The war heroine of Athens given Israel’s great honour

Princess Alice took enormous risks to save a Jewish family during the Holocaust


G55NMP Royalty - Princess Alice of Greece - Heathrow Airport

As we lose Prince Philip, we remember his mother, Princess Alice, who took enormous risks to save a Jewish family during the Holocaust and was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Princess Alice, a great-grandchild of Queen Victoria, was born in Windsor Castle — where her son passed away — in 1885. At the age of four, doctors diagnosed her as deaf due to a thickening of her Eustachian tube. The young Princess overcame this by learning to lip-read in several languages, with such success that those meeting her did not know she couldn’t hear them.

She met Prince Andreas, fourth in line to the Greek throne, at Buckingham Palace in 1902 and the couple married the following year. She moved to Greece and soon showed her mettle by working as a nurse near the front line and establishing a hospital during the First Balkan War. Prince Philip’s biographer Philip Eade writes: “Alice was in the thick of it, changing bandages on ‘ghastly’ wounds, helping the doctors in ‘fearful operations, hurriedly done in the corridor amongst the dying and wounded waiting for their turn’, with barely any light, the battle still raging all around them, and scarcely any time for sleep between each batch of arrivals.”

Alice and Andrea had five children, of whom Philip was the youngest. A mere 18 months after his birth the family were sent into exile by the Greek government. This, together with her experiences as a nurse, are said to have contributed to a decline in her mental health that led to the breakup of her marriage and years in sanatoriums.

During the Second World War Alice lived in Athens, devoting herself to the poor and destitute. In 1943 the Germans replaced the Italians as occupying power in the country and started rounding up Jews. At this point she became aware that the family of a Greek Jewish politician she had known needed help. This led to her sheltering Rachel, Tilde and Michel Cohen in her home for over a year until the liberation of Greece. This placed her at great risk, even leading to her being interrogated by the Gestapo. Using her deafness, she pretended not to be able to understand, pleaded ignorance and was released. 

Alice was persuaded to leave Greece for Buckingham Palace in 1967 after the Greek monarchy was deposed. She died two years later, with her final request that her remains be interred at the Mount of Olives. In 1993, Yad Vashem named Princess Alice Righteous Among the Nations for providing sanctuary to the Cohens. Prince Philip travelled to Israel in 1994 in what was the first visit (albeit unofficial) by a member of the British royal family. There he planted a tree at the site in her name. During the ceremony, he said: “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with deep religious faith and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive