Britain’s Prince William voiced horror over a Nazi death camp exhibit at Israel’s Holocaust memorial in a somber start on Tuesday to the first official British royal visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Wearing a black Jewish skullcap, William, second in line to the throne, laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem memorial, where an eternal flame flickers and the names of extermination and concentration camps are engraved in the floor.
“Terrifying,” William said, viewing a display at the memorial’s museum of shoes taken by the Nazis from Jews at a death camp. “(I’m) trying to comprehend the scale.”
After the tour, the prince was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at their official residence in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the Union Jack and the Israeli flag. They made no comments to reporters.
During the four-day visit, which Britain has described as non-political, William is also scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian youngsters in the occupied West Bank.
At Yad Vashem, William signed a guest book in which he noted with pride that his great-grandmother, Princess Alice, had been honoured by the institution as one of “the righteous among the nations” for sheltering Jews in her home in Greece during the Holocaust.
He also spoke with two men who survived the Nazi genocide through British intervention.
Henry Foner, 86, and Paul Alexander, 80, were among thousands of Jewish children taken in by Britain as part of the 1930s “Kindertransport” from a continental Europe that was falling to German conquest.
Speaking before William’s visit, Alexander, freshly back from a bicycle ride that retraced his life-saving voyage as a toddler, said he was chosen to meet the prince as the youngest member of the Kindertransport.
“When I put my foot on English soil for the first time, it was like I had been reborn, because I left Nazi Germany and was received by the British people and I have an enormous debt of the thanks to the British people,” Alexander told Reuters.
Originally from Leipzig, Alexander was reunited with his mother, who reached Britain the day before World War Two erupted, and with his father, who survived Nazi internment at Buchenwald. Many other Kindertransport children were less lucky.
Foner, whose original name was Heinz Lichtwitz, was taken from Berlin to the Welsh city of Swansea in 1939, two years after his mother committed suicide – a victim, he believes, of despair at the doom gathering around Europe’s Jews.
Foner received postcards from his father until the war cut off mail contact. In mid-1942, the elder Foner told his son in a final letter delivered through the Red Cross: “Our destiny is very uncertain.” Months later, he was murdered at Auschwitz.
“I was a six-year-old refugee kid, and here I am giving a book I wrote, to honor my father, basically, to a member of the royal family,” he told Reuters. “It’s great honor for me to be able to say thank you, symbolically, to the British people who saved my life.”
Later in the day, the prince will see President Reuven Rivlin before heading to Jaffa and Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast to meet young people participating in a football-based youth program.
Britain captured Palestine from the Ottoman empire in 1917 during World War One and administered the territory under international mandate until 1948, pulling out a day before Israel declared independence.
The trip is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal visit until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.