to Hungary to convert young Jews to Christianity in a Scottish mission. But when she refused to abandon them for her own safety, she was arrested by the Nazis as a spy and died at Auschwitz.
Now, a film is being developed to tell the story of Jane Haining, a Scottish martyr who died in the notorious Nazi death camp in Poland because of her dedication to the 400 children in her care.
She is remembered by survivors, and commemorated in three monuments in Israel and Scotland; but the movie’s screenwriter believes that Haining should be recognised as “Scotland’s Schindler”.
Oskar Schindler was the ethnic German industrialist who put Jews to work in his factories, saving many from the Nazi death camps. His story was made famous in the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler’s List.
Titled There Are Mountains On The Road to Heaven, the Haining film is backed by the European Commission, Scottish TV and Scottish Screen. Director Mark Littlewood believes that it will give Haining the eulogy she deserves.
“This story was forgotten for years, until a missionary wrote a pamphlet about her,” said the boss of Pelicula Films. “But this farmer’s daughter from Dumfries, whose own mother died when she was five, was annihilated by the Nazis because she would not leave her Jewish children.”
The unassuming girl from the farm of Lochenhead, near Dunscore village, believed that she had found her “life’s work” when she took up the post of matron of the girls’ home in Budapest in 1932.
Haining, then 35, enthusiastically took to her work with the 363 children, of whom 255 were Jewish. She wrote to a friend: “The pupils range in age from six to 16. We try to surround these girls with a Christian home atmosphere and, without trying to thrust religion down their throats, to instil in them, consciously or subconsciously, by practice as well as precept, what Christianity means.”
When the second world war broke out, the Church of Scotland told its missionaries to come home, but mother-figure Haining refused to leave her loved ones.
She wrote to friends: “What a ghastly feeling it must be to know nobody wants you and to feel your neighbours literally grudge you your daily bread.”
In another letter, she added: “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
Survivors remember her cutting up her leather luggage to make shoes, and weeping at their yellow stars. Some believe that she worked with the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who helped Jewish children such as the US senator Tom Lantos to safety.
The school continued to run as before, until the spring of 1944 when Hitler moved on his supposed ally, Hungary, and its population of 760,000 Jews.
Haining had reprimanded the son-in-law of the school cook for stealing the girls’ food. This Hungarian Nazi Party member denounced her as a spy, and in April 1944 the Gestapo took her away.
She was interrogated for “crimes”, including working among the Jews, crying at their yellow stars, listening to BBC news broadcasts and visiting British prisoners of war. Although she denied being active in politics, she was taken to Fö utca prison in Budapest, then in late April transported to Auschwitz.
In the following three months, 1.3 million people there were “liquidated”. Haining survived the first selection , but by July 17, 1944 the 47-year-old prisoner 79467 was dead. Her death certificate said she died of “cachexia [malnutrition] following intestinal catarrh”.
In her last letter, Haining wrote: “There is not much to report here. Even here on the way to Heaven are mountains, but further away than ours.”
It is unclear what happened to the children at the mission, but few survived.
The film will be a Hungarian co-production and the executive producer is Iain Smith, producer of Entrapment, which starred Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Oliver Stone’s Alexander.
Chris Dolan, the screenwriter, said: “In one sense Jane Haining was another Schindler, but Scottish and a woman. But the real interest to me is that here is a woman who goes out to convert Jews to Christianity, and ends up trying to save them from Christianity gone berserk, in Nazism. The dramatic crisis will be that moment of conversion.”
Littlewood’s film is based on interviews with four pupils who survived: Dr Zsuzsanna Pajs, Dr Maria Kremer, and Ibolya Suranyi, who live in Budapest, and Annette Lantos in Washington, who is interviewed along with her childhood sweetheart, Senator Lantos.
Annette Lantos said last week: “I was a very young girl when she was principal of the Scottish mission school. I remember her as a wonderful light in that dark period. She created an atmosphere of democracy, equality, tolerance, and we all felt incredibly privileged as it was such a contrast with the world around us.
“She came from Scotland to be in that war-devastated land, and brought us something we didn’t know existed. She took us on walks, hand in hand, and gave us an insight into a world completely cut off from us. I was absolutely devastated about what happened to her: it was an unbelievable, heroic and compassionate act that she was not going to aban don her charges.”
Laurence Rees, producer of the BBC series Auschwitz, which starts on Tuesday, and author of an accompanying book, said: “I’m delighted to hear that there are plans to make a film of Jane Haining’s life. She was a remarkable woman and I welcome any attempt to bring the story of Auschwitz and all those who suffered there to a wider audience.” 09 January 2005