In 1994, Prince Philip became the first member of the royal family ever to visit Israel, when he came to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem to participate in a ceremony honoring his mother, Princess Alice, as a Righteous Among The Nations. She had saved three members of the Cohen family by hiding them in her palace in Athens during the Nazi occupation of Greece. This is the full text of the speech the prince gave at that ceremony, on October 30, 1994:
My sister and I are deeply honored 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.
We did not know, and, as far as we know, she never mentioned to anyone, that she had given refuge to the Cohen family… I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special
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 12 in the 1930s, had first-hand experience of the anti-Semitic 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.
The Holocaust may be over, but there are altogether too many examples in the world today of man’s capacity for inhumanity
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.