Prince of Wales To Discuss Battenberg Grandmother in a Film

  April 30, 2009 at 4:28 pm by

Princess Andrew of Greece

Princess Andrew of Greece

The Prince of Wales is set to recall his other, often-overlooked, grandmother, the late Princess Andrew of Greece, born Princess Alice of Battenberg. In royal photographs Princess Andrew is the mysterious lady seen wearing a somber nun’s habit, as she did at the coronation of her daughter-in-law in 1953.

The Prince will appear in a film, The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust, that will tell the stories of 12 people who helped save Jews from the Nazis. These people are estimated to have helped save 200,000 European Jews.

Princess Andrew, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh, hid Jewish friends in the royal palace in Athens and she was interrogated by German officials. Family relationships probably drew extra German attention, both negative and positive, to this princess; she was the sister of Lord Louis Mountbatten and the Crown Princess of Sweden (later Queen Louise), as well as being the mother-in-law of several German princes prominent in the German military or the Nazi Party. Her cousin, Prince Victor zu Erbach-Schönberg, had served as the German ambassador to Greece until the occupation of Athens in April 1941. It seems that German officials assumed that she would be supportive of the Nazi regime.

Although most of the Greek royal family fled when World War II came to Greece, Princess Andrew and her sister-in-law, Princess Nicholas (mother of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent) stayed in Athens. She assisted the Red Cross, helped run a soup kitchen, and brought medical supplies in from Sweden after visits to her sister, the Crown Princess. She also organized shelters for orphaned children.

The German army occupied Athens after September 1943 and began to empty the city of its Jewish residents, many of them refugees. About 60,000 Jews were moved to concentration camps and all but 2,000 of those died. When the widow Rachel Cohen and two of her five children sought Princess Andrew’s assistance, she protected them. Haimaki Cohen, Rachel’s late husband, had once aided King George I of Greece, and the king had promised that he would repay him in any way that he could. Princess Andrew repaid her father-in-law’s debt to the Cohen family.

When Prince Philip was a young child, his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an asylum. Afterwards, the family broke up, with the parents living separately and the elder daughters marrying into German princely families at an early age. Prince Philip went to live in boarding schools or with relatives in England. Princess Andrew devoted herself to charity work in Greece. After the war she stayed in Greece and founded an order of nuns known as the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. She remained in Greece until the imposition of military rule in Greece in 1967. At that time she moved into quarters with Philip and his family at Buckingham Palace, where she died in 1969.

Her interest in religious orders was undoubtedly inspired by her aunt and godmother, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna of Russia, who was later martyred during the Russian Revolution. It was Princess Andrew’s wish to be buried near her aunt at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel. Despite objections from her daughter, Princess George of Hanover, her remains were moved from the Royal Crypt in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in 1988.

On October 31, 1994, the Duke of Edinburgh and his sister, Princess George, attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem in Israel, honoring their mother as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” for having hidden the Cohens. Prince Philip said, “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with a deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress.”

We know that the Prince of Wales was extremely close to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, but we should not discount the influence of Princess Andrew. In 1960, at age 75, she travelled to India to explore Indian religious thought and on a spiritual quest, not unlike the ones the Prince of Wales has undertaken in the Kalahari. Although the Indian trip was cut short when the princess became ill, she claimed that she had had an out-of-body experience. Like her grandson, Princess Andrew had a lifelong interest in spiritual matters.

For more details, see this article in the Daily Telegraph.

Filed under Greece, Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
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