Holocaust Memorial Day is Monday 27 January and UNISON Renfrewshire will be remembering the only Scot who died in a Nazi concentration camp – Jane Haining.
In 1932, she responded to an advert in the Church of Scotland magazine for the position of a matron at the Scottish Mission School in Budapest. When Germany annexed Austria in 1937, Budapest became a major destination for Jewish people fleeing the Nazis.
Jane and the Scottish Mission did vital work saving Jewish refugees by helping them emigrate to safety – by February 1939 it was running courses in farming, cattle breeding and any other subjects that would help refugees get jobs abroad.
Jane was visiting home in Scotland when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Despite all warnings from the Church of Scotland for foreign missionaries to return home, Jane went back to Budapest and the Mission. She said: “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?’.”
In 1944, Germany took possession of Hungary and the Nazis controlled Budapest. Life became immensely difficult and many Jews were immediately transported to forced labour camps or to their deaths. In April 1944, the Gestapo arrived at the Mission and arrested Jane for harbouring more than 400 children, the majority of whom were Jewish orphans, and took her to Auschwitz, where she died three months later aged 47.
UNISON Renfrewshire branch secretary Mark Ferguson said: “The memorial work we’ve done over the past few years on Jane Haining has been very humbling, and having the opportunity to build a relationship with her family has been so special. We are working on telling the story of someone who lived and worked in our community for a long time, and it’s an incredible story.”
“In 2018, we organised a delegation visit to Auschwitz with her family, including a historian. We held a memorial outside the block where she was detained alongside Hungarian women and children. When she was killed, the Nazis sent a death certificate to the family which said she had died in hospital of a lung infection. She was actually executed in the gas chambers, and we visited the gas chambers.”
“The first minister has commented on the work we’ve done, and BBC Scotland created a programme that tells Jane’s story. The next part of the project is to create a legacy education programme for young women”
Members of UNISON Renfrewshire and members of Jane Haining’s family at a memorial service at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2018, outside the block she was held in.
A Scottish delegation involving five branches will be participating in a study tour at the end of March 2020. This is being supported by the national office. The delegation will participate in a fully guided tour of Krakow (Ghetto and Shindler’s Factory and Plazow Concentration Camp), Auschwitz 1 and Birknenau camp including memorial service for Jane Haining.
Alarmingly, Holocaust denial remains a serious problem in the UK. A survey carried out by Opinion Matters for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that 5% of adults in the UK (2.6 million people) did not believe the Holocaust happened and one in 12 believed the scale had been exaggerated.
45% of those polled said they did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust, while one in five (19%) believed fewer than two million Jews were murdered. The actual figure was six million.
A survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency in December 2018 found that 89% of Jews living in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK feel anti-Semitism has increased in their country over the past decade. 85% believed anti-Semitism was now a serious problem.
Almost half worried about being insulted or harassed in public before they are Jewish and more than a third feared being physically attacked.