Catherine, known as the ‘Indian Schindler,’ saved numerous Jewish families from Nazi Germany by preparing them for a safe voyage to England in secret, providing them with finances, and even sheltering them at her home in Buckinghamshire during World War II.
Princess Catherine Duleep Singh, the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh and his first wife, Bamba Müller saved members of the Jewish community from the horrors of the Holocaust.
Catherine led a wonderful life that few people are aware of. She was an icon of the LGBTQ community and a staunch supporter of the Suffrage Movement in the United Kingdom.
Returning to India proved difficult for Maharaja. Queen Victoria gave his daughters Sophia, Catherine, and Bamba lodging in Faraday House, Hampton Court Palace, while he was attempting to return.
Maharaja Duleep Singh died at the age of 55 in Paris in 1893, seven years after his last attempt to reach Punjab had failed.
Following his death, Queen Victoria entrusted Catherine and her two sisters to Arthur Oliphant and his wife, whose father was Duleep Singh’s equerry. Catherine met her governess, Fraulein Lina Schäfer from Kassel, Germany, who was 12 years her senior, while she was under their care, marking the beginning of a particular and intimate relationship.
Although Sophia described their relationship as “intimate,” Catherine and Lina Schäfer relocated to Germany to live together in 1908. The pair lived in Munich and Kassel from the commencement of World War I through the 1920s and 1930s, with Lina comparing their relationship to that of “two small mice dwelling in a little house.”
As the 1930s neared and the Nazis took power of Germany, things became more difficult for the couple neighbours, who said that “local Nazis disapproved of the old Indian lady.” Despite the dangers, she stayed with Lina and even assisted Jewish families in escaping until Lina’s death in August 1937 at the age of 79.
Following Lina’s death, Catherine felt she had no reason to live in Germany, with Nazism gaining complete control of German politics and society and the approaching possibility of war.
Dr. Fritiz Ratig, her accountant and next-door neighbour, is said to have advised her to leave Germany because the Nazis openly denounced homosexuality. She had sold everything and escaped to England via Switzerland by November 1937. She did, however, assist a handful of German Jewish families in finding safe passage to England before leaving.