve these goals.”

Session clerk Colin Mitchell said:“It will be amazing to have a warm, dry church that is in good condition.;

“Moreover, having a building that is better suited to concerts and large events will complement the Glenriddell Hall and the Heritage Centre will be a great addition to the village.”;

The main contractor is local builder William Waugh & Sons.

BDS Digital of Dumfries will be assisting the church project team with the creation of the Heritage Centre.

Scottish Mission
Miss Haining referred to Scottish Mission pupils as "her" girls.