Missionary Jane Haining remained courageous to the end as she refused to abandon the Jewish girls in her care.
As she was seized at a Scottish Mission boarding school in Budapest, she turned and simply told her sobbing class: “Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch”.
This week, former pupils of Miss Haining gathered, who are now aged between 81 and 90, gathered to remember their matron in an event held as part of the 175th anniversary of the Church of Scotland’s mission in Hungary.
Her former pupil Agnes Rostas, 80, recalled how she and her classmates looked on helplessly as secret police searched Miss Haining’s office and interrogated her for several hours before arresting her on eight trumped up charges of espionage.
Within an hour of their matron’s arrest, they were all dispersed from the school as it was no longer judged a safe place for children, Mrs Rostas recalled.
The ex-pupil was taken to the notorious extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland with her family and was the only member to survive.
Mrs Rostas only learned of Miss Haining’s fate 40 years later at a memorial event in St Columba’s Church, which is next door to the now state-run primary school.
She said: “On the morning of that day German officers were visiting Miss Haining and from our bedroom window across the hall, we could see her room, she poignantly recalled.
“After hours of questioning we could see that the two officers were taking her away and as they were going down one set of stairs, we hurried to another set to follow them down.
“We were sitting at the foot of the stairs crying and she looked back and said to us ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be back by lunch’.
“That was the last time I saw her and I found out 40 years later she had died in Auschwitz.”
The missionary, a former Coats factory worker in Paisley from Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway, was first jailed in Budapest before being transferred to Auschwitz where she died after two months aged just 47.
Miss Haining was on holiday in Cornwall when war broke out in 1939, seven years after she took up her post, but immediately returned to Budapest and her charges whom she was devoted to.
She was repeatedly ordered by the church 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”.
Miss Haining, is the only Scot named as “righteous among the nations” – non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis – by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.
A group of 26 Church of Scotland Ministers and members were in the Hungarian capital last weekend to commemorate the extraordinary bravery of Miss Haining, prisoner 79467, and to mark the 175th anniversary of the Scottish Mission in Budapest.
Last week, the Kirk revealed that Miss Haining’s handwritten will and previously unseen photographs of the matron, Scottish Mission staff and pupils had been found in the World Mission Council’s archives in Edinburgh.
Mrs Rostas, a pupil from 1942-44, recalled the day when Miss Haining cried with the girls as she sewed the yellow star of David – designed to publicly identify Jews – onto their clothes.
But the matron insisted that none of the girls would wear garments bearing the badge while inside the building.
“Miss Haining was very caring but she was also very strict,” said Mrs Rostas said.
“She was a very influential figure and really shaped my life and I feel very grateful when I remember her.
“I received a good education and a good upbringing at the school.”
Two stained glass windows in honour of Ms Haining are in place at Queen’s Park West in Glasgow where she was a member of the congregation
Mrs Rostas said she has laid flowers beneath the sign of a road in Budapest, near the River Danube, which has been re-named in the Scot’s honour.
Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council, said: “Jane Haining’s story is one of heroism and personal sacrifice.”
Rev Iain Cunningham, convener of the World Mission Council, added: “Meeting former pupils who knew her in person and hearing their stories first hand has been deeply moving.”