By Cnaan Liphshiz and Ron Kampeas
(JTA) – Prince Philip, perhaps the closest member of the British royal family to Jews and Jewish causes, has died at 99.
Buckingham Palace announced his death on Friday. Philip, who had been married to Queen Elizabeth II for 74 years, since five years before she ascended to the throne, had been in declining health for some time.
Also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, Philip’s support for Jewish and pro-Israel causes ran deep. His mother, Princess Alice of Greece, sheltered a Jewish family during the Holocaust and is recognized as one of fewer than 30,000 “righteous among the nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
Philip’s four sisters each married German nobles, at least three of whom became Nazis. But Philip, educated in Britain, joined the allied war effort. As an adult, he showed little patience for Nazi collaborators; he was instrumental in making a pariah of his wife’s uncle Edward, who after abdicating the throne dallied with Nazi Germany.
Philip over the years spoke multiple times at Jewish and pro-Israel events.
Philip, who had a passion for environmental preservation, spoke multiple times at Jewish National Fund events and lent his royal sponsorship to other Jewish events. He came under attack in the 1960s for speaking to pro-Israel groups, and, famously impervious to criticism, ignored the attacks.
In 1994, Philip was the first British royal to visit Israel, when he accepted Yad Vashem’s recognition of his mother and visited her burial site at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
At Yad Vashem, Philip planted a maple tree in memory of his mother, who was married to Prince Andrew of Greece and helped shelter three members of the family of a late Greek-Jewish politician in her palace in Athens. The Gestapo was suspicious of Alice, even questioning her, but the princess, who was deaf, pretended not to understand their questions. Alice later became a nun.
“The Holocaust was the most horrific event in all Jewish history, and it will remain in the memory of all future generations,” Philip said at the time. “It is, therefore, a very generous gesture that also remembered here are the many millions of non-Jews, like my mother, who shared in your pain and anguish and did what they could in small ways to alleviate the horror.”
The 1994 visit broke with what was then an unofficial but nonetheless binding ban on royals traveling to Israel, which had been enforced following violence by Zionist fighters against British targets in the years that predated the establishment of the State of Israel in what had been before 1948 the British Mandate over Palestine.
For all its trappings, Philip’s 1994 visit was in a personal capacity. The Royal House ended its policy on official visits to Israel in 2018, when Prince William, Prince Philip’s grandson, visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.
Philip’s retirement from public life in 2017 triggered an outpouring of plaudits for a life well-lived from Jewish groups and leaders.
Those groups expressed grief upon his death Friday. Philip’s life “was spent in public service, from his active duty in the Navy during World War II to the tens of thousands of engagements which he carried out over six and a half decades of royal duties,” the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, wrote in a statement.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin joined dozens of other heads of state who expressed their sympathies with the Royal House. Rivlin used the traditional Jewish phrase when speaking about a deceased person, ending his tweet about Philip with “May his memory be a blessing.”
Main Photo: Prince Philip at a ceremony in Windsor, England, July 22, 2020. (Samir Hussein/ Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images)