Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Prince Charles’s Grandmother: A Righteous Woman

A week ago, Prince Charles graced with his presence the funeral of Shimon Peres. After the funeral, the Prince was immediately driven from Mount Herzl, where Shimon Peres was interred, to the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, where his paternal grandmother (Prince Philip’s mother) is buried.

The Prince’s grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was a righteous woman, who saved the lives of three Jewish individuals during World War Two.

During the time of the Nazi occupation of Greece, the princess resided in Athens, and hid Mrs. Rachel Cohen, a Jewish widow, together with Mrs. Cohen’s son and daughter, from the claws of the Nazis.

During the war, Nazi officers suspected that the princess might have taken some Jews under her auspices, because she was well-known for her humanitarian undertakings.

Thankfully, the princess managed to convince the Nazis that she was not hiding any Jews. In this context, let us recall that hiding Jews in Nazi occupied Europe was a capital offense punishable by death and execution, and that the princess risked her own life by deciding to put the Cohen family in hiding.

At one point during World War Two, when a Nazi high official asked if there was anything he could do for her, the princess promptly replied by saying: ”Yes, you can tell your soldiers to leave Greece at once.”

After the war, the princess was recognized by Yad Vashem as a righteous amongst the nations, and in 1993 her son Prince Philip (the Queen of England’s husband and the father of Prince Charles), came to Jerusalem to personally plant a tree in Yad Vashem, in honour of his mother.

During that trip, Prince Philip made the following statement: ”I do not believe that my mother saw her actions as exceptional or extraordinary. My mother was a very religious person, and she saw in this act (of giving shelter to the Cohen family) a natural human gesture towards fellow human beings who were in great distress.”

Princess Alice’s humanitarian deeds extended well beyond her heroic act of saving a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

During her time in Greece, the Princess worked for the Swiss Red Cross, and opened numerous soup kitchens and orphanages for the impoverished.

In 1949, after the war, Princess Alice founded a Greek-Orthodox convent, and for the coronation ceremony of her daughter-in-law as Queen of England, the princess wore her usual nun’s garb, rather than some luxuriant and costly dress.

In 1967, Princess Alice returned to Britain, where she lived until her death two years thereafter. Princess Alice died devoid of any possessions, because she gave away all her property in her efforts to alleviate poverty and hunger.

Prince Charles’s grandmother was a truly righteous woman. Her life-story vividly demonstrates the human capacity to translate privilege into piety and purpose, to convert luxury into sanctity, and affluence into an abundance of loving-kindness. More than she was the mother-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, the world’s most revered monarch, Princess Alice was a supremely royal and regal figure in her own right. Hers was an aristocracy of the spirit, a sacred life infused with pure altruism and boundless generosity.

Surely, her repose must be in paradise. May her memory continue to serve and inspire us as a model of true piety and moral grandeur, and remind us that we are all truly G-d’s children, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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