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Jane Haining: A life of love and courage, by Mary Miller 

28 June 2019

William Whyte on a Scottish missionary who died in Auschwitz

LIKE many missionaries, Jane Haining left little behind her in material terms. Her will, written two years before she died, disposes of two watches, a wireless, a typewriter, and some small keepsakes. At her death, in 1944, she did not even own as much as this. Her personal belongings comprised a collection of recipes, a small series of letters and photographs, one book of shopping lists and another of accounts, and a copy of the New Testament. This was all that was sent back from Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she had been murdered by the Nazis.

In all sorts of ways, Haining was an unlikely martyr. She is an even less likely figure to find commemorated as one of the very few “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem. A sensible, serious-minded Scottish Presbyterian, she travelled to Prague hoping to convert Jewish people to Christianity, not expecting to die alongside them, having spent years attempting to stem a rising tide of anti-Semitism. Even the fact that the Germans sent her pathetic collection of documents back to her colleagues seems implausible. Yet it did happen, and her story — however improbable — is true.

The staff of the Scottish School, Budapest, in 1941: Jane Haining is front, centre. From the book

In this well-researched and clearly written book, Mary Miller pieces together the fragments of a life. She follows her subject’s development from a small Scottish village to a Presbyterian mission in Central Europe, and then on to a death in the most appalling circumstances in German-occupied Poland.

Haining is in some respects a difficult subject. Precisely because there is so little of her own writing to rely on, she has to be evoked using other people’s imperfect memories. But her firm moral compass emerges clearly, making her story heroic as well as heart-rending. Materially, she may have left little behind, but her legacy is enduring.

The Revd Dr William Whyte is Fellow and Tutor of St John’s College, Oxford, and Professor of Social and Architectural History in the University of Oxford.

Jane Haining: A life of love and courage
Mary Miller
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