The Ceremony at Yad Vashem in Honor of Princess Alice, 30 October 1994
Prince Philip’s address at the ceremony in Yad Vashem:
My sister and I are deeply honoured 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.
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.
Even I, at the age of twelve in the 1930s, had first-hand experience of the antisemitic 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.
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.
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.
Remarks by Retired Justice Dr. Moshe Bejski, Chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, Holocaust survivor and one of the Jews saved by Oscar Schindler:
We are at the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, a memorial site established by the State of Israel to commemorate the six million members of our people who lost their lives, during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi regime in the twenty or so countries that they occupied.
You have just passed through the Holocaust Museum and contemplated a few of the atrocity scenes that were the fate of the Jews of Europe before they were transported to the last stop of the Final Solution. These pictures do not convey even the smallest fraction of the suffering, the torture, the abuse that the Jews experienced. Only the astronomical number of those taken to the gas chambers and other extermination sites is the proof of what was done to our people in that terrible war.
As part of the memorial site, you see an avenue devoted to the Righteous among the Nations, those of noble soul and sensitive heart whose human conscience did not allow them to stand aside, those who mobilized to save their brethren of the Jewish faith in wondrous ways and with superlative tactics. In this avenue we plant a tree or install a plaque to honor and commemorate every such rescuer who, throwing caution to the winds, and disregarding his or her own safety, saved one soul, an entire family, or at times dozens, hundreds, and even more.
The Talmudic saying says: "Whoever saves one Jewish life is as if he had saved the entire world." Behind every tree on this historic avenue is the suffering and torture of a persecuted Jew on the one hand and a noble act of lifesaving on the other. Both of them lived in constant dread of being discovered by the Germans for the crime of concealing a Jew, because discovery fated both sides to death. Unfortunately, the number of Righteous among the Nations who came forth at that time, willing to risk their lives and offer help and salvation, was not sufficient in view of the number of those in need of succor and rescue. Thus far the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous has recognized 12,000 people who deserve this exalted designation.
In this context, Your Highness, you may justly be proud twice over. First, proud of the great people of the United Kingdom, who were the first among the nations of the civilized and free world to understand, on September 1, 1939, that it was imperative to go out and fight the depraved Nazi regime, lest the free democratic world be enslaved to a dominion of villainy, tyranny, and injustice. The British people absorbed grievous losses and experienced great suffering during the terrible years of the war, but understood clearly that only by extirpating the Nazi beast could a world free of fear, oppression, and racism be assured. Only by dint of these aspirations could Great Britain and the Allies, which understood the menace looming over the world, bear the suffering and terrors of the war until victory. Unfortunately, victory over the Nazis came too late for the Jewish people, who lost one-third of their numbers to the Nazi annihilation machine. However, Britain's contribution to the eradication of this beast will never be forgotten.
On the personal plane, you may be proud of your noble mother, Princess Alice, this woman of sensitive heart, who refused to stand by with equanimity as the Nazi occupiers savaged Greek Jewry. The Nazi regime consigned the Jews of Greece to the same fate that it prescribed for all of European Jewry: extermination. As early as February and March of 1943, deportations began from areas of Greece that were under Bulgarian rule, and in April and May came the turn of Jews in those parts of Greece controlled by the underlings of Eichmann, Wisleczeni and Brunner. With the surrender of Italy, the turn came for the rest of the Jews, including those of Corfu and other islands, to be transported to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Of the 55,000 who were taken to Auschwitz, 42,000 went directly to the gas chambers.
In Greece, too, a few Jews were aided and rescued by those special souls in the underground – clergymen such as Father Damascinos, who published pastoral letters, issued certificates of baptism, and arranged hiding places for children. Several of those who mobilized to help were members of your family, and especially noteworthy among them was your late mother, Princess Alice. Before us are testimonies of the family of Rachel Maimani Cohen and their children, who emotionally and lovingly describe how your mother, Princess Alice, rescued and cared for them. They were first concealed by Sister Chrisaki on the outskirts of Athens, but had to flee for fear of denunciation by neighbors. Three members of the Cohen family succeeded in reaching Egypt via Turkey, while the mother, Rachel, and her daughter, Tildi, found shelter in the official residence of Princess Alice, who housed them in an apartment on the third floor of the residence. The Cohens describe with sublime emotion what happened to them in this place of concealment, which apart from the danger was rather comfortable. Princess Alice provided two trustworthy liaisons who were in on the secret, Demosthene Foris and Simopoulou. With their help the concealed Jews were able to maintain communication with the outside world. In this fashion, they discovered that one of their four sons had been forced to return to Athens, and he, too, was given shelter in the Princess' home.
Princess Alice herself regularly visited her concealed tenants on the third floor and stayed for lengthy and cordial conversations with the mother, Rachel. Thus these members of the Cohen family remained under the protection of the Princess until about three weeks after the liberation of Greece. They left the residence on December 15, 1944, aware that by virtue of the Princess's generosity, love of humanity and fellowman, and willingness to place herself at risk, they had been given a new lease on life and spared from the tentacles of the Nazi oppressor.
Not only the survivors remember, but the entire Jewish people remembers its benefactors, who courageously stood beside it at its time of travail. We are proud to add Princess Alice to the roster of Righteous among the Nations, and we thank you, Your Highness, for having deigned to honor us with your presence in order to accept this medal in the name of your late mother, and to plant a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous, which will forever commemorate her humane, noble actions.