In some cases, the life of royalty differs from that of the stories. What was a happy existence began to change with a cursed ship named after him and followed by fascists, Nazis, a grim marine legend, allied bombs, and a nameless corpse.
By Alfredo SerraOctober 21, 2019Special for Infobae Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
Mafalda of Savoy
On October 22, 1908, the Italian princess Mafalda María Isabel Ana Romana de Saboya is one month away from her sixth birthday and runs with a friend along one of the docks of the Genoese shipyard of Riva Trigoso. He was born noble: second daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III and Elena of Montenegro , sister of the future (and last) King of Italy, Humberto II .
Run and laugh, because in a couple of hours they will launch a god of the seas that bears his name: Principessa Mafalda . He does not know the disaster of the immediate past … A year before, the launch of his twin, the Principessa Jolanda , named after his sister, was something incredible but true: he heeled as he slid down the bars, and continued his journey to the bottom of the sea! A gag used later by many comic films, but true.
Everything is ready. The Principessa … will not repeat the disaster. It is a perfect ocean liner from its bowels to its salons of Babylonian luxury. In addition to its 141 meters in length (length) and its 17 in width (width), its engines, boilers, its two chimneys, its two propellers, the luxury class dining room has a wonderful glass dome, supported by four columns, and large windows to the sea (a novelty).
But a shadow flutters between some long-serving officers and sailors: superstition. Never whistle on the bridge, never change the name of a ship, never hurt a seagull or a dolphin …, and never baptize it with a name marked by destiny. In this case, the word Pincipessa , like the shipwrecked brother.
Postcard of the Principessa Mafalda (Argentine Marine Archive)
At the appointed time, Mafalda, in her arms and helped by her mother, throws a bottle of Veuve Cilcquot champagne tied to a ribbon in the colors of the unified Italian flag at the helmet. E la nave va , as in Fellini's film …
Years go by. The ocean liner continues to link Italy with Argentina in fourteen days, at 18 knots per hour (a little over 33 kilometers)…, until October 25, 1927. Almost twenty years of shipping celebrities – from Gardel to millionaires, prominent politicians, crowned heads–, ending at the bottom of the sea.
Why? Because of the arrogance – the same thing that sank the Titanic on the night of April 14 to 15, 1912 -: the ship would be replaced by another colossus, the Giulio Cesare , and the shipowner company neglected the maintenance of the Principessa … So much so that the captain Simon Guli refused to set sail. But the business was stronger. And he continued on to the Disaster Quadrant.
At dusk on that October day, off the coast of Brazil and at full throttle –a serious error–, the port propeller (left) broke off when the engine's drive shaft broke, crashed into the hull, and opened a huge gap in the stern.
The water came into an avalanche. SOS was launched. The chief engineer committed suicide by shooting himself. Of the 1,200 souls, only 78 were saved. Once again, the superstition and its legend had been fulfilled.
Mafalda from Savoy with her three children (creative commons)
Meanwhile and far away, that little princess Mafalda who baptized him with a bottle of French champagne, turned 21 years old and knew in Rome the German prince and landgrave Felipe de Hesse-Kassel (1896-1980), nephew of the former Kaiser Wilhelm II . ( N. de la R .: “landgrave” was a noble title used in the Holy Roman Empire and later in the territories derived from it, comparable to that of “sovereign prince” ).
With Nordic features, refined manners and tastes, suspected of bisexuality … and fascist, these last two data did not make Mafalda back down: they were married on September 23, 1925 in the Castle of Racconigi, Turin, the Savoy bastion.
Vast honeymoon in every corner of the Italian Riviera, a mansion in Villa Polissena, within the lands of Villa Saboya, designed by the groom, and the birth of four children: Mauricio, Enrique, Otto and Elizabetta.
In 1922, after the March on Rome with the grotesque gesticulator Benito Mussolini at the head of his black shirts – fascism in action – King Victor Emmanuel III appointed him president: a desperate and misleading way to overcome the economic and social crisis , and save the monarchy.
In the 1930s, the old black shirt heart of Felipe, Mussolini's idolater, started beating again, and he joined the Nazi Party. With prize: they name him, for his prosapia and fidelity to the swastika, governor of the province of Hesse-Nassau.
The couple's first break: Mafalda, an enemy of fascism, opposes the appointment, which also implies leaving Italy and making a foothold – and life – in Germany. But these are not times when a woman's voice means something: they move in 1934.
In 1943 (symmetry: simple inversion of numbers), the allies invaded Sicily, forced the Nazi troops to retreat, and beheaded the government of Mussolini, deposed and imprisoned by Victor Emmanuel III. The tragedies begins to weave its last skein …
Hitler , far from intuiting that the Third Reich for a millennium will end like the light of a match, furious at what he calls “the treason of the king”, decrees and starts Operation Abeba: hunting down the Italian royal family to any price.
Mafalda is in Sofia (Bulgaria) to attend the burial of King Boris III, and does not suspect the danger of the Allied advance. He thinks he is safe from everything. What can happen to her, married to a German Nazi Party member and civil servant? But very different, and dark is the truth.
Felipe de Hesse-Kassel (Creative commons)
He ignores that Felipe, by direct order of the führer, is in jail for not having reported the fall of Mussolini, and worse: he also ignores that his head has a price. On September 21, 1943, he arrived in Rome, went to the Vatican, where his children were sheltered, rejected the protection offered by the Pope, and returned to Villa Polissena. Fatal decision. The next day, the Gestapo falls on her.
A prisoner, she is flown to Germany under the promise that she will be able to meet her husband there. Trap! They accuse her of treason and send her to the Buchenwald death camp, where she is confined in Isolation Barrack 15 under a false name: Frau von Weber, and forbidden to reveal her identity.
She is cared for by a Jehovah's Witness and a prostitute. They assign him a “privileged” menu: black bread, butter, something black similar to coffee – no sugar – and meat and barley soup.
She works all day as a devoted nurse … until August 24, 1944. That day Allied bombs rained down on the field. The barrack collapses. She takes refuge in a well, but the wound is serious: an exposed fracture in one shoulder, and her arm lacerated by splinters and debris. They amputate it. The operation is long and bloody. It does not survive.
He dies three days later. They bury her in a mass grave as “262, unknown woman.” Found much later by the imprisoned Italian workmen who buried her, and identified, it lies in the family crypt of the Schloss Friedrichshof, Kronberg Castle, Hesse, Germany.
According to those who knew her, “she was good, pretty and kind.” Strange fate. One ship, one woman, two tragedies. Separated by dates, kilometers and circumstances. But somehow inseparable.