January 27, 2020
WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.
A SURPRISE VISIT IN THE HOLY LAND
I don’t recall American media reporting on the visit of England’s Prince Charles to the Holy Land in late January. This story is remarkable and worth remembering not because one of the English royalty made a visit to Jerusalem, but why he had come. Prince Charles had come to made a solemn visit to the tomb of his grandmother Princess Alice.
Possibly you’ve never heard of Princess Alice. She hid Jews in her home during World War II. A person to remember indeed!
Princess Alice sheltered Jews during the Holocaust and her 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 mother of Prince Philip, Charles’s father, she was born Princess Alice of Battenberg in 1885. Deaf from birth, she 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 had spent time in a sanitarium after suffering a nervous breakdown.
Charles said, “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.”
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 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 (the Jewish memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem) 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.
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.
Bless her name.
You might find my collection of Holy Land experiences to be helpful.
BIBLE LANDS: An illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places
Barbpir books Publishers