A Princess’ Life of Service and Struggle
Born in Windsor Castle, the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice proved slow to speak. Doctors discovered that the girl suffered from congenital deafness. But that didn’t stop the princess from thriving, as she learned to read lips and speak both English and German.
Princess Alice grew up and married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. The couple raised five children, including Prince Phillip, the future husband of Queen Elizabeth. During the Balkan Wars, immediately before WWI, Princess Alice served as a nurse, helping set up field hospitals and operate on wounded soldiers.
The years between the World Wars proved difficult for the princess. In 1930, schizophrenia caused breakdowns, leading to the princess’ institutionalization. After a couple years in a mental health clinic, Princess Alice left, leading an itinerant and anonymous existence in Europe, out of contact with her family. She settled in Greece, where she both resumed contact with her loved ones and began working with Greek poor.
‘Take Your Troops Out of My Country’
When World War II broke out, Princess Alice found herself with sons-in-law fighting for Germany and a son in the British Navy. But the princess’ sense of right and wrong never wavered. When the Germans overtook Greece, a Nazi general asked her if there was anything he could do. “You can take your troops out of my country,” Princess Alice replied.
But her the princess resisted with more than words. The Nazis deported 60,000 Jews from Athens; only 2,000 survived the death camps. Throughout the Holocaust, she sheltered a Jewish widow named Rachel Cohen, as well as two of Rachel’s children, saving their lives. As fighting raged in Greece, the princess still frequented the streets past curfew, feeding children and policemen. When warned that she might be struck by a stray bullet, Princess Alice replied, “They tell me that you don’t hear the shot that kills you and in any case I am deaf. So, why worry about that?”
‘A Person with a Deep Religious Faith’
After Athens’ liberation by the Allies, the liberators found the princess “living in humble, not to say somewhat squalid conditions.” She had eaten nothing but bread for some time, and had eaten no meat in months. But these conditions hadn’t stopped this strong woman from acting in a righteous way.
In 1988, Alice’s last wish was granted when her remains were moved to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. And Yad Vashem at last recognized this Advocate and Ally of the Jewish people as Righteous Among the Nations in 1994, 25 years after her death. Her son, the husband of Queen Elizabeth, nicely eulogized his mother at the service: “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress.”
Tags: Advocates and Allies History Holocaust Princess Alice Royal Family