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European Royals

The Princess who died in a concentration camp

The stories of certain royals during World War II are well-known, while others are less talked about.

The Princess who died in a concentration camp isn’t discussed very often, but she should not be forgotten.

Princess Mafalda of Italy was born on 2 November 1902 to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Queen Elena. She was the second of their five children, one of whom would go on to be King Umberto II of Italy – the last King of Italy.

Mafalda was of royal blood through and through; her father was a king and paternal grandfather before him. On her maternal side, her grandfather was Nicholas I of Montenegro. She also married into a royal bloodline when she married Prince Philipp of Hesse, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, who was also the grandson of German Emperor Frederick III, in September 1925.

Princess Mafalda and Prince Philipp. By Unknown (Mondadori Publishers) – [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Her royal lineage did not stop her from eventually being shipped off to the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War 2.

While she spent the First World War visiting the wounded in hospitals in Italy, she saw her husband use his German royal blood to his advantage during World War Two. As Italy and Germany had sided with one another, Philipp (a member of the German Nazi Party) acted as an intermediary between the two nations. Adolf Hitler was impressed and hosted a dinner with the royal couple in attendance in 1935.

By September 1943, Princess Mafalda travelled to Bulgaria to attend the funeral of her brother-in-law, King Boris III. She learned during this time that Italy had surrendered to the Allies, and her husband was under house arrest in Bavaria. Luckily, she was told, her children had been given sanctuary in the Vatican.

Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, decided the Princess was a threat to Germany. Hitler called her the “blackest carrion in the Italian royal house,” while Goebbels named her in his Goebbel Diaries as the “worst b**** in the entire Italian royal house.”

As such, Hitler ordered Mafalda arrested. She was tricked into travelling to the German Embassy in Bulgaria to receive an urgent message from her husband by the German High Command by Hauptsturmführer Karl Hass. However, when she arrived, she was arrested and sent to Munich for questioning. The Princess was sent to Berlin and then the Buchenwald concentration camp – one of the most famous of the Second World War.

On 24 August 1944, Allied forces bombed the Buchenwald ammunition factory, and Princess Mafalda was in the adjacent building. Reportedly, she was buried to her neck in debris and severely burned on her arms.

It wasn’t the Allied bombing that killed her but the botched procedure from Buchenwald’s doctor, Dr Schiedlausky, who amputated her arm after claiming it was infected. The royal lost significant blood and died at the concentration camp on 28 August 1944.

Her body was sent unclothed to the crematorium; Father Joseph Thyl clothed and cremated the Princess. He took a lock of her hair and smuggled it out of the camp to her family in Germany.

Princess Mafalda’s death was not confirmed until the Axis powers finally surrendered in April 1945.

Mafalda’s husband, Philipp, survived the war and later moved to Italy, where he spent time as an interior designer. He also worked to defend Germany against socialism and communism. Mafalda and Philipp had four children: Prince Moritz, Prince Heinrich Wilhelm Konstantin Viktor Franz, Prince Otto Adolf, and Princess Elisabeth. Only Princess Elisabeth is still alive; she will turn 83 in October.

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About author

Brittani is from Tennessee, USA. She is a political scientist and historian after graduating with a degree in the topics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2014. She also holds a master's degree from Northeastern University. She enjoys reading and researching all things regarding the royals of the world. She's been researching, reading, and writing on royalty for over a decade. She became Europe Editor in October 2016, and then Deputy Editor in January 2019, and has been featured on several podcasts, radio shows, news broadcasts and websites including Global News Canada, ABC News Australia, WION India and BBC World News.