The Duke of Cambridge has paid tribute to his great-grandmother, who helped to shelter Jews from the Nazis, during a memorial to mark 75 years since the end of the Holocaust.
Prince William read an extract from a letter written about Princess Alice, which described how she helped hide her Jewish friends, the Cohens, in her home in Nazi-occupied Athens during World War II.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were attending the Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony at Central Hall in Westminster.
While there, the pair told a Holocaust survivor they had spoken to their own children and “made them aware” of the atrocity, which would undoubtedly be a difficult thing to explain to kids.
January 27, 2020, marks 75 years since Soviet troops liberated the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, located in southern Poland.
About 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered there. In total about six million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany during World War II.
“When the persecution of the Jews by the Germans began, Princess Alice asked to be informed about the fate of the Cohen family,” Prince William read from the letter. “Having been informed by friends and by her lady in waiting about the plight of Mrs. Cohen and her young daughter, the Princess decided to offer her hospitality to the two ladies; in fact to hide them in her home despite the danger this entailed.
“The Princess put a small two-room apartment on the third floor at the disposal of Mrs. Cohen and her daughter. It was thanks to the courageous rescue of Princess Alice that the members of the Cohen family were saved.
“The members of the Cohen family left the residence three weeks after liberation, aware that by virtue of the Princess’s generosity and bravery had spared them from the Nazis.
“The great-granddaughter of Rachel Cohen, Evy Cohen, said this two years ago: ‘My family would not exist without the courageous act of Princess Alice. Her story of incredible courage must keep being told in her memory. My generation, the past generation and the future generation are, and will eternally be, grateful to Princess Alice for the great act of bravery, risking her own life to take in a family in need.”
Princess Alice is buried in Jerusalem, in the Church of Mary Magdalene, which Prince Charles recently visited. She is considered a Righteous Among the Nations – an honour bestowed by Israel on non-Jews for their bravery during the Holocaust.
During his two-day visit to Israel, the Prince of Wales spoke at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem while his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, represented the Queen by attending commemorations at Auschwitz.
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and honours victims and survivors of the Holocaust, Nazi persecution, and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
During the service 75 candles of remembrance were lit to represent 75 years since the liberation.
After the ceremony, the Duke and Duchess spoke to Holocaust survivors, and survivors of genocides which have happened since.
Among them was Mala Tribich, 89, who survived the Nazi-run death camp Bergen-Belsen.
Tribich revealed the Duchess of Cambridge had told her she had spoken about the horrors of the Holocaust with her son, Prince George.
Speaking to reporters at the event Tribich said of her conversation with Kate: “I said I speak about it in schools and she was asking what impact it has.
“It brings them closer to the history. I told her I follow her and her lovely children in the news, and she said ‘I have told the children’.
“They have made them aware of [the Holocaust]. I suppose she tells it in the measure that it’s applicable to that age.”
Also at the ceremony was Yvonne Bernstein, 82, who Kate photographed for a special portrait series featuring Holocaust survivors and their families. Originally from Germany, Bernstein was a hidden child in France, travelling in the care of her aunt and uncle and frequently changing homes and names.
Ian Forsyth, a former soldier who was among the first troops to liberate Bergen-Belsen in April, 1945, praised the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and the rest of the royal family – for attending commemorations.
“It is really important to have the Royal Family here because Holocaust Memorial Day should be part of the national fabric,” Mr Forsyth said.
“So, to have the royal family here adds an extra layer of importance to the entire day, it shows the importance in which the nation takes the day.
“This year was so important because we got to hear the story of the royal family’s role – listening to one of the members of the family engaged in saving the lives of Jews is a story a lot of people won’t have heard before, which is great.”