AP — Britain’s Prince Charles on Friday paid a solemn visit to the tomb of his grandmother, who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust and whose tumultuous life was marked by exile, mental illness and a religious devotion to serving the needy.
Princess Alice is interred at the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Mary Magdalene, whose gold onion domes rise up from the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Charles was shown around the 19th-century church by Archimandrite Roman Krassovsky, the local head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who offered prayers as nuns dressed in black sang hymns.
The Prince of Wales made no public remarks, but he paid tribute to his grandmother the night before at the World Holocaust Forum, which was attended by dozens of other world leaders and coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
“I have long drawn inspiration from the selfless actions of my dear grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who in 1943, in Nazi-occupied Athens, saved a Jewish family by taking them into her home and hiding them,” Charles said.
She is counted as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Charles said that was a source of “immense pride” for him and the royal family.
She was born Princess Alice of Battenberg in 1885. She was deaf from birth and suffered from mental illness, but managed to devote much of her life to aiding the poor, the sick and refugees.
The great granddaughter of Queen Victoria married Prince Andrew of Greece in 1903 and had five children, including Prince Philip, the future Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth II. The family was driven into exile on two occasions, and the princess was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and spent time in a sanitarium after suffering a nervous breakdown.
She became a Greek Orthodox nun in 1928 while living in France, and returned to Athens alone in 1940, living in her brother-in-law’s three-story residence. During World War II, she worked with the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross to help those in need. She later founded an order of nuns known as the Christian Sisterhood of Mary and Martha.
When the Nazis entered Athens in 1943, she sheltered three members of the Cohen family. The father of the family, former parliamentarian Haim Cohen, had been close to the royal family until he passed away that year. Princess Alice did not not know Cohen’s wife, Rachel, or his daughter, Tilde, but hid them away in her mansion anyway, and later sheltered Rachel’s son, Michael, as well.
Yad Vashem says the princess regularly visited with the family and wanted to learn more about their Jewish faith. At one point, when suspicious Gestapo officers came to the home to interview her, the princess used her deafness to avoid answering their questions, it said.
Her own family, however, fought on both sides of the Second World War. Prince Philip served in the British Royal Navy, while her German royal sons-in-law fought for the Nazis. The Nazis and their collaborators killed six million Jews during the war.
Alice died in Buckingham Palace in 1969 and was later interred in the church in Jerusalem. She had requested to be buried next to her aunt Elizabeth, the Grand Duchess of Russia, who had also devoted her life to charity and was canonized as a Russian Orthodox saint. Elizabeth’s tomb is in the church itself, while Alice was laid to rest in a small, attached chapel.
Prince William visited the tomb of Alice, his great-grandmother, in June 2018. In a 1994 visit to the Holy Land, Prince Philip planted a tree at Yad Vashem in his mother’s honor and visited her grave.
On Friday, Charles also toured the West Bank town of Bethlehem, meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas thanked Charles for British support for the Palestinian people, according to the official Wafa news agency.
“Our hope in the near future is that Britain recognizes the State of Palestine, because we’ve heard that the British Parliament recommended this to the government. So we hope that this will happen,” Wafa quoted Abbas as saying.
Wafa said Charles expressed his hopes there would soon be peace in the region.
Charles also toured the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
On Thursday, the prince met Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin, toured the Israel Museum including the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, met Holocaust survivors, and addressed the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem.
He later held a reception at the home of the British ambassador to Israel in Ramat Gan, where he was shown various Israeli inventions, including in the fields of medical diagnosis and water shortage.
Among the pioneers with whom he met was Technion Professor Hossam Haick, who showed the prince his SniffPhone — a device that uses nanotechnology sensors to analyze biomarkers in the breath. The Technion said the device is able to diagnose “certain types of cancer, pulmonary disease, and even early stages of neurodegenerative diseases.”
The prince’s visit happened to coincide with the 55th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, after whom the Churchill Auditorium at the Technion was named in 1958. Churchill had written to the Technion in November 1954: “I feel truly honored that some new buildings at the Israel Institute of Technology are to be named after me and that my name will be associated with an undertaking devoted to the advancement of knowledge and human well-being.”
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report