"she helped several Jewish families escape from the Nazi Holocaust."
Princess Catherine Duleep Singh was known for fighting for women’s rights but she also helped many Jewish families flee Nazi Germany.
Dubbed the ‘Sikh Schindler’, she and her romantic companion, governess Lina Schäfer, aided the escape of many Jewish people during World War II.
Thanks to Princess Catherine’s efforts, Jewish families managed to reach England.
She also offered them financial support, food and shelter in her Buckinghamshire home.
Peter Bance, an author, historian and collector of fine art is credited with finding out about Catherine’s heroic efforts to save Jewish people.
Many of the families whose lives were spared and their descendants were located and interviewed by Mr Bance.
His memoir, Sovereign, Squire and Rebel: Maharajah Duleep Singh and the Heirs of a Lost Kingdom, included his recollections of Catherine’s important contributions.
In one of his recollections about Catherine’s involvement, Peter Bance wrote:
“One such family [saved from the Nazis] was the Hornstein Family, formerly of Kassel in Germany who were saved from the clutches of Gestapo Chief SS Reinhard Heydrich and brought to England by the Princess [Catherine] in 1939.”
In their account of Catherine’s work, the Essex Cultural Diversity Project makes the following observation:
“Before Catherine left Germany she helped several Jewish families escape from the Nazi Holocaust.
“In 1938, Catherine’s friend Dr Hornstein was arrested and interned at Oranienburg concentration camp near Berlin.
“Catherine acted as the Hornstein family’s guarantor and helped secure his release.
“Hornstein had been arrested after ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of Broken Glass), when Nazis attacked Jewish homes, schools and businesses as part of a ruthless, violent state-sanctioned program.
“Catherine also helped violinist Alexander Polnarioff and the Meyerstein family escape from the threat of death in a German concentration camp.
“The families came to stay with Catherine at her home near her sister Sophia at Coalhatch House, Penn, Buckinghamshire.”
Up to her death in 1942, Catherine continued to accept several German-Jewish refugees during World War II.
The legacy Catherine leaves behind is exceptional because she made sure that Jewish households continued to prosper even after the Nazis were overthrown.
Princess Catherine’s Royal Background
Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh was born on October 27, 1871, in London.
She was the second daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the final Emperor of the Sikh Empire and his first wife, Maharani Bamba, Lady Singh.
As a lesbian woman, and a strong proponent of the Suffrage Movement in the UK, Catherine lived a life of advocating for the rights of others.
During a period when Maharaja Duleep Singh had trouble getting back to India, Queen Victoria provided housing for his daughters Sophia, Catherine and Bamba at Hampton Court Palace.
After seven years and an unsuccessful attempt to visit Punjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh died in Paris at the age of 55.
After his death, Queen Victoria appointed Arthur Oliphant and his wife as guardians for Catherine and her two sisters.
Arthur Oliphant’s father served as Duleep Singh’s equerry (personal attendant of the royal family).
It was while in their care that Catherine first met Fraulein Lina Schäfer, her governess from Kassel, Germany. This marked the beginning of a unique and intimate relationship.
Catherine enrolled at Somerville College at Oxford University in 1890.
Five years later, she and her sisters, Sophia and Bamba, were introduced to British high society at Queen Victoria’s debutante dance.
Sophia characterised Catherine and Lina Schäfer’s relationship as “intimate” and in 1908 they relocated to Germany.
The couple resided in Munich and Kassel up to the 1930s.
But as the Nazis began gaining power, their neighbours complained about how the “local Nazis disapproved of the old Indian lady”.
Despite the dangers, Catherine continued to live with Lina until the latter’s death in 1937.
After Lina died, Catherine believed she no longer had any reason to live in Germany.
She had auctioned her valuables by November 1937 and escaped to England through Switzerland.
She also assisted Jewish families in locating safe transportation to England.
Catherine passed away on November 8, 1942, as a result of a heart attack.
Following her passing, she was virtually forgotten until July 1997, when Swiss banks disclosed a lengthy list of 5,000 unclaimed accounts since the conclusion of World War II, many of which belonged to Holocaust victims.
These included a vault at the German UBS AG bank that had not been used since the 1930s and a joint account owned by Catherine Duleep Singh and Lina Schaefer.
In the end, a tribunal decided that the family of Pakistani worker Karim Baksh Supra, who had previously worked for Catherine’s older sister, Princess Bamba Sophia Jindan Sutherland, should get the £100,000 that constituted Catherine’s fortune.