A Russian Princess and Righteous Gentile

The Fellowship  |  September 25, 2019

Portrait of Russian Princess Sofka Skipwith
Sofka Skipwith

Born to Russian royalty in St. Petersburg, Russian Princess Sofka Skipwith lived as a refugee in the years between the wars, in both France and England. She married an Englishman who was killed while serving with the Royal Air Force in World War II, and had three sons.

Sofka was living in Paris in 1940 when the Nazis overran France. Arrested because she was considered an “enemy alien,” Sofka was sent to Nazi internment camps, where she would stay until 1944. But during this time, the Russian Princess did not lament her own circumstances, but instead helped others who were even worse off than herself.

In 1943, Polish Jews who had false passports were sent to Vittel detention camp where Sofka was being held. She was moved by the stories she heard from these Jewish prisoners:

“The thing that struck us about these newcomers was their air of sleep-walkers. They appeared dazed. They spoke little, never seemed to smile, walked slowly in the park, as though nervous of doing wrong.”

And so Sofka, with the help of another prisoner named Madeleine White, did all she could to help these Jewish souls. They received more falsified documents from the French Resistance, which they gave to Jewish young people in the camp. Sofka also hid a list of names of the Jews in the camp in a tube of toothpaste, so it could be smuggled out to diplomats who could provide the prisoners with aid.

When the Nazis realized that the Jews they held were in possession of fake identification, they began to deport them. Sofka could do nothing as her Jewish friends were sent to Auschwitz.

After the first deportation, Sofka and Madeleine did all they could to get children out of the camp, even smuggling a Jewish infant that had been left behind out of the camp and to safety. For her bravery and selflessness, even as she was held by the evil Nazi regime, Sofka Skipwith was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1998.