PROUD relatives of the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life to help protect Jewish schoolgirls during the Holocaust have attended a special reunion to see her handwritten will.
The priceless document, along with recently discovered photographs, a ring and letters, gives a new insight into the life of Jane Haining, who died in the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp in 1944 at the age of 47.
The event was an emotional moment for Joyce Greenlees as it was the first time she had met the children and grandchildren of the courageous Church of Scotland’s missionary’s late half-sister, Agnes O’Brien.
The 59-year-old, from Cumbernauld, whose grandfather Harold Robert Haining was the Christian martyr’s cousin, only learned she had family links in Northern Ireland, Belgium and England after reading about the discovery of the will in September this year.
Caitriona Topping, 24, whose grandmother was Agnes O’Brien, said she felt her connection with Miss Haining, who was the matron at the Scottish Mission school in Budapest, Hungary between 1932-44, had been “deepened” after holding her will in her hand.
The Bristol University Biochemistry PhD student, who attended a ceremony in Glasgow in 1997 after the matron was named Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem’s sacred Yad Vashem memorial, said she had been transformed from a “mystical figure” she had heard so much about as a child into a real person.
The reception in Edinburgh was hosted by the Moderator of the General Assembly Right Rev Dr Russell Barr who said it was a “privilege” to welcome the family of a remarkable woman for afternoon tea. A total of 14 relatives attended.
Miss Haining was fully aware of the growing threat the Nazis posed to the Hungarian Jews in the 1940s but was determined to ensure that the school was a place where all children - Christians and Jews alike - would feel safe and protected.
She was repeatedly ordered by Church officials to return to Scotland, but refused, writing: “If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness”.
Mrs Greenlees, a retired primary school teacher, said: “I am so proud and pleased to meet members of a family I did not realise existed.
“Jane Haining was a very brave lady who was totally selfless and I think it is very important that everyone knows her story because we can learn lessons from the fact she deeply cared about all people, regardless of religious belief.”
Rob O’Brien, a retired marine surveyor from Ballygally, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, said he was very proud of his Aunt Jane and described the reunion as very moving.
Miss Haining was on holiday in Cornwall when war broke out in 1939 and immediately returned to Budapest.
Mr O’Brien, whose sisters Deirdre and Jane live in Londonderry, revealed that his mother Agnes, who was 17 at the time, was supposed to accompany her because she intended to work in the Hungarian capital as a nanny but did not go.