Recollections from the Life of Princess Anna-Luise of Anhalt, Daughter of the Last Duke

Princess Anna Luise of Anhalt, 1973.

Born at Schloß Ballenstedt on 26 March 1933, Princess Anna-Luise Marie Friederike Elisabeth Alice of Anhalt was the second child and daughter of Duke Joachim Ernst of Anhalt (1901-1947) and his second wife Editha Marwitz (1905-1986), who married in 1929. 

Duke Joachim Ernst of Anhalt

Duchess Edda of Anhalt
The Ducal Children: Alexandra, Anna Luise, Friedrich, Edda, and Eduard of Anhalt

Anna-Luise had four siblings: Princess Marie Antoinette (1930-1993), Prince Friedrich (1938-1963), Princess Edda (b.1940), and Prince Eduard (b.1941). In 1950, the princess, her mother Duchess Edda, and her siblings moved to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. 

Princess Anna-Luise of Anhalt, 1957.

In the late 1950s, Anna-Luise relocated to the United States from Germany. She obtained a position at the Newton Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts, where the princess received the skills necessary to become a nurse in the United States. Anna-Luise had apparently already received medical training in Germany. In January 1961, Anna-Luise was a guest at a soirée in New York City held in the Plaza Hotel. The event was also attended by Prince Louis Ferdinand and Princess Kira of Prussia, their daughter Princess Kira, and Princess Cecile of Prussia (Mrs. Clyde Harris). The proceeds from the event contributed to a fund that allowed American students to attend graduate courses in Germany. 

Thomas B. Birch.

On 5 August 1966 in Clark County, Nevada, Princess Anna-Luise of Anhalt married Thomas Beverly Birch (1927-2016). The couple had one child, a son: James Christian George Anhalt Birch (b.New York City, NY 12 April 1967). Princess Anna-Luise and Thomas Birch divorced in 1970.

In January 1973, on a visit to Mr. and Mrs. James H. Gunning, the princess granted an interview to the Hattiesburg American of Mississippi. At the time, Anna-Luise was nearing her fortieth birthday. She had lived in the United States for quite some time. 

Some of my working colleagues in Germany disliked me because of my position. Here in America it’s entirely different for it doesn’t seem to matter to people that I have a title. I’m very proud of my family background, but don’t particularly enjoy royalty that much for I don’t care for their jet set. I prefer my friends to like me for myself, not for my name.

My family has castles, forests, and eighteen ranches in East Prussia. On the land there was a brewery, lumber mill, and all our meats and food was raised on the farms. We also had three villas in Munich when I was growing up in Anhalt. There were 150 people who lived on our lands and helped in the care of them.

Schloss Ballenstedt.

I recall a tree planted in the park at Dessau, the capital of Anhalt, that the Russian czar had given my daddy. According to an old German superstition if the tree is cut down or dies the castle will be destroyed. The tree fell a week before the English bombing of Dessau, and I recall my father saying, ‘This is the end of Dessau and of the castle.’ All this did come to pass.

The death record of Duke Joachim Ernst of Anhalt, issued in 1953.

My father didn’t feel we could leave Germany because of generations of people who had worked for our family. He often said, ‘A commander can’t leave his troops.‘” In 1947, the family of Duke Joachim Ernst was informed by the International Red Cross that the duke had died at Buchenwald concentration camp (also known as NKVD special camp Nr. 2). Joachim Ernst had been arrested by the Soviets in 1945. A news report from October 1949 contained information given by an engineer who has escaped from Dessau into West Germany. The engineer, who only went by his first name Ernst, stated: “There were some releases, but 75 per cent of the original inmates died there. All of my friends – none of them Nazis – who were interned there, died. I have the names of twelve [inmates] at my fingertips. Among them was the duke of Anhalt, Joachim Ernst, 48, who had been sent to a concentration camp by the Nazis in 1944. He was again thrown into the prison camp by the Russians, because he was an aristocrat. His mother [Princess Luise of Saxe-Altenburg], 76, is still living in Dessau in a room by herself. She is poor and suffering from hunger. Her castle is now the residence of the Soviet commander.

Princess Anna-Luise’s memories from her 1970s interview continue below:

I was twelve years-old at the time and not fully aware of the danger involved with our escape. It was something of a lark for me. Of course, the Russians took everything we owned and we left Anhalt with the clothes on our backs.

The princess (right) as a student nurse at Newton Wellesley Hospital, 1957.

I worked in Berlin for awhile and decided to come to the United States. My first job was at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Mass. [Note: the princess was a nurses’ aide at the hospital.] I attended English classes but couldn’t understand a word that was said by the teacher. I’ll be forever grateful to the hospital staff and patients who helped me master, not quite, the English language.

Princess Faika of Egypt.

In 1963, I spent a year in Cairo, Egypt, as governess for Princess Faika’s four children. She is the sister of ex-King Farouk. I adored the children and they called me their ‘half-sister.’

Anna-Luise’s entry into the USA in 1960.
At that time, she was living at the YWCA in New York City.

For awhile after I came to this country I couldn’t take a deep breathe without being reported in the paper. I recall being interviewed by a young reporter in New York. At that time I was living at the YWCA. The headline on her story was Princess’ castle is at the Y, and I got such a laugh out of this story. Another time, Charlie [Cholly] Knickerbocker, wrote in his column, ‘The usually senate Princess Anna Luise von Anhalt stopped traffic last night at the Seagram Building, while wading in the poor, dressed in a sarong and orchid lei.‘”

At the time of her interview in 1973, the princess had not yet returned to her homeland. Anna-Luise found her calling, as noted, as a registered nurse in the field of obstetrics. Princess Anna-Luise of Anhalt died on 1 November 2003. She was buried at Ballenstedt, near the castle where she was born seventy years before.

  • Leave a Comment