THE BLOG

Getting to Know the Person Who Saved My Life

04/11/2014 11:56 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2014
  • Eva Haller Social, educational and environmental philanthropist

In 1944, when I was 14 years old, my parents sent me to a Scottish-operated Boarding School not too far from our home in Budapest, Hungary. For the months that I was there, I saw it as the traditional boarding school I thought it was. When Nazi soldiers eventually raided it, I realized the school had been my safe haven.

Moving into this millennium ... one beautiful afternoon at our home in Santa Barbara, my husband and I were making plans for our trip to Glasgow Caledonian University as part of the Magnusson Fellowship. I was deeply honored to be invited to deliver the lecture that was established in the memory of former University Chancellor Sir Magnus Magnusson. The fellowship meets annually to debate and agree to action on issues of major concern to society, both locally and globally. Because of the trip, I began to think about my connection to Scotland and remembered the fact that the school I was hidden in was Scottish-run.

I was immensely interested in finding out more about my connections to Scotland. By the end of the day, after endless Googling, I found the name

of the person who saved my life: a Scottish missionary named Jane Haining.

We were able to get in touch with historians, ministers and more in Scotland, in preparation for our trip. I had never expected to find the name of the woman who ran the "boarding school" I went to in Budapest, let alone learn her story.

Jane Haining was a member of the Scottish "Queen's Park West congregation" and accepted a post as the matron of the Girl's School at Budapest's Church of Scotland. When Jane was ordered to close the school and return to Scotland in 1944 because of the danger to her as a Scottish citizen, she refused. While in Scotland we found a quote of hers explaining her decision:

"If these children need me in the days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in the days of darkness?"

The day had already been a roller coaster of emotion, finding the name and life story of the person who allowed me to have one; we learned that Jane died shortly after I escaped in 1944. She was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

On our trip to Scotland, I thanked nearly every Scottish person I met for Jane and the devotion that the Church of Scotland had to my tiny "boarding school" in Budapest. We were also able to visit some memorials devoted to Jane at local Glasgow churches.

Looking back at the 70-plus years since these events -- seeing the devotion, sacrifice, caring and sharing of so many, we are privileged to have Jane as an example.

There are so many who were not as lucky as I was, like my brother, who was killed when he joined the Hungarian resistance. We are collectively sad, for those who didn't survive would have made incredible contributions towards a better world.

It is stories like that of Jane and my brother that inspire me and should inspire all of us. Jane made the ultimate sacrifice to save a couple hundred Jewish children from a far-away Eastern-European country, and my brother set out in terrible conditions to defend our freedom.

We are all "Our Brother's Keeper." If everybody who reads this article collectively donates time to "pay it forward," to non-profits and people in need, we may be able to make a small dent in what Jane and my brother would've been able to do if they had survived.

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