Falkirk-born Iain Lindsay OBE has spent this Sunday taking part in a major event in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, one certain to have filled him and his colleagues with both pride and deep sorrow.
Iain is Britain’s Ambassador to Hungary, and for the past year has been planning the commemoration of a Scottish woman who gave her life for the children in her care, and many refugees, during the dark days of the Second World War.
Today will see Hungary’s biggest Holocaust memorial taking place in Budapest, and this year the “Face” of the event will be Jane Haining, the Scottish matron who, when the Nazis invaded in 1944, refused to abandon the many Jewish girls at the Mission in the city where she had worked for 12 years.
In a new book on her life it has become clear she had also been working hard to obtain jobs abroad for desperate Jewish refugees that would allow them to escape war-torn Europe and the murder that awaited them at the hands of the Nazis.
Jane could easily have gone home to Britain in 1939 - possibly the only person at the Mission able to do so - but refused.
In 1944 she was betrayed, arrested by the Gestapo, and sent to the Nazis’ Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland, where she died two months later, aged 47.
Iain said: “The annual March of the Living in Budapest has been going for 17 years and it’s the biggest Holocaust commemoration event in Hungary, held around around Hungary’s Holocaust Memorial day in mid April.
“Usually 10,000 to 20,000 people attend.
“In the last couple of years the march has been focussed on a foreigner whose Holocaust heroics were in Hungary - for example the famous Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
“At last year’s event I suggested to the organisers that this year we should commemorate Jane Haining, given this is the 75th anniversary of her death in Auschwitz.
“In general, we work very closely with the large Jewish community in Hungary.
“So we have been working with the march organisers for the last year on this year’s event.
“Given the importance of the occasion we and the organisers invited David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to be the guest of honour at the march.”
Iain was involved in the opening of an exhibition about Jane at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Budapest two years ago.
A march by torchlight this evening will be led by Mr Mundell and Rev Aaron Stevens, minister of St Columba’s Church of Scotland in Budapest, along with members of his congregation.
At the church, also known locally as the Scottish Mission, there are two memorials to Jane - one from the Jewish community, and one from the Church of Scotland.
Accompanied by bagpipers, the marchers will proceed along a street named in her honour towards the Shoes on the Danube Holocaust memorial near the Hungarian Parliament.
Iain said: “We will be walking along it as part of the march, and when we go to St Columba’s for the church service we will place flowers and stones at the two memorials”.
There is a permanent heritage centre to Jane’s memory in the Borders village of Dunscore, where she was born.
Jane is the only Scot to be officially recognised at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Israel, and is the recipient of a Hero of Holocaust medal from the UK Government.
In Glasgow she is remembered in two stained glass windows at Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church, where she was a Sunday school teacher while living in Glasgow and working at the J&P Coats thread factory in Paisley.