search
Full speech'It never occurred to her that her action was special'

Prince Philip: ‘My mother never mentioned’ that she saved 3 Jews from the Nazis

In poignant 1994 address at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, honoring his mother as Righteous Among The Nations, Duke of Edinburgh bewailed ‘man’s capacity for inhumanity’

  • Prince Philip, delivering remarks a ceremony in honor of his mother, Princess Alice, at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, October 20, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
    Prince Philip, delivering remarks a ceremony in honor of his mother, Princess Alice, at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial, October 20, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
  • Princess Sophie and Prince Philip lay a wreath in Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance in honor of the victims of the Holocaust, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
    Princess Sophie and Prince Philip lay a wreath in Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance in honor of the victims of the Holocaust, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
  • Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev presents Prince Philip with the Righteous Among the Nations Certificate and Medal in honor of Princess Alice at a ceremony in Jerusalem, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vahsme)
    Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev presents Prince Philip with the Righteous Among the Nations Certificate and Medal in honor of Princess Alice at a ceremony in Jerusalem, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vahsme)
  • Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Sophie and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev tour the Historical Museum at Yad Vashem, October 30, 199. (Yad Vashem)
    Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Sophie and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev tour the Historical Museum at Yad Vashem, October 30, 199. (Yad Vashem)
  • Planting of the tree honoring Princess Alice, Righteous Among the Nations, at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
    Planting of the tree honoring Princess Alice, Righteous Among the Nations, at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vashem)
  • Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Sophie and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev tour the Historical Museum at Yad Vashem, October 30, 199. (Yad Vashem)
    Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Sophie and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev tour the Historical Museum at Yad Vashem, October 30, 199. (Yad Vashem)
  • The ceremony at Yad Vashem in honor of Princess Alice, 30 October 1994. Prince Philip and Princess George of Hanover in the Hall of Remembrance (Yad Vashem)
    The ceremony at Yad Vashem in honor of Princess Alice, 30 October 1994. Prince Philip and Princess George of Hanover in the Hall of Remembrance (Yad Vashem)

In 1994, Prince Philip became the first member of the royal family ever to visit Israel, when he came to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem to participate in a ceremony honoring his mother, Princess Alice, as a Righteous Among The Nations. She had sheltered three members of the Cohen family, hiding them in her palace in Athens during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

The story was not widely known until, in 1992, Michel Cohen described to Yad Vashem officials how he, his mother, and his sister were saved by the princess. Three-quarters of Greece’s 80,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

This is the full text of the speech given by the prince, who died on April 9 at the age of 99, at the Yad Vashem ceremony, on October 30, 1994:

My sister and I are deeply honored to have been invited to this moving ceremony at what must be the world’s most poignant memorial.

I have to say that we do not really deserve to be here, since the events that are being commemorated took place without our knowledge or involvement. We knew, of course, that our mother had stayed in Athens, after Greece had been over-run by the German army. We also knew that she had moved out of her modest flat to take care of a larger house belonging to her brother-in-law, Prince George.

We did not know, and, as far as we know, she never mentioned to anyone, that she had given refuge to the Cohen family at a time when all Jews in Athens were in great danger of being arrested and transported to the concentration camps.

We did not know, and, as far as we know, she never mentioned to anyone, that she had given refuge to the Cohen family… I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special

In retrospect, this reticence may seem strange, but I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special.

She would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress. You must also bear in mind that she had been well aware of the Nazi persecution of the Jews for many years.

Britain’s Prince Philip escorts his mother, Princess Alice Andreas of Greece, in wedding procession of Princess Margarita of Baden and Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia after the religious ceremonies on June 5, 1957, at Salem, Germany. (AP Photo)

Even I, at the age of 12 in the 1930s, had first-hand experience of the anti-Semitic frenzy that was gripping the members of the National Socialist party in Germany in those days. I had just moved from a private school in England to attend the boarding school at Salem in the south of Germany belonging to one of my brothers-in-law. The founder of the school, Kurt Hahn, had already been driven out of Germany by Nazi persecution and this was well known throughout the school.

It was the custom of the school to appoint a senior boy to look after the new arrivals. I was unaware of it at the time, but it so happened that our “Helper,” as he was called, was of Jewish origin. One night, he was over-powered in his bed and had all his hair cut off. You can imagine what an effect this had on us junior boys. Nothing could have given us a clearer indication of the meaning of persecution.

The Holocaust may be over, but there are altogether too many examples in the world today of man’s capacity for inhumanity

It so happened that I had played cricket for my school in England and I still had my cricket cap with me. I offered it to our Helper and I was pleased to see that he wore it.

It is a small and insignificant incident, but it taught me a very important lesson about man’s capacity for inhumanity, and I have never forgotten it. We may dislike individual people, we may disagree with their politics and opinions, but that should never allow us to condemn their whole community simply because of the race or religion of its members.

Prince Philip rekindles the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, October 30, 1994. (Yad Vashem)

This, it seems to me, is the essential message of this memorial. It is a message that all of us who were alive at the time of the Holocaust fully understand.  But it is only too apparent that this message needs to get through to present and future generations of all races and religions. The Holocaust may be over, but there are altogether too many examples in the world today of man’s capacity for inhumanity.

The Holocaust was the most horrific event in all Jewish history, and it will remain in the memory of all future generations.

It is, therefore, a very generous gesture that also remembered here are the many millions of non-Jews, like my mother, who shared in your pain and anguish and did what they could in small ways to alleviate the horror.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed