During the dark period of World War II, as Nazi and Fascist rule spread over Europe, there were thousands of people who sought to protect their fellow citizens of the Jewish faith from the persecutions that were geared at exterminating the Jewish population. Nearly six million European Jews were murdered during the Holocaust (the Shoah). Of the persons who endeavoured to protect their fellow men and women of the Jewish faith, three royal women have been recognised as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the organisation Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians (1876-1965; née Bavaria)
Recognised as Righteous Among the Nations in 1965

From Yad Vashem:

On August 1, 1942, Queen-Mother Elisabeth of Belgium, mother of King Léopold III, welcomed representatives of the Association des Juifs en Belgique (AJB), Eugène Hellendael, Lazare Liebmann (who had taken the initiative to the meeting), and Salomon Van den Berg, into her royal palace in Brussels, which was situated almost next to the German headquarters. They told her about the atrocities that were being committed – about the imprisonment conditions in the Mechelen/Malines transit camp and about the elderly people, the children and babies who were being cut off from their families and sent to Germany. The Queen –Mother promised her visitors that she would do everything in her power to stop the arrests and to protect the Belgian Jews from deportation to Poland. Queen-Mother Elisabeth turned directly to Hitler – via the Italian royal family and the Red Cross – in order to request that Jews not be deported. In a telegram from Berlin, dated July 4, 1942, she was promised that the Jews with Belgian citizenship would not be deported or separated from their families, and that those who were under arrest in Mechelen/Malines, awaiting deportation could receive visitors. This answer was handed on to the representatives of the AJB. Baron De Streel, the Queen-Mother’s secretary, drew to their attention that they were only talking about a promise and that the Queen-Mother would continue to follow the fate of her Jewish subjects. On October 30, 1942, the Germans had arrested the children in the Wezembeek orphanage, but after Queen-Mother Elisabeth pushed the Germans on this issue, this group of children was released. In May 1943, Queen-Mother Elisabeth visited a hospital in Borgerhout (Antwerp), which apparently caused the Germans to give permission to about 80 Jewish elderly and sick to stay there. In June 1943, the Queen-Mother protested once again regarding the Belgian Jews imprisoned in Mechelen/Malines, and about three hundred of them were released at that moment. Queen Elisabeth also intervened in a number of individual cases. However, the Germans did not keep their promises: most of the Jewish with Belgian nationality were rounded up and arrested in one swoop on September 3, 1943, (“Operation Iltis”) and sent to camps. In spite of the meager results, and in spite of the fact that her intervention related to a limited number of Jews, these interventions by a member of a royal family in Europe on behalf of Jews was unparalleled. 

On May 18, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Queen-Mother Elisabeth of Belgium as Righteous Among the Nations.

Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark (1885-1969; née Battenberg)
Recognised as Righteous Among the Nations in 1993

From Yad Vashem:

Rescue in the Royal Palace 

Princess Alice was born in Windsor Castle in 1885, as Princess Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie. Her parents were Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The Princess was related to most European royal families. 

When she was a young child, her deafness was diagnosed and by the age of eight she had become a fluent lip reader. This handicap may have made her especially sensitive to the underprivileged and outcast. 

Princess Alice married Prince Andrew of Greece in 1903. The couple had five children: four daughters and a son – the future Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth II of England. 

During World War II, Princess Alice lived in the Athens palace of her brother in law, Prince George of Greece, and worked with the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross. She found herself in the difficult situation of having sons-in-law fighting on the German side and a son (the future Prince Philip) in the British Royal Navy. 

The Rescue of Rachel Cohen and her Children 

The Greek royal family had been well acquainted with the family of Haimaki Cohen, a Jew and former member of Parliament, from Tricala, in northern Greece. In 1941, when Germany invaded Greece, the family fled to Athens – then still under Italian rule, where the anti-Jewish policy was more moderate. However the period of relative saftely lasted only until September 1943, when following Italy’s surrender to the Allies, the Germans occupied Athens and the hunt for Jews began. By that time Haimaki Cohen had died. His widow, Rachel, and her five children were looking for a place of refuge. The family’s four sons wanted to cross to Egypt, and join with the Greek government in exile that was in Cairo. But the trip proved too hazardous for Rachel and their sister. Princess Alice heard of the family’s desparate situation and offered to shelter Rachel and her daughter, Tilde, at her home. They were later joined by another son who was unable to make the journey to Egypt and had to return to Athens. 

The Cohens stayed in Princess Alice’s residence until liberation. There were times when the Germans became suspicious, and Princess Alice was even interviewed by the Gestapo. Using her deafness, she pretended not to understand their questions until they left her alone. 

In January 1949, the princess founded a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns – the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. She decided to withdraw from the world and moved to the island of Tinos. Following the colonels’ coup d’etat in Greece in 1967 she went back to England and moved to Buckingham Palace to be close to her son and his family. She died in London in December 1969, aged 84. 

Not long before her death Princess Alice expressed the wish to be buried in Jerusalem, next to her aunt, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, who, like Princess Alice, had become a nun and had founded a convent. The Grand Duchess Fyodorovna was killed during the Russian revolution and her remains were buried in the Church of Maria Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. In 1988, nineteen years after her death, Princess Alice’s coffin was transferred to the crypt in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. 

In 1993 Yad Vashem bestowed the title of Righteous Among the Nations on Princess Alice. A year later, her children, Prince Philip – the Duke of Edinburgh – and Princess George of Hanover traveled to Yad Vashem and planted the tree in her honor. During the ceremony, Prince Philip said:

“I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with deep religious faith and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress.”

Queen Mother Helen of Romania (1896-1982; née Greece and Denmark)
Recognised as Righteous Among the Nations in 1993

From Yad Vashem:

Princess Elena of Greece and Denmark was born in Athens. She was the daughter of the future King Constantine I of Greece. In 1921 Elena married Romania’s crown prince, who later became King Carol II. The couple had a child, Mihai (Michael), and divorced in 1928, before Carol’s accession to the throne. On September 6, 1940, King Carol II was forced to resign because of his political failures. General Ion Antonescu took control of the country in an alliance with the Iron Guard. Mihai, Carol II’s 20-year-old son, was crowned, and his mother, Elena, who had been away from Romania, returned to Bucharest as the Queen Mother. Antonescu’s opponents – the heads of the historical parties, the Liberal Party and the Peasant Party – maintained contacts with the royal court, as did other political and social organizations. In the summer of 1941, when the Jews of Besserabia, Bukovina and Dorohoi were de[prted to Transnistria, Rabbi Dr. Alexander Safran, the chief rabbi of Romanian Jewry, appealed to the head of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch Nicodem. Unable to persuade Antonescu, Nicodem went to the Queen Mother, who was very moved upon hearing about the plight of the deported Jews. After turning to various influential people, the Queen Mother and the Patriarch appealed directly to Antonescu. The deportations continued, but due to the intervention of the Queen Mother, the deportation of the philologist Barbu Lazareanu was prevented. 

At the end of 1941, when news arrived of the desperate state of the Jews expelled to Transnistria, Rabbi Safran again appealed to the Queen Mother for help. She consulted with Monsignor Andrea Cassulo, the Pope’s emissary, and taking his advice, she turned to the acting prime minister, Mihai Antonescu. She persuaded him to allow the Jewish organizations to send medical aid, clothing and food to the Jews in Transnistria, who were living in ghettos and camps. The plight of the Jews was of such concern to the Queen Mother that she sent her aide, after midnight on a stormy night, to inform the chief rabbi that she had obtained approval to send them help. The help sent in 1942 saved the lives of thousands of Jews who had been deported to Transnistria. The Queen Mother continued with her efforts to prevent the deportation of Jews from the Regat (the Old Kingdom). On 30 October 1942, Gustav Richter, of Eichmann’s staff, who served as expert for Jewish Affairs in Bucharest, wrote that “The Queen Mother told the King that what was happening to the people in this country was awful, that she can no longer stand this, all the more so that her name and the King’s will be connected with the murders of the Jews and so she can expect to remain hin history as the mohter of “Michael the Terrible”. She threatened the king in earnest that unless deportations stop immediately, she would leave the country….” 

In 1943 and early 1944, the Queen Mother contributed to the decision to allow the return from Transnistria of thousands of deported Jews, including thousands of Jewish orphans. Despite a six-month delay, caused by Adolph Eichmann’s intervention, the orphans were returned thanks to Queen Elena’s determined efforts. 

On March 11, 1993, Yad Vashem recognized Queen Mother Elena as Righteous Among the Nations.

To learn more about Yad Vashem, please visit its website: Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center

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