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Meet the Indian Princess Captured by the Germans During World War II

Portrait of Princess Rani Shri Amrit Kaur Sahib in June 1924, colourised by Claudia D'Souza

This monht's Remarkable Woman is Rani Shri Amrit Kaur Sahiba of Mandi. Born in 1904, Amrit (as she was called at home), was the only daughter of Jagatjit Singh Sahib Bahadur and his fourth wife, Rani Kanari Sahiba. Jagatjit reigned as maharaja between 1890 and 1947 in Kapurthala, northern Punjab.

Amrit received her education at a progressive girls' boarding school in Eastbourne, England, where she played tennis, led a five-piece jazz band and acted in plays. She was then sent to Paris. Amrit was given away in marriage in 1923 to the Raja of Mandi Joginder Sen Bahadur.

original glass plate from portrait

The couple toured Europe soon after their wedding, and were received in London by King George V and Queen Mary. This portrait is part of a collection taken at the Lafayette studio, 160 New Bond Street, during their London visit.

The couple had a son and a daughter, Tikka Yashodan Singh (born 1923) and Princess Nirvana Devi (born 1929). In an interview by the New York Herald Tribune in 1927, Amrit expressed determination to fight for the poorest and most marginalised women.

Ten years after getting married Kaur left her family, including her two children, when faced with the indignity of her husband’s second marriage. She eventually arrived in Paris, a city that was like a second home to many peripatetic Indian royals.

Kaur also spent some time in the United States before returning to Paris just as World War II broke out. On December the 8th, 1940, she was arrested by the Gestapo in occupied Paris "on the accusation of having sold her jewelry to help Jews leave" France and imprisoned in the internment camp Besançon.

Amrit's father wrote to the British Foreign Office and to Marshal Pétain, asking for help in obtaining her release. The Germans offered to exchange Amrit for one of their spies imprisoned in India, but a British official decided that her repatriation was "not of sufficient political importance" to justify such a deal.

Her emprisionament was an ordeal that she never truly recovered from and although she was eventually released, Kaur died a few years later in London without getting the chance to return to her home and family and never seeing her children.

In 2022, an Italian journalist for the Corriere della Sera, Livia Manera Sambuy, wrote a biography, Il segreto di Amrit Kaur, that was published in English as In Search of Amrit Kaur in 2023.


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