Interview: Tracing the past with Lynley Smith

Journalist and author Lynley Smith with her new book at Radio Shalom. Image/Keren Cook
Journalist and author Lynley Smith with her new book at Radio Shalom. Image/Keren Cook
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Journalist Keren Cook talks to Lynley Smith on Radio Shalom about her distant relative’s journey from Scotland, to her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Smith put her writing work on hold and rented out her home to board a plane to Europe to retrace her family roots. She says it took about seven months to complete the research for her new book.

She calls her journey “a calling”, and now spends her time talking and promoting her first book From Matron to Martyr: One Woman’s Ultimate Sacrifice for the Jews, published in 2012.

Smith found out about her distant relative, Miss Haining, through a booklet her mother gave her before she died in 2005.

“I read it and it touched my heart very deeply. I felt compelled to tell her story,” says Smith.

Words flowed on her return to New Zealand, and Smith says she took a “chronological approach” to the life of Miss Haining. The life of her relative came alive when Smith discovered archival documents in Budapest and hand-written letters that provided important factual information, all helping to create an accurate picture of how her life really was.

Smith says: “Every place I visited I met someone who could give me another piece of the jigsaw puzzle about her life.”

Over three months Smith wrote the 200-page biography of the Scottish missionary who died at the hands of the Nazis.

Smith discovered Miss Haining had been a Scottish missionary to Budapest in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

In 1940 the Church of Scotland called all their missionaries home because World War II had started and it was dangerous for foreigners who were living in Hungary. But Miss Haining “wouldn’t go”, Smith says.

As a matron in a girls’ home, her ‘crime’ according to the Nazi’s was weeping over the Jewish children whom she protected in a Church of Scotland girls home.

In 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary and two months later arrested her and put her in prison. She was then put on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and died two months later. “No one knows the cause of death, and it took two months for her family in Scotland to know she had died,” Smith says.

Smith’s book will be used by a group in Hungary called Fountains of Hope. The group is working towards a reconciliation between the Jewish community and the secular and church communities in Hungary.

Her book is also being shared with teenagers in schools for those students who study English, History and Social Studies. Smith enjoys visiting libraries and community radio stations to share her journey of discovery.

For more information about the book or upcoming Auckland City Library talk, email: lynleygerontius@gmail.com

Listen to the full interview below:

Keren Cook

Keren is currently working as a casual presenter at NZME and freelancing as a journalist and Director and voice over-artist. She recently project-managed New Zealand's Jewish Online Museum, and co-hosts a regular show at Planet FM.
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