Derry sisters speak of heroic aunt killed by Nazis for shielding children

Jane Haining. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)
Jane Haining. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Two Derry sisters have spoken of their admiration for their heroic aunt who was killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz after she was caught protecting Jewish girls in Hungary.

Fascinating new details about a long lost ring that belonged to brave Scottish native Jane Haining will be revealed on the Antiques Roadshow on Sunday.

L-R: Jane McIvor, Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce and Deirdre McDowell. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

L-R: Jane McIvor, Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce and Deirdre McDowell. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Jane Haining’s jewellery is being analysed by expert John Benjamin for a special episode of the iconic BBC One flagship programme to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

He will share with her two nieces, Derry women Deirdre McDowell and Jane McIvor, his professional opinion that casts fresh light on the origins of the priceless gold and red garnet stone artefact, which was recently returned to the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh.

The two women will discuss with Mr Benjamin the extraordinary story of how Miss Haining was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 for looking after Jewish girls at the Kirk-run Scottish Mission School in Budapest, Hungary.

The former boarding house matron’s handwritten will, a copy of the last letter she wrote while imprisoned in the concentration camp and photographs will also feature on the programme, which will for the first time in its history not attach a monitory value to artefacts.

Jane Haining's ring. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Jane Haining's ring. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Taking part was a proud and emotional experience for the two sisters from Derry, whose mother Agnes O’Brien was the matron’s half-sister.

They grew up hearing stories about their courageous and inspirational aunt who repeatedly refused orders from the Church to return home after the Second World War broke out because “her” girls needed her in days of “darkness”.

For four long years Miss Haining, who grew up near Dumfries, protected the pupils from the emerging threat of the Final Solution until she was betrayed by the school cook’s son-in-law whom she caught stealing scarce food.

She was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1944 and former pupil Agnes Rostas recently revealed that her haunting last words to sobbing children were “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.

The group discussing Jane Haining during filming of the Antique's Roadshow. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

The group discussing Jane Haining during filming of the Antique's Roadshow. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Miss Haining never returned to the Scottish Mission, where she worked between 1932-44, and died in the notorious camp in Nazi-occupied Poland three months later at the age of 47.

The programme was filmed at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and features testimonies that uncover untold stories and belongings from over 100 British Holocaust survivors and camp liberators.

Mrs McDowell said: “It is emotional and truly wonderful that the BBC is making this special programme which provides us with the opportunity to tell Jane’s amazing story.

“She was such a courageous woman, very determined, considerate and kind.

Jane Haining's will letter. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

Jane Haining's will letter. (Pic courtesy of Church of Scotland)

“She followed the Christian example by looking after and caring for vulnerable children.

“Our family is honoured and humbled by Jane’s actions.

“Her story is an example to us all and must continue to be told to benefit the next generation because the world should never forget the Holocaust.”

Reflecting on the occasion, Mrs McIvor added: “It was a very moving day and a great honour to be here amongst people who have tremendous stories of courage and resilience.

“Jane was an amazing woman and did such tremendous work at the Scottish Mission in Budapest.

“She lived a life of faith and was a loving person who put everyone else first.

“I was named after Jane Haining so I consider her a guide and mentor.

“If we can do anything, in any small measure, that Jane did our world would be a different and much better place.”

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.

This year marks the 40th series of Antiques Roadshow and the programme, presented by Fiona Bruce, has been made in partnership with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation.

Many of the artefacts in this special edition are of such historical importance that they are priceless.

So in a rare break with the traditions of the programme, the BBC has decided that items will not be valued.

Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said: “Jane Haining’s story is one of heroism and personal sacrifice.

“She was a woman who was simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary.”

A new Heritage Centre will be opened at Dunscore Church near Dumfries later this year and will celebrate the life of Miss Haining, who was born at nearby Lochanhead farm in 1897.

It will be part-funded by £106,400 in grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Environment Scotland which will also be used to restore and refurbish the A-listed building, which dates from 1823.