Prince William has paid tribute to his great grandmother Princess Alice for her role in saving six Jews during the Holocaust.
His tribute came in a message for the guestbook at Yad Vashem, which he toured on the opening morning of his historic visit. He said the visit had “learnt a lot” during the hour and a half visit.
Accompanied by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Yad Vashem chairman Yehuda Avner, the Duke was earlier shown an album of images taken by the Nazis within Auschwitz and piles of shoes from victims of the Majdanek camp. “It’s terrifying,” he said. “To comprehend the scale and numbers is terrible.”
He paused in silence in the Hall of Names. There, he looked up to take in pictures of men, women and children murdered by the Nazis, pointing out one wedding picture.
While Yad Vashem has identified over two thirds of the six million Jews murdered at the hands of the Nazis, the Hall has left empty shelves in recognition of the fact that many will forever remain unidentified.
Constantly asking questions and fixed with furrowed eyebrows, he uttered quietly “so sad” as he left the room with Mirvis.
At the @IsraeliPM’s residence, The Duke of Cambridge, PM @Netanyahu and Mrs Netanyahu met Edith and Phillipe Cohen, two descendants of people sheltered by Princess Alice, The Duke’s great-grandmother, during the Holocaust. pic.twitter.com/BhevDJFvE6
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) June 26, 2018
But the visit provided an opportunity to publicly acknowledge the heroics of his relative for the first time publicly, 25 years after she was honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Princess Alice, mother of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, hid the three members of the Cohen family – Rachel, Tilda and Michelle – in her palace in Athens during the Nazi occupation of Greece. Princess Alice – whose grave in Jerusalem he will visit for the first time on the final day in the region – personally saw to it that the members of the persecuted Jewish family had everything they needed, and even visited them in their hiding place, spending many hours in their company.
Writing in the guest book at the end f the tour, the Duke said: “Every name, photograph and memory recorded here is a tragic reminder of the unimaginable human cost of the Holocaust and the immense loss suffered by the Jewish people.
“The story of the Holocaust is one of darkness and despair, questioning humanity itself. But the actions of those few who took great risks to help others are a reminder of the human capacity for love and hope.
I am honoured that my own great grandmother is one of these righteous among the nations.”
He added: “We must never forget the Holocaust – the murder of 6 millions men, women and children, simply because they were Jewish.
We all have a responsibility to remember and to teach future generations about the horrors of the past so that they can never reoccur.”
In an intensely powerful ceremony, the Duke followed in the footsteps of dignitaries from around the world in kindling the eternal flame, before stepping back and bowing his head.
Wearing a kippah for the first time in public, he also laid a wreath on a concrete slab placed above the ashes of Holocaust victims.
The ceremony in the hall of remembrance ended with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis reciting the el melai rahamim memorial prayer.
Moments earlier, Paul Alexander and Henry Foner – who were among the 10,000 children who found refuge from the Nazis in the UK as part of the Kindertransport rescue – spoke to His Royal Highness about their experiences. His Royal Highness greeted them by saying: “There’s a lot to take in. It’s not easy.”
Surrounded by artwork by survivors, many of whom perished, he asked the pair – who were just eighteen months and six when they escaped – if they recalled their journeys alone. HRH told them he can’t imagine how difficult the decision facing parents was to either send their children to safety alone or risk keeping them in their care as war loomed.
For Alexander, meeting HRH capped a hugely significant week, days after he completed a World Jewish Relief Berlin-London bike ride with his son and grandson to mark the 80th anniversary of the rescue.
He said: “The message to be learnt from the Kindertransport operation is that we were saved by the British people. The true true heroes are the parents who sent their children alone and made a heart-wrenching decision to save them from the Holocaust.” He thanked the Prince as a representative of the British people and urged greater tolerance of the refugees of today
Yad Vashem aims to convey the horrors of the Shoah through the words and testimony of survivors, aiming to put human faces to the unimaginable figure of six million. He was taken through the exhibition which tells the story of the horrors of the Holocaust in chronological order from the rise of Hitler to the impact of propaganda to the Final Solution.
He also paused to see some of more than 100 video testimonies in the museum and ended in the powerful children’s memorial, where the names of victims are read out in a darkened room.
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) said last year they “facilitated a visit by His Royal Highness to the former Nazi concentration camp, Stutthof. Bearing witness then – as with this visit to Yad Vashem in Israel today – sends a powerful message to the world: we must never forget.
“Yad Vashem is internationally recognised as a leader in Holocaust remembrance and education and we’re so grateful to His Royal Highness for making this historic visit.
She added: “His Royal Highness is a great ambassador for our cause. Holocaust survivors and the community will welcome the spotlight that he has brought to the issue of remembrance and educating, yet again, so that we never forget.”
“Prince William’s visit to Israel, as second-in-line to the throne, for the first official visit by a British royal is greatly appreciated. His great grandmother Princess Alice, is recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations for hiding Jews during the Shoah. We welcome Prince William’s attendance at Yad Vashem today and look forward to the building of a real and enduring relationship with the people of Israel.”
Yad Vashem UK’s chair Simon Bentley added: “Prince William’s visit to Israel, as second-in-line to the throne, for the first official visit by a British royal is greatly appreciated. His great grandmother Princess Alice, is recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations for hiding Jews during the Shoah. We welcome Prince William’s attendance at Yad Vashem today and look forward to the building of a real and enduring relationship with the people of Israel.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last year visited the Stutthof camp, following in the footsteps of his father Prince Charles who has long taken a particular interest in honouring survivors of the Holocaust and those who came to Britain on the Kindertransport.
In his very first public interaction with the Jewish community, the Duke delivered a message marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in the Jewish News four years ago.