The Princess in the Concentration Camp


If it wasn’t for the awful setting of this story, the title could have referred to a fairy tale. But alas this is everything but a fairy tale even though it is a grim tale.

Mafalda was born on 2 November 1902, in Rome to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and his wife, Elena of Montenegro. Her maternal grandparents were King Nicholas I of Montenegro and his wife, Milena Vukotić. Her paternal grandparents were King Umberto I of Italy and his wife, Princess Margherita of Savoy.

In childhood, she was close to her mother, from whom she inherited a love for music and the arts. During World War I, she accompanied her mother on visits to Italian military hospitals.


In September 1925, Mafalda married Prince Philipp of Hesse, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, who was also the grandson of German Emperor Frederick III. Philipp was a known member of the German Nazi Party. As Governor of Hesse-Kassel, Philipp was complicit in the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme. In February 1941, Philipp signed the contract placing the sanitarium of Hadamar Clinic at the disposal of the Reich Interior Ministry. Over 10,000 mentally ill people were killed there. In 1946, Philipp was charged with murder, but the charges were later dropped.

Princess Mafalda of Savoy

As Italy would ally itself with Germany during World War II, Philipp used his position as a German royal married to an Italian royal to his advantage and acted as an intermediary between the two nations.

On the evening of 26 March 1935, Princess Mafalda was present at an informal diplomatic dinner given by Adolf Hitler in the Reich President’s House in Berlin. She sat next to Anthony Eden. She had no idea how things would change less than ten years later.

Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels saw the Princess as a threat to the German war effort with Hitler calling her the “blackest carrion in the Italian royal house.” Goebbels, for his part, called her the “worst b**** in the entire Italian royal house” in the Goebbels Diaries.

Early in September 1943, Princess Mafalda travelled to Bulgaria to attend the funeral of her brother-in-law, King Boris III.


While there, she was informed of Italy’s surrender to the Allied Powers, that her husband was being held under house arrest in Bavaria, and that her children had been given sanctuary in the Vatican. The Gestapo ordered her arrest, and on 23 September she received a telephone call from Hauptsturmführer Karl Hass at the German High Command, who told her that he had an important message from her husband. On her arrival at the German embassy, Mafalda was arrested, ostensibly for subversive activities. The Nazis shipped her to Berlin for questioning. Then they shipped her to Buchenwald, largely in retribution for her father’s perceived treachery. They called her Frau von Weber, although several Italian prisoners recognized her as Princess Mafalda.

Buchenwald concentration camp.

On 24 August 1944, the Allies bombed an ammunition factory inside Buchenwald. Some four hundred prisoners were killed and Princess Mafalda was seriously wounded; she had been housed in a unit adjacent to the bombed factory, and when the attack occurred she was buried up to her neck in debris and suffered severe burns to her arm. The conditions of the labour camp caused her arm to become infected, and the medical staff at the facility amputated it; she bled profusely during the operation and never regained consciousness. She died during the night of 26–27 August 1944; they tossed her body on a pile of corpses. A priest smuggled her body out and placed it in a wooden coffin. Coffin #262 was buried nearby, with no name and no ceremony. Years after the war, in 1951, a group of Italian sailors held at Buchenwald identified her burial site and her coffin was removed. Now, Mafalda is buried with her husband’s family in Kronberg Castle in Hesse


Before the war ended, the Nazis transferred her husband, Phillip, to Dachau. American soldiers eventually arrested him when they liberated the camps. After he served his sentence, he became an interior designer and lived out his life in Rome until his death in 1980.

Mafalda and Phillip had three children who all survived the war.

When I researched this story, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, but if I have to be honest—the word karma came to mind.


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History of Royal women


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