Britain’s heir to the throne, Prince Charles of Wales, quietly visited his grandmother’s grave at a Jerusalem convent on Friday following his attendance at the funeral of former president Shimon Peres.
Charles stopped at the Mount of Olives’ Church of Mary Magdalene before heading back to the UK, where his paternal grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg, who saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust, was interred in the late 1980s.
It was a rare opportunity for Charles to visit the site of his grandmother’s burial.
A Telegraph report in late 2015 said British royals were unlikely to visit Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
“The Royal family can’t really go there,” a British government source told the newspaper at the time. “In Israel so much politics is caught up in the land itself that it’s best to avoid those complications altogether by not going there.”
But the Peres funeral in Jerusalem, attended by dozens of world leaders, may have provided the perfect justification, one that is unlikely to repeat itself anytime soon.
Alice of Battenberg was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as a “Righteous Among the Nations” and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.”
During the Nazi occupation of Greece, she hid a Jewish woman and two of her children from the Nazis. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip visited Israel for a ceremony to mark his mother’s valor.
Born in 1885 as Princess Alice of Battenberg and congenitally deaf, she spent much of her life in Greece after marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (he was simultaneously prince of two different European countries).
Alice moved to London in 1967 to live in Buckingham Palace with her son, Philip, and daughter-in-law, the present queen. When the princess died two years later, her body was interred in a crypt at Windsor Castle. But in 1988, she was transferred to the crypt at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives – honoring a wish she had expressed before her death.
In October 1994, on a trip that marked the first time that a member of the British royal family had visited the State of Israel, Prince Philip attended a ceremony honoring his mother at Yad Vashem. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, met with members of the Cohen family whom his mother hid in her Athens palace for 13 months during the Nazi occupation of Greece.
At the ceremony at Yad Vashem, he accepted the Righteous Among the Nations award that was bestowed posthumously upon his late mother. He also planted a maple tree in her memory along the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations, which commemorates gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. “God brings everything we do to judgment,” the prince wrote in the visitors’ book at Yad Vashem.
Prior to the ceremony, Philip, accompanied by his sister Princess Sophie, visited the crypt where his mother’s coffin lies.
In September of 1943, members of the Cohen family, from the Greek town of Trikala, had appealed to Princess Alice for refuge. An acquaintance of theirs, she took them in and hid them until the Nazis withdrew in October 1944.
The story was not known until the early 1990s, when Michel Cohen, 78, told officials at Yad Vashem of how he, his mother and sister were saved by the princess. The surviving members of the Cohen family flew to Israel from France to attend the ceremony in 1994.