A Princess of War, A Queen for Decades

When war broke out in Europe, young Elizabeth was only 13 years old. She lived a nice, very comfortable life with her parents and sister in London. She was born after the First World War and had only known peace in her lifetime. But all of that changed on September 3, 1939 after Great Britain and France declared war on Germany after they had invaded Poland. Like many children in London, Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret were both sent to the countryside in hopes of staying safe, while their parents remained in the city. As the years went on, the war continued, bombs rained down on London and Elizabeth grew from a young adolescent into a teenager approaching adulthood and even in the last months of war entered the British Army to train as a mechanic. She was just like millions and millions of other children across Europe – a teenager of war – but she was also Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of the King of England who would only a few years later become Queen herself.

Now, as Great Britain, in fact the world, mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth, it’s hard to picture that 13-year-old. Instead, we see the longest reigning Monarch. The grand lady who was meticulous in her outfits, handbags, and hats. We think of the decades and decades in which she presided over the Commonwealth. The thousands of official visits and dignitaries that she met with. Fifteen British Prime Ministers, 14 US Presidents (met with 13), wars, natural disasters, and even a worldwide pandemic.

Yet, it was from Windsor Castle on October 13, 1940, that she gave her first address to the nation on the BBC’s Children’s Hour, directly addressing the many children like her that were without their parents.

“Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.” Princess Elizabeth

The Princess was a champion for British resilience in the face of war and supporter of the British armed forces. And eventually, entered the armed forces herself, knowing that young women her age across Britain were all doing the same. She was royalty but she was also coming of age in war torn Europe.

Long before, I focused my historical studies on the Holocaust and become a Holocaust Educator, I dabbled in British History – specifically the Monarchy. I took several college courses on the subject and spent a formative six months studying history and politics in London. That chapter of mine quickly came to an end as I shifted gears towards Holocaust and Genocide Studies yet, as an American my interest and admiration for the establishment of the Monarchy as always remained. Early this morning, as I feared the news of the Queen’s death would be imminent, my historical worlds of interest collided in my brain.

Princess Elizabeth herself, was not nearly in the danger that Jewish or other children across Europe were in, yet her words to the fellow children of her country, on October 13, 1940, are a keen reminder of the millions of children separated from their parents and loved ones. They speak volumes, as what was the beginning of her time on the world stage. For the young Princess it was her start. Just think and imagine, the Queen was born only 3 years before Anne Frank – they were contemporaries. Yet time froze Anne Frank at 16 but the Queen’s image today is of a magnificent older lady, whose leadership spanned 70 years.

As I watched and contemplated the magnitude of the death of Queen Elizabeth, a true icon, who was just old enough, aware enough, and influential enough during the time of WWII and the Holocaust to have held memories of what happened; this clash of sorts truly struck. In only a few short years, the young that perished in the Holocaust will still be immortalized in the few photos we have as young but those survivors that lived for decades and decades and told their stories, will be as images of the old.

The world is grieving the loss of Queen Elizabeth for the remarkable life she lived and at the same time for me, it signifies what is truly going to be in the coming decade. Like Queen Elizabeth, the survivors will near the end, hopefully peacefully and without pain. They will be remembered for their stories of survival, along with all they stood for in the years and years that they lived after they miraculously survived. At the same time their childhood years, marred by war will hopefully be forever emboldened on the world stage as we strive to always strive to “Never Forget.”

In the coming days, I am sure much will be said and viewed about the Queen and her impact on the world. We will hear about her very public life, as well as her private one. Images of her through the years will show speeches, processionals, weddings, and funerals. Pictures of her family alongside with the countless famous people she shook hands with and those that she granted an audience to in her 70 years as the Queen. I do hope that among them will be a nod to the Princess – who was a teenager of war.

About the Author
Ilyse Muser Shainbrown was a former Middle and High School History teacher who now holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Over the years she has done extensive research on various portions of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide including, Rwanda, the Belgian Congo and Bosnia. Currently, Ilyse Muser Shainbrown is the Director of Holocaust Education and Newark Initiatives at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. Through both programs, Ilyse works to ensure that Holocaust education is taught broadly in public, private and parochial schools throughout Essex, Union, Morris and Sussex counties.
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