Here is the first of five installments of a grim, but deeply moving Italian documentary on the tragic fate of the lovely Mafalda of Savoy, Princess of Hesse. The 42-year-old mother of four met a grisly death at the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald at the end of August, 1944. The program retraces the story of her last days, drawing on the testimony of biographers and relatives of the princess, most notably her second son, Heinrich of Hesse and her niece, Maria Gabriella of Savoy, a distinguished historian of the Italian royal house.
Cheerful, cultured, brave and kind-hearted, Mafalda was the second of the four daughters of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and his Queen, Elena of Montenegro. She inherited her mother's piety, charity and love of music and the arts. She was also the favorite sister-in-law of Italy's last queen, Marie-José of Belgium, consort of Umberto II. In their youth, the Savoy princesses were considered potential brides for Marie-José's brothers, Princes Leopold and Charles of Belgium, but nothing came of these ideas. Instead, in 1925, Mafalda married Prince Philip, Landgrave of Hesse. (His father, Prince Frederick Charles, had been briefly elected King of Finland in 1918).