Princess Alice was an unconventional royal who prioritized helping others over wealth and privilege. She devoted her life to good deeds and spiritual growth, and was notable among European royalty for taking Jews into her home during the Holocaust.
Princess Alice stood out for another reason: she was deaf from birth.
Born in 1885 at Windsor Castle, Alice was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She learned to lip read at a young age, and could speak several languages. Alice was widely regarded as the most beautiful princess in Europe.
At age 17, Alice fell in love with dashing Prince Andrew of Greece and they were married in 1903. Alice and Andrew had four daughters and a son. Their son Philip would later be married to Queen Elizabeth II. Alice communicated with her children mainly in sign language.
Political turmoil in Greece forced the royal family into exile. They settled in a sleepy suburb of Paris, where Alice threw herself into charitable work helping Greek refugees. Her husband left her for a life of gambling and debauchery in Monte Carlo.
Relying on the charity of wealthy relatives, Alice found strength in her Greek Orthodox faith. She became increasingly religious, and believed that she was receiving divine messages and had healing powers. She yearned to share her faith and mystical experiences with others, but instead was dismissed as mentally unhinged.
Alice had a nervous breakdown in 1930. She was committed against her will to a mental institution in Switzerland, with a dubious diagnosis of schizophrenia. Alice did not even get a chance to say goodbye to her children. Her youngest, 9 year old Philip, returned from a picnic to find his mother gone.
Alice tried desperately to leave the asylum, but was kept prisoner in Switzerland for 2 1/2 years. During that time, her beloved son Philip was sent to live with relatives, and her four daughters married German princes. Alice was not allowed to attend any of their weddings.
Finally, in 1932, Alice was released. She became a wanderer, traveling through Europe by herself, staying with relatives or at bed & breakfast inns. In 1935, Alice returned to Greece, where she lived alone in a modest two bedroom apartment and worked with the poor.
The Germans occupied Athens in April 1941. Alice devoted herself to relieving the tremendous suffering in her country. She worked for the Red Cross, organizing soup kitchens and creating shelters for orphaned children. Alice also started a nursing service to provide health care to the poorest Athenians.
In 1943, the Germans started deporting the Jews of Athens to concentration camps. Alice hid a Jewish widow, Rachel Cohen, and her children in her own apartment for over a year. Rachel’s late husband, Haimaki Cohen, was an advisor to King George I of Greece, and Alice considered it her solemn duty to save the remaining Cohen family.
Alice lived yards from Gestapo headquarters. When the Germans became suspicious of her and started asking questions, she used her deafness as an excuse not to answer them. Alice kept the Cohen family safe until Greece was liberated in 1944.
After the war, Alice founded her own religious order, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, and became a nun. She built a convent and orphanage in a poverty-stricken part of Athens. Alice dressed in a nun’s habit consisting of a drab gray robe, white wimple, cord and rosary beads – but still enjoyed smoking and playing cards.
In 1967, after a Greek military coup, Alice finally returned to Great Britain. She lived at Buckingham Palace with her son Philip and daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II.
Alice died in 1969. She owned no possessions, having given everything to the poor. Before she died, Alice expressed a desire to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, but instead was laid to rest in the Royal Crypt in Windsor Castle.
In 1988, almost 20 years after she died, Alice’s dying wish was finally granted. Her remains were sent to Jerusalem, where she was buried on the Mount of Olives.
In 1994, Alice was honored by the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) as Righteous Among The Nations. Her son Prince Philip said of his mother’s wartime heroism, “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.”
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