Irmingard of Bavaria – A Princess in a concentration camp

rupprecht irmingard
Irmingard (far right) - Public domain

Whether we like it or not…our lives are determined to a certain degree not only by individual choices and circumstances but also by history…the history that happens around us, in our corners of the world and during our lifetimes. And the first half of the 20th century was – at least in Europe – a period that through its events and developments changed dramatically the destinies of so many people regardless of their social class, status, nationalities or religions. Royals were no exceptions to this and depending on the side of history, you or your family happen to be on in those times; you could live or die.

Princess Irmingard Maria Josefa of Bavaria is one such story. The girl with such an interesting name was born on 29 May 1923 at Schloss Berchtesgaden, the second child and eldest daughter of former Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and his second wife Princess Antonia, born Princess of Luxembourg. She spent her childhood in the residences of her father, four former royal residences spread in Bavaria. Related to many royal houses of Europe, the little princess was supposed to enjoy a life of luxury and privileges, marry (when the time came) a prince or even a king and live happily ever after. But history had other plans.

As it often happens, one night can change everything. In Irmingard’s life, that night was the night of the “Beer Hall Putsch” of 8 November 1923, when Hitler attempted to seize power with the ostensible aim of restoring the Bavarian monarchy. Her father, the former Crown Prince Rupprecht, refused to lend his support, earning Hitler’s eternal enmity. In 1933, the Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, and it was the time for all his enemies to pay dearly for their opposition. Friends of the family were imprisoned; the King and Country League, the major monarchist group in Bavaria, was dissolved, and Crown Prince Rupprecht found himself excluded from public life.  Taking the advice of his British relatives, the prince decided to send his children in England to avoid his son Henry being pressured to join the Hitler Youth or his daughters becoming members of the League of German Girls. He went into exile in Italy hoping that Hitler’s regime would not last for long. His wife and children joined him in 1940 as guests of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, and they set up a house in Florence.

L-R – Irmingard, Gabrielle, Rupprecht. Sophie (on her father’s lap), Editha, Antonia, Hilda and Heinrich. (Public domain)

Irmingard was sent to Padua to continue her studies, while the family was forbidden to return to Germany. But things would change again. After the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944, Crown Prince Rupprecht went into hiding and eventually made contact with the Allies. The Nazis arrested Princess Antonia and her three youngest daughters in retaliation for the betrayal of their father. But Princess Antonia, who was suffering from typhus, was left in a hospital in Innsbruck while her daughters were transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp at Oranienburg in Brandenburg.

In the meantime, Princess Irmingard was arrested while she was on holiday at Lake Garda. As she also contacted the typhus virus, she was sent to the same Innsbruck hospital as her mother. Eventually, the medical staff decided they were well enough to be transferred to Sachsenhausen. The princesses were later transferred to the concentration camps at Flossenbürg and Dachau, before being freed by the American Third Army on 30 April 1945. Their mother was discovered in a hospital in Jena in a terrible condition. She never recovered and died a few years later in Switzerland.

In 1950, Irmingard married her first cousin, Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and they had three children. She never talked about her experiences in the concentration camp, but unlike her mother who always refused to return to Germany, she decided to set up her home there in 1955, after having lived in Luxembourg with her husband for five years. She tried her best to give her children a normal life, and she tried to make peace with the past.

Maybe it is worth saying that her son, Prince Luitpold of Bavaria currently runs Kaltenberg, one of Bavaria’s most successful breweries. Princess Irmingard died on 23 October 2010, at the age of 87. She remains an example of dignity and resilience like so many others in her social class who had to pay for the courageous acts of their parents. And unlike another famous royal princess, Mafalda of Savoy who died in a concentration camp, she lived and found her way back to…life.

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