The daughter of a Holocaust survivor saved from the Nazis by Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice has thanked the late royal for her bravery.
Speaking in a new documentary, Evy Cohen, reveals how her father Alfred Haimaki Cohen, head of a prominent family with ties to Greek royalty, sought out the royal as their only hope of refuge from the Nazis.
At the time, Princess Alice – who was married to playboy Prince Andrew of Greece – had settled in Athens, having spent more than two years being treated in a sanatorium for schizophrenia.
‘At the beginning of 43, it became obvious that the decisions against Jews, to take them to concentration camps, was starting to be obvious, my family had to go into hiding,’ Evy explains in Princess Alice: The Royals Greatest Secret, which airs on Channel 5 tomorrow.
By chance Alfred, a prominent member of the community of 8,000 Jewish people in Athens, came across Alice’s lady-in-waiting, and the royal quickly offered the family refuge on the top floor of her house, only yards from Gestapo headquarters
‘If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be alive today to say all this. My parents would not have met, and so many other things,’ Evy explained.
The daughter of a holocaust survivor saved from Nazis by Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice has thanked the late royal for her bravery. Princess Alice is pictured in 1945
Speaking in a new documentary, Evy Cohen, reveals how her father Alfred (second left, back) sought out the royal as their only hope of refuge when Nazis took over Germany. He is pictured with his family who were saved by Alice
‘She didn’t even think for a minute, she just heard that there were people in danger, and she thought she could do something for them.
‘The story of Princess Alice and my family is a beautiful one, and I hope it can be an example for young people today to continue to do good things in life, and to be human.’
Princess Alice, who was born in Windsor Castle lived in Athens during the Second World War. Her son Prince Philip moved to the UK as a boy and lived under the care of his uncle Lord Mountbatten.
Many TV viewers were introduced to the remarkable story of the Duke of Edinburgh’s mother in the third series of The Crown, where she was played by actress Jane Lapotaire. It showed how Princess Alice moved to Buckingham Palace in 1967 and remained in the UK for the last two years of her life.
Princess Alice has been formally recognised for the bravery and courage she demonstrated hiding members of the Cohen family during the Nazi persecution.
Reading a letter written by her father, Evy Cohen reveals the extraordinary good fortune her father felt.
He wrote: ‘For us it was an absolute miracle, in short that lady [in waiting] had gone to see the Princess and an hour later we were informed that the Princess Alice would be more than happy to take in my mother and sister.
Princess Alice is pictured with her son, Prince Philip,at Windsor Castle. A documentary has explored her life
Many TV viewers were introduced to Princess Alice in Netflix’s The Crown, with actress Jane Lapotaire playing her in the third series of the hit royal drama
Dr Anna Whitelock, royal historian and expert explained that when the German generals came around looking for Jewish people in hiding, Alice pretended couldn’t understand them, because she was deaf, and they thought she was ‘a silly old woman and left her in peace’.
‘People were being executed for looking after Jewish families, but Alice had no fear,’ said Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine.
The Cohen family was never discovered, and Alice kept her bravery a secret throughout her life.
‘If she hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be alive today to say all this,’ Evy said.
‘I think it was Alice facing an enormous risk, as she may have faced a firing squad because she had harboured a Jewish family,’ Dr Chandrika Kaul, a historian St Andrews University added.
Alice was born deaf and later diagnosed with schizophrenia, yet she would learn to read lips in German, English, Greek, and dedicate her life to helping others.
Sent to a mental asylum, given controversial electroshock treatment by Sigmund Freud, she would overcome the most extraordinary personal challenges to help those she saw as more in need than herself.
Alice of Battenburg is pictured with Prince Charles as young man. The royal died at Windsor Castle in 1969
During the war, and separated from her children, she served as a military nurse on the frontline and founded an order of nursing nuns in Greece, before finally coming to live at Buckingham Palace, with the Queen, in scenes that were famously fictionalised in season three of The Crown.
Speaking in the documentary, Jane Lapotaire, who played the royal in The Crown , said: ‘One of the joys of playing her was that she didn’t give a damn what people thought of her’.
In January, Prince Charles paid tribute to his ‘dear grandmother’ at a a Holocaust memorial ceremony attended by some 40 world leaders in Jerusalem.
‘I have long drawn inspiration from the selfless actions of my dear grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Athens, saved a Jewish family by taking them into her home and hiding them,’ the prince said at the forum in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre.
The Prince of Wales was addressing a Holocaust memorial ceremony attended by some 40 world leaders in Jerusalem in January where he spoke of his grandmother
Prince William, left, visits the grave of his great-grandmother Princess Alice of Battenberg during a visit to the Mary Magdalene Church, in east Jerusalem, in June 2018
‘My grandmother, who is buried on the Mount of Olives, has a tree planted in her name here at Yad Vashem and is counted as one of the Righteous Among the Nations … a fact which gives me and my family immense pride.’
In 1993, the princess received the highest honour Yad Vashem bestows on non-Jews for hiding three members of the Cohen family in her palace in Athens during World War Two.
Prince William has also paid tribute to Princess Alice.
In January, The Duke of Cambridge read out a letter sent by a friend to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The letter praised her ‘incredible courage’ and insisted her story of bravery ‘must keep being told in her memory’.
In 2018, William also visited his great-grandmother’s grave at Church of St Mary Magdalene, a golden-domed Russian Orthodox church on the Mount of Olives above the Old City of Jerusalem, and met with Evy.
Prince Philip’s remarkable mother: The extraordinary life of Princess Alice of Battenberg
Princess Alice of Battenberg circa. 1910
Alice was born Princess Alice of Battenberg in 1885 at Windsor Castle, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and raised as an English princess, although both her parents were German.
Alice was congenitally deaf but she could speak clearly. Photographs show how beautiful she was, with her upswept hair and lace gowns.
Then in 1902, at the Coronation of King Edward VII, she fell head over heels in love with Prince Andrew, a younger son of the King of Greece. As her niece, Lady Pamela Hicks, has previously said, ‘She was absolutely dotty about him. Really, deeply in love.’
By 1914 Alice had four daughters. But in Greece, revolution was brewing, and shortly after Prince Philip was born in 1921, the Greek royal family were exiled.
Aged 18 months, the future Duke of Edinburgh was bundled into a makeshift cot – an orange crate – as the family escaped on a British warship.
They arrived in Paris as refugees, living on handouts from relatives. The strain took its toll on Alice, and her impassioned religious beliefs became steadily more eccentric.
By 1930 she was hearing voices and believed she was having physical relationships with Jesus and other religious figures.
She was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and when treatment in a Berlin clinic failed – on the advice of Sigmund Freud her womb was blasted with X-rays to cure her of frustrated sexual desires – she was admitted to a Swiss sanatorium.
Princess Alice of Greece at London Airport in 1965. She spent her final years living with her son and daughter-in-law in Buckingham Palace
On the day she left, the nine-year-old Prince Philip was taken out by his grandmother for a picnic. When he returned, his mother had gone.
She remained a prisoner there for two and a half years.
Although the couple never divorced, Alice was effectively abandoned by her playboy husband Prince Andrew, who went to live on the French Riviera with his mistress.
Prince Philip was now homeless, spending boarding school holidays with various relatives, including his uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten, father of Countess Mountbatten. She recalls that when Philip visited them one Christmas, he signed his name in the visitors’ book and gave his address as ‘no fixed abode’.
When Alice was eventually released from the sanatorium in 1932, she became a lonely drifter, staying in modest German B&Bs. Almuth Reuter, whose mother ran a boarding house in Cologne, remembers their unusual guest.
Mother and son were not to meet again until tragic circumstances forced them together, reuniting in 1937 at the funeral of Philip’s sister Cécilie, who’d died in a plane crash at the age of 26.
The Queen with a young Princess Anne and Princess Alice leaving Buckingham Palace to spend Christmas in Sandringham
Alice wanted Philip, now 16, to live with her in Athens (the Greek monarchy having been restored in 1935). But Philip’s future lay in the Royal Navy. And by 1941, Alice was stranded in Nazi-occupied Greece.
Her brother, Lord Mountbatten, sent food parcels – which she gave to the needy. Then, for more than a year, she hid a Jewish family on the top floor of her house, only yards from Gestapo headquarters. When the Gestapo became suspicious, Alice made her deafness an excuse for not answering their questions.
After the war, diamonds from Alice’s tiara were reset so Philip had an engagement ring to present to Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen. Alice sold the rest of her jewels to found her own religious order, the Christian Sisterhood Of Martha And Mary, in 1949 and built a convent and orphanage in a poor suburb of Athens. Her family was sceptical.
When there was a Greek military coup in 1967, Alice refused to budge from Athens until Prince Philip sent a plane, along with a special request from the Queen, to bring her home.
The Queen gave her mother-in-law a room in Buckingham Palace
Shortly before Alice died in 1969, she wrote to her only son, whose childhood had been so scarred by her absence, ‘Dearest Philip, Be brave, and remember I will never leave you, and you will always find me when you need me most. All my devoted love, your old Mama.’
- Princess Alice: The Royals Greatest Secret, Channel 5, Saturday, 8.35pm