April 30, 2009

Scottish heroine of the Holocaust will be awarded national honour

A Scottish woman who was gassed by the Nazis in Auschwitz after she refused to abandon Jewish orphans in her care will finally be honoured by the British government.

Jane Haining is among a group of British heroes of the Holocaust who are to be recognised with a new award. Yesterday's announcement follows Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to the concentration camp earlier this week and is a victory for a Scotsman campaign that backed calls by the Holocaust Education Trust.

Details of the award will be decided in talks between the UK government, the trust and families of the Holocaust heroes, but it is understood a permanent memorial may be created and a specific award given to the families.

The decision to honour the heroes is understood to have been made by Mr Brown before his trip to Auschwitz this week. The Prime Minister has been a supporter of the trust's work and, as Chancellor, found Treasury money to pay for school trips to the infamous death camp.

Yesterday Mr Brown said: "My visit to Auschwitz left me absolutely determined that we must learn from the past as we build our future. Part of this must be proper recognition for those who made extraordinary contributions to protect others during the Holocaust."

He added: "These heroes, many of whom have now died, are a true inspiration to everyone in Britain. I believe that, together, their brave actions form a critical part of our nation's wartime history and they deserve to be recognised through a special award."

The announcement has delighted the Holocaust Education Trust, members of which saw the awards as an important step in spreading their message of using the atrocity to teach young people about prejudice. The Holocaust led to the murder by the Nazis of six million Jews and other so-called undesirables.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the trust, said: "We are delighted that this initiative has received widespread support, including from The Scotsman, and that the Prime Minister and British government will create an award of recognition in memory of these British heroes."

The formal announcement was made during a debate in Westminster Hall on the issue, initiated by Dumfries and Galloway Labour MP Russell Brown, who represents the constituency in which Ms Haining was born.

"This is great news," he said. "It is very important that Jane Haining and the others get the formal recognition they deserve so their brave actions will not be forgotten."

However, the trust's original campaign for them to receive awards through the honours system will not happen. Honours can only go to people who are still alive.

Jane Haining was born in Dunscore, Dumfries. In 1932, she went to Hungary to work as a missionary. At the outbreak of the Second World War, she ignored orders and advice to return to Scotland, and stayed with the Jewish children in her care. When Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, she was arrested along with the children and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was gassed. Her name is now inscribed near Oskar Schindler's on the Holocaust memorial in Israel.

She is not the only Scot in line for recognition. Tommy Noble was among a group of British prisoners of war who found a Jewish girl, Sarah Hannah Rigler, who had escaped from a death march. They hid and fed her in their camp, saving her life.


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