Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Following In the Steps of a Martyr

By Lynley Smith
Special to ASSIST News Service

BEIJING, CHINA (ANS) -- It was December, 2009. I wandered through the streets of Krakow, wondering what to do next. I was on a mission, a very unusual mission, and I had little idea how I would accomplish it.
Auschwitz-Birkenau camp fence - the largest concentration camp in the world established by the Nazis in 1940 (Oswiecim city)
I had just arrived on the overnight train from Budapest in the depths of the worst winter Europe had experienced in about 50 years and had just 12 hours to find a way to get to Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camp and back, before my train departed again for Budapest.
The information centre at the train station was closed with no indication of how I might find another office to enquire about transport to this most graphic reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. It was in Auschwitz-Birkenau that my very distant relative Jane Haining, had given her life for the sake of the Jewish children she had cared for in a girls' home in Budapest from 1933 until 1944, and I was tracking down her story. I had found out about it from a little booklet my mother passed down to me. The story intrigued me and I had to know more, to understand why this woman would do such a thing.
True to form, God came through for me. This time in the form of a man who just happened to be walking alongside me on the icy almost deserted street, with a bunch of brochures about bus tours to Auschwitz tucked under his arm. I signalled that I wanted one of them (no-one I met spoke English) and he complied by signalling me to follow him. I did.
He led me to a little bus office some blocks away and within 20 minutes, I was on the first (and only) bus leaving for Auschwitz that day. All other bus trips had been cancelled because of the atrocious sub 15 degrees Celsius weather.
I stood with other tourists in the parade yard at Auschwitz, where inmates had stood for hours each day in their flimsy summer weight uniforms in weather colder than I was experiencing. I thought of Jane and the anguish which must have invaded her soul. I was walking in her shoes, but I managed only about three minutes before escaping indoors again.
Jane Haining
This was the end of a five month journey following in the footsteps of Jane, a Scottish missionary to Budapest, who had courageously refused the demands of her mission agency to return to Scotland as World War 2 progressed. I had visited Dumfries and the nearby village of Dunscore, where Jane was raised; Glasgow, where she trained and worked; Edinburgh, where she trained for the mission field. I had spent time in Budapest, where she found, in her own words "her life's work" as the matron of a girls' home attached to the Church of Scotland's Scottish Mission to Budapest. My final destination, also her final destination, was Auschwitz.
I had given up my job as a journalist in New Zealand to answer the call of God to make this journey and to tell this courageous woman's story, and I knew exactly why I had to tell it. Two people independently gave me the scripture: Isaiah 45: 1-3 "Thus says Adonai .. 'I will go ahead of you, leveling the hills, shattering the bronze gates, smashing the iron bars. I will give you treasures hoarded in the dark, secret riches hidden away.'"
And truly the Lord did just that. At every turn, I found circumstances conspired, as in Krakow, to enable me to complete my mission. If I didn't know where to find information, someone would just appear to help me. In Budapest a member of Jane's old church, St Columba's Church, just happened to have access to some precious 20-year-old quotes by Holocaust survivors who had known Jane and the Mission school. In Dumfries, the former news editor of the local paper just happened to be a history buff and was happy to show me a plinth erected in the village to commemorate this almost unknown heroine. And so it went on. Everywhere I went I met up with guardians of a small part of her history. Somehow, her story had captured the imagination of a remnant who would not let it die, and I was going to have the privilege of piecing that story together and telling it for the first time in book form.
Why was this such an important mission? Why did God want so much for this story to be told that he went so clearly before me, making sure I gathered all the information I needed?
Book cover
One Holocaust survivors summed up Jane's influence on those who knew her: "What was her secret, how could she reach people so effectively? It was genuine living love...she could have chosen security (she could have returned to her home before Hungary entered the war, and after the German occupation, she was invited to find refuge in some embassies), but she knew she must stay with her flock. She died at the same place and in the same way as some of her children did. She followed Christ's example to the very end."
In her life and death lies a precious message for our Jewish brothers and sisters. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has not abandoned his Chosen people. On the contrary, he allowed some faithful followers to accompany them into that most evil place, the gas chambers of Auschwitz, as shining examples of the quality of His enduring love for them. Only recently have the Jews of Budapest come to acknowledge her sacrifice for them, and in this story lies an opportunity for them to also discover the God Jane followed so faithfully.
And for the Church her life and death holds a sobering challenge. The Jews often say: "Never again." But recent European events give lie to this slogan. In 2010 in Hungary, the Jobbik party, a right wing nationalist party gained 47 seats in the 263 seat parliament, the first seats to go to a right wing party since World War 2.
More recently a nationalist right wing party in Greece has become the third most powerful party in the country. And so it goes on.
But the final word belongs to the Lord. He is always true to His word. Remember the 'treasures hoarded in the dark"? What of those? When I returned to Budapest in 2010 to attend the first Jewish community commemoration of Jane's life and her sacrifice for them, the pastor at St Columba's Church just happened to look into a very old safe of World War 2 vintage, and low and behold, there, under other papers he found Jane's Bible and another of her books, hidden there presumably for the past 65 years. ! It seems the story of her life is still unfolding.
The book From Matron to Martyr by Lynley Smith, can be purchased from the publisher Tate Publishing ( ) or from and numerous other online booksellers.

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