Young readers around the world will learn the story of Princess Alice Battenberg in the new book, The Brave Princess and Me, written by award-winning author Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Juliana Kolesova.
The picture book is based on Princess Alice of Greece, who rescued a Jewish family during the Holocaust. Princess Alice was a member of the British royal family, the mother of Prince Philip, grandmother of Prince Charles and the great-grandmother of princes William and Harry. The Brave Princess and Me was sent to Queen Elizabeth II by Canada’s high commissioner in London.
“I never thought I’d say these words: my book is in the hands of the Queen,” said Kacer. “I would love to know that her grandchildren are reading this book.”
The Brave Princess and Me, Kacer’s 25th book, was launched during Holocaust Education Week in Toronto.
“It’s a very gentle story and a great introduction to this history for young people who are just starting to learn about the Holocaust,” said Kacer.
Kacer confessed that she doesn’t watch the Netflix series The Crown, but admitted that she “had to watch the episode titled ‘Bubbikins,’ Alice’s nickname for Prince Philip – I quite enjoyed it.”
After marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903, Princess Alice stayed in Athens during the Second World War. The Germans invaded Greece in 1941, rounding up Jewish citizens and sending some 60,000 people to concentration camps. Some Jews managed to escape – including the Cohen family, which Princess Alice had hidden.
Set in 1943, the story unfolds as the war was raging and the Nazis had seized most of Europe – including Athens. Born deaf, Princess Alice knew what it was like to be discriminated against and was kind and accepting of different types of people. With the arrival of the Nazis, all Jews living in Greece were in danger, including young Tilde Cohen and her mother.
On the run, they sought a safe place to hide. When they arrived, unannounced, on Princess Alice’s doorstep and begged her to hide them, the princess’s kindness and bravery were put to the test.
“It was extremely dangerous for Princess Alice to conceal this Jewish family. Discovery would have meant severe punishment, perhaps even death for her,” said Kacer.
Kacer’s is a sensitive, suspenseful story that should be of interest to younger readers. “Princess Alice learned to lip read in three languages, using her power and her weakness to protect the Jewish family,” said Kacer.
“Kids are interested in the notion of lip reading because not a lot of kids understand what that is. Alice would pretend that she couldn’t understand the Gestapo when they would come to search her residence and she would pretend that she couldn’t speak. She did everything that she knew how to do in order to protect this family and that meant pretending.”
Kacer leaves readers with valuable takeaways. “The important message for kids is to stand up for their friends – in their community, in school and in their neighbourhood. To be a good citizen, demonstrate moral courage and stand apart from the crowd,” explained Kacer.
Princess Alice led a remarkable life, facing numerous trials and tribulations, yet managed to rise above it all.
Born in Windsor Castle on Feb. 25, 1885, she was the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She and Prince Andrew had four daughters and a son, Philip. During the 1920s, Prince Andrew was exiled and the family moved to France. Homesick and under stress, Princess Alice became depressed. Doctors sent her to psychiatric hospitals far from her home and children. During this time, her marriage ended. Her four daughters married German princes, and young Philip was sent to an English boarding school.
After leaving the hospital, Princess Alice lived quietly in boarding houses, but in 1938, she returned to Athens and worked in soup kitchens, feeding the needy.
Athens was liberated in 1944 and Princess Alice was reunited with her own children.
In 1949, Princess Alice became a nun. She died in Buckingham Palace in 1969, leaving no possessions, as she had given everything she owned to the poor.
The princess is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. In 1989, she was bestowed the title, “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.