TORONTO — Prince Hermann Friedrich Fernando Roland zu Leiningen, the grandson of King Boris III of Bulgaria, who refused to evacuate 50,000 Jews from Bulgaria to concentration camps during the Holocaust, was the guest speaker at a recent Na’amat membership event.
The prince is the son of Prince Karl of Leiningen and Princess Marie Louise of Bulgaria, but prefers to be called Hermann Leiningen. Through his father, he’s a great-great-great grandson of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and, therefore, is in the line of succession of the British throne.
The membership event was held Oct. 9 at the Borochov Cultural Centre with a filled-to-capacity crowd of more than 250 guests.
Event chair Roni Maderer, said Na’amat invited the prince because his grandfather’s story “is a fascinating [one] that needs to be told, how one man stood up to Hitler and didn’t allow himself to be bullied into submission.
“As we move further away from the Holocaust, it’s more and more important to tell these stories so generations understand there were also good people who believed in humanity.”
Leiningen, who lives and works in Toronto, combined his speech with humour, genealogy and centuries of history.
Speaking of his connection to royalty, he joked that his connection to royalty is that he attended Queen’s University and he works in finance at the Royal Bank. He noted that he is the first royal to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
He said that through his mother, his position in line to the British throne is 131, “but it is always changing with births and deaths.”
His parents came to Canada in 1957 and he was born in 1963. He said he had a North American upbringing similar to most children, but he was able to spend summers in Europe with relatives who were members of royal families.
His parents chose Canada, he said, because his father was a prisoner during the war and remembered the kindness of Canadian soldiers in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria was aligned with Germany in both wars, but in describing his grandfather, Leiningen said, “My grandfather was a man of peace.”
King Boris met with Hitler twice. Each time, Hitler demanded that he ship 50,000 Jews to concentration camps, but the king refused. He also refused to send Bulgarian troops to Russia.
When they asked King Boris why he saved the Jews, he said, “It’s God’s Will.”
Ten days after his second meeting with Hitler, his grandfather died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. It’s suspected that he was poisoned.
When the Russians invaded Bulgaria, Leiningen noted, “Everything changed with the Communists.”
As royalty, his family was placed under house arrest. They feared for their lives and left for Egypt, where they had many Bulgarian Jewish friends.
He added that his mother continues to build strong relationships with Jews, speaking to clubs and synagogues.
Leiningen complimented Na’amat on its work in improving the quality of life for women, children and families in Canada and Israel.
His father moved to Israel and spent the last 20 years of his life there. His funeral was in Israel, and he was buried in Germany.
“My father loved the beauty of Israel, and it was the kindness of the people who kept him there,” Leiningen said.