Click photo to download. Caption: The Mount of Olives viewed from the Old City walls of Jerusalem. Credit: Wilson44691/Wikimedia Commons.
Leading up to
Jerusalem Day this year, leaders of four U.S. Orthodox organizations in March
sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about what they called
“continuous violence against visitors, rampant grave desecrations, dumping of
refuse and gross defilement” by local Arab youths at Jerusalem’s Mount of
Olives cemetery, casting fresh attention on the largest and oldest Jewish burial
site in the world.
Additionally, in February 2012, a group of American Jewish visitors to the
cemetery, including U.S. congressmen Elliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler (both
Democrats from New York), was attacked by Arab rock-throwers.
According to Jewish tradition, the messianic redemption will begin at the Mount
of Olives, which directly faces the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. The
3,000 year-old-cemetery is the site of approximately 150,000 graves, Hoenlein
noted, “Including three of our prophets, foremost Torah scholars, heads of Hassidic
dynasties, and many of our national leaders over the ages, including prime
In addition to those well-known personalities, the Mount of Olives cemetery
also is the final resting place for a fascinating array of lesser-known but
significant figures–some of them linked by history in an unusual ways.
The deaf heroine
As the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice of Battenberg
boasted impressive royal English pedigree. In 1903, she married Prince Andrew
of Greece and Denmark, and the couple settled in Athens. Despite suffering from
congenital deafness and other health problems, Alice threw herself into
charitable work. In the late 1930s, she took up residence in a small apartment
in a rundown Athens neighborhood so as to immerse herself in aiding the poor.
Click photo to download. Caption: Princess Alice of Battenberg. Credit: Philip de LÃ¡szlÃ³.
Related by marriage to royalty in various countries, Princess Alice had
relatives on both sides during World War Two. According to one anecdote, a
German general who encountered the princess during the Nazi occupation of
Athens in 1941 asked her, “Is there anything I can do for you?” She reportedly
responded, “You can take your troops out of my country.”
More than 60,000 of Greece’s 75,000 Jews were deported to the Treblinka and
Auschwitz death camps in 1943. Several thousand Greek Jews who went into hiding
escaped the deportations. Among them was a widow named Rachel Cohen, whose late
husband, Haimaki Cohen, had assisted Greece’s King George I several decades
earlier and received, in return, a pledge of future help should he need it. In
response to Mrs. Cohen’s plea, Princess Alice honored George I’s promise and
sheltered the widow and her two children from the Nazis.
Before her passing at Buckingham Palace in 1969, Princess Alice, a devout
Christian, left instructions that she be buried in the cemetery at the Church
of Mary Magdalene, a 19th century Russian Orthodox church on the Mount of
Olives. The princess had visited the site in the 1930s. It took 19 years, but
in 1988 her family finally transferred Alice’s remains to Jerusalem for re-interment.