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Northern Ireland sisters reveal moving story of Aunt sent to die in Auschwitz for saving Jewish kids from Nazis

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 14/01/2017

Jane Haining
Jane Haining
The gold and red garnet ring that belonged to Jane Haining
Jane Haining’s handwritten will
The gold and red garnet ring that belonged to Jane Haining
Jane McIvor and Deirdre McDowell on the Antiques Roadshow
Jane McIvor (left) and Deirdre McDowell with the BBC’s Fiona Bruce

Two Northern Ireland women have spoken about their "extraordinary" and "inspirational" aunt who bravely defied the Nazis' reign of terror before dying in Auschwitz.

Jane Haining was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 for looking after Jewish girls in Hungary.

For years Deirdre McDowell and Jane McIvor, both from Londonderry, grew up hearing about Miss Haining, who was the half-sister of their mother Agnes O'Brien.

Now her little-known story has come to wider attention ahead of an episode of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow tomorrow night.

It tells the fascinating story of a long lost ring that belonged to Miss Haining, and her extraordinary defiance in the face of death.

Miss Haining, who grew up in Dunscore near Dumfries in Scotland, worked at the Kirk-run Scottish Mission School in Budapest.

She 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 years Miss Haining 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 notorious Nazi secret police in April 1944.

Former pupil Agnes Rostas recently revealed that her haunting last words to sobbing children were: "Don't worry, I'll be back by lunch."

Miss Haining never returned to the Scottish Mission, where she worked between 1932 and 1944, and perished in the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland three months later at the age of 47.

Tomorrow night's 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.

"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 among 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 in my life.

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

Miss Haining's jewellery will be analysed by expert John Benjamin for the special episode of Antiques Roadshow, which marks Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.

It includes a ring that belonged to her.

The priceless gold and red garnet stone artefact was recently returned to the Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh.

Miss Haining's handwritten will, a copy of the last letter she wrote while imprisoned in the concentration camp and photographs also feature on the programme, which will for the first time in its history not attach a monetary value to antiques.

Miss Haining, who is thought 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.

Many of the artefacts in tomorrow's programme 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."

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