Joan McAlpine told the Scottish parliament yesterday that Scotland should have a national monument to Jane Haining, the Dumfriesshire woman who died at Auschwitz. The MSP made the call during a debate in the Scottish Parliament for Holocaust Memorial Day to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
In an emotional speech Ms McAlpine told MSPs: “Jane Haining, from the village of Dunscore, died because she protected and loved the Jewish children in her care. It is clear that Jane was that very rare thing: a truly selfless person.”
She went on:
“Jane is honoured as Righteous Among Nations in Israel. She has a memorial in Dunscore Church but the time has come for a national memorial. We are are told that the Holocaust reminds us of the depths to which human beings can sink. But the selflessness of Jane Haining reminds us of that there is good in this world, that there are human beings who rose up against evil. That is what we must never forget.”
Ms McAlpine told MSPs how Jane excelled at Dumfries Academy where she was Dux, but decided to devote her life to others when she became matron of the Church of Scotland Mission School for Jewish and Christian girls, many of them orphans, in Budapest, Hungary. She refused to leave her pupils, even when she was urged to return home to the safety of Scotland.
Ms McAlpine said: “Jane had the opportunity to stay in the safety of Scotland when war broke out but refused: “If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
Ms McAlpine’s speech can be read here:
Presiding officer, I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak in today’s debate marking International Holocaust Memorial Day. I want to begin my speech by paying tribute to a remarkable woman who perished at Auschwitz. Jane Haining, from the village of Dunscore, Dumfriesshire, died because she protected and loved the Jewish children in her care at the Church of Scotland missionary school in Budapest where she was matron. I thank the cabinet secretary for praising Jane in her opening speech.
Reading her biography, A Life of Love and Courage, by Mary Miller – which informed an excellent feature by Neil MacKay in The Herald this weekend, it is clear that Jane was that very rare thing: a truly selfless person. A farmer’s daughter, born in 1909, by the time she was five had lost her mother but she excelled at school, won a bursary to Dumfries Academy and became dux. After working in Coates Mill in Paisley, she decided to devote her life to others and that path took her to Hungary. She became surrogate mother to the girls there who were both Christian and Jewish and often poor and orphaned. Jane had the opportunity to stay in the safety of Scotland when war broke out but refused: “If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?”
Soon she was taking in refugee children from occupied countries. When Budapest fell under Nazi control in 1944, Jane was arrested by the gestapo and accused of consorting with Jews. One of her so called “crimes” was “being seen to weep when her girls were forced to sew yellow stars on their uniforms”. She arrived at Auschwitz on 15 May 1944 and on 17 July was admitted to Birkenau, the extermination part of the vast complex. One million people died in Birkenau alone, 900,000 of them were Jews. In the summer of 1944, in just eight weeks, 424,000 were transported to Auschwitz from Hungary, That is in addition to the 80,000 shot dead on the banks of the Danube that year and 70,000 starved or murdered in the Budapest Ghetto.
The near elimination of European jewry was poignantly illustrated to the parishioners from Jane’s village church in Dunscore. When in 2016 they travelled to the Budapest mission to pay their respects, they visited the synagogue where Jane’s girls would have worshiped. It was built to seat 3500. Now they have 200 worshipers on Friday at most.
Jane’s sacrifice shows that non-Jews were also victims of the Nazis. As Aileen Campbell reminded us, other Roma, disabled people, the mentally ill, gay people also perished in the camps, as were so many political opponents, particularly communists.
But we must never forget that the Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide of two thirds of Europe’s Jews. Six million people. The Shoah was a crime against Jewish people and the culmination of centuries of anti Semitism in Europe. There have been other genocides and its absolutely correct that we should remember them and learn lessons. But the world war two Holocaust was exceptional in its scale and its approach. It was pre-meditated. It was meticulously planned. It was mechanised mass murder deploying the technology of a modern European state. Mary Miller’s book on Jane Haining notes that the month she died the commandant in charge of the crematorium at Auschwitz order sieving machinery in order to separate larger pieces of bones from the cinders of human beings, which were dumped in nearby ponds.
The Shoah was not an outbreak of uncontrolled frenzied violence, such as we see in conflict zones across the world when society is brutalised and the rule of law collapses. The concentration camps were planned, built and managed by detached bureaucrats. The entire apparatus of the state, its courts and legal processes, were all designed to support the death factories. Holocaust Memorial Day falls on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which of course dwarfed the other death camps in scale. In fleeing the camp, the Nazis left evidence of their crimes, and Auschwitz was also a forced labour camp there were surviving eye witnesses to those crimes.
But our understandable focus on Auschwitz on this 75th anniversary must not be allowed to obscure the historical fact of the Holocaust stretched far beyond that vast extermination complex.
It was a widespread and systematic programme of mass murder right across occupied Europe. In the Netherlands, France, Greece, Hungary, Norway Poland, Germany itself, Jewish men, women and children were rounded up in plain sight and forced into cattle trucks transporting them east. The railway network itself was designed around the extermination programme. There was a whole chain of other death camps. 900,000 died at Treblinka, 500,000 at Belzec, 250,000 at Sobibor. And there were so many other camps. But the systematic killing of Jewish people had begun even before the death factories were established. The first stage of systematic killing was carried out by the Einsatzgruppen the mobile killing units – that involved gassing people in the backs of lorries.
At Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev in the Ukraine, the city’s Jews were forced to undress and shot before being pushed into the mass grave. In two days in September 1941 34,000 died this way.
As others have said, all these atrocities were witnessed by good men who did nothing. But many brave people, including Jane Haining did not stand aside, instead she stood up for others and paid the ultimate price. As others have said Jane is honoured as Righteous Among Nations in Israel. She has a memorial in Dunscore Church but I agree that the time has come for a national memorial.
Presiding Officer were are told that the Holocaust reminds us the depths to which human beings can sink.
The selflessness of Jane Haining reminds us of that there is good in this world, that there are human beings who rose up against evil. That is what we must never forget.