On September 8, the whole world learned with immense emotion of the disappearance of Elizabeth II. The queen was part of the family of each of us since she reigned for more than 70 years.
The 300,000 British Jews were deeply upset by the sovereign’s departure. The equivalent of CRIF, the Board which was founded in 1760, yes, I wrote correctly in 1760, paid tribute to “Her Majesty’s wisdom, benevolence and devotion which inspired generations of British citizens, including our community”.
It is impossible to evoke Queen Elizabeth without associating her with Prince Philip.
The first time Philip and Elizabeth met was in 1939. Philip then studied in the British Navy. King George VI comes to visit a training center, accompanied by Princesses Elizabeth and Margareth. Philip was assigned to show the base. It’s love at first sight but Philip is 18 and Elizabeth 13. The Second World War broke out soon after, and they had to wait until November 20, 1947 to get married.
King George VI fell ill and died on February 6, 1952. His eldest daughter Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953, and Philip became the prince consort.
Elizabeth’s husband was born on June 10, 1921 in Corfu. He is prince of Greece and Denmark. But his uncle the King of Greece Constantine 1st was deposed after the victory of the Turks.
Philip decides to settle in Great Britain. He studied there and then fought in the navy during the Second World War.
Philip has four sisters. They choose to settle in Germany. Three of them marry Nazis. None of them will be invited to his wedding.
Elizabeth’s fate will change. Her uncle, King Edward VIII officially abdicated in 1936 to marry an American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
But in reality, she is also the mistress of the German ambassador in London Joachim von Ribbentrop who will become Hitler’s foreign minister. Wallis Simpson sends the Nazi diplomat confidential documents because she convinced the king of the merits of Adolf Hitler’s project. The couple becomes too unpredictable and dangerous. The British government pushes Edward VIII to renounce the throne.
A few months later, the one who is now the Duke of Windsor and his wife go on their honeymoon… in Germany. They are received with great pomp by the Führer at his residence in Berchtesgaden.
Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, was abandoned by her husband Prince Andrew. Alice enters the orders of the Orthodox Church and in 1949 she goes on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Alice died in 1969 in London, but she asked to be buried in Jerusalem where her body was interred in 1988 at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
In 1994, Prince Philip came to pray at his mother’s grave. It is the first time since independence in 1948 that a member of the royal family has visited Israel. The Duke of Edinburgh also visits Yad Vashem. Because posthumously Princess Alice is recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. She indeed saved the family of the Jewish deputy Haimaki Cohen in Athens.
During the ceremony, Prince Philip let his emotion speak: “The Holocaust was the most horrible event in all of Jewish history. It will remain in the memory of all generations”.
Then he pays tribute to his mother who had resisted the threats of the Gestapo: “I guess it never crossed his mind that his act was something exceptional. She probably considered this a perfectly natural attitude towards neighbors in distress”.
In 1995, Prince Charles, the future Charles III, represented his country at the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin. He returned to Israel in 2016 for the funeral of Shimon Peres.
In 2020 Charles speaks in Jerusalem at the World Holocaust Forum on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
William, who is now the crown prince, is in turn going to Israel in 2018 for the 70th anniversary of Independence. Residents of Tel Aviv will see him with astonishment walking alongside singer Netta, who has just won the Eurovision Song Contest.
Elizabeth II never visited Israel. But it’s not his fault. She has no political power. None of the prime ministers she knew – they were 16 – authorized her to go to Israel: “We must not jeopardize our relations with the Arab world”.
But the queen has regularly received Israeli officials like Shimon Peres whom she has decorated.
Elizabeth II also maintained regular contact with the Jewish community. She ennobled several officials including Rabbi Nachman Sudak who had set up the Chabad movement in 1959 in Great Britain and Rabbi Jonathan Sachs. The chief rabbi of the Commonwealth had given her a chanukiah to thank her.
In 2015 the queen made her last official trip. It was in Germany.
Of course Prince Philip was with her. Elizabeth II had insisted on going to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
On Monday September 19, the Queen will be buried at Windsor Castle. She will finally find Prince Philip who died in 2021, the one whose life she shared for 74 years and of whom she said: “He was my strength and even my guide”.
© Haim Musicant
Haïm Musicant has been the Director General of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) since 1996. In 1977, he founded the Israel-Middle East Information and Documentation Center (CIDIP). He was also European Director of B’nai Brith from 1979 to 1995.
Haïm Musicant has written hundreds of articles for Jewish newspapers. He has published several books including Ehud Barak, the falcon of peace », in collaboration with Paule-Henriette Lévy.