Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: "Jugenderinnerungen 1923-1950" by Princess Irmingard of Bavaria

gebrauchtes Buch – Prinzessin Irmingard von Bayern – Jugend-Erinnerungen 1923-1950
Princess Irmingard of Bavaria (1923-2010) was the second child and eldest daughter of Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria (1869-1955) and his second wife Crown Princess Antonia (1899-1954, born a Princess of Luxembourg). She was born in 1923 in Berchtesgarden Castle, the residence of the Crown Princely family.

Princess Irmingard's autobiography was published in 2000. She describes the first 27 years of her life, starting with her birth and ending with her marriage to Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, her first cousin.

Born into a former ruling family, Irmingard and her siblings enjoyed a free and happy family life, nevertheless with the knowledge of her family's past and of being "special" in her role as a princess. They didn't attend state schools but had private tutors and also weren't allowed to play with every child in the neighbouring villages. The tutors and the family's priest decided with whom the crown princely children should play. 

The crown princely family spent their time in Schloss Berchtesgarden until 1929. After that they divided the time between their winter residence in Munich, the so-called Leuchtenberg-Palais, and their summer residence Schloss Hohenschwangau in Schwangau (best known as one of the childhood homes of King Ludwig II). From 1933 onwards the family lived in Schloss Leutstetten.

Most of the time they spent their summer holidays in Luxembourg at Château de Berg and Bavaria at Schloss Hohenburg, the residences of Dowager Grand Duchess Maria-Ana, Irmingard's grandmother. Irmingard describes a get-together of the extended Grand-Ducal family which means the families of Aunt Lotti (Grand Duchess Charlotte) and her sisters Hilda, Antonia, Sophie and Elisabeth. She also tells her readers how the family regularly remembered Aunt Maus (mouse), the late Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide and how the children played with each other. Her cousin Johany/Johnny is described especially well by Irmingard. Later he became Grand Duke Jean.

Times changed and became tougher when Adolf Hitler came to power. This was the reason why the family left Munich and moved to Leutstetten. Crown Prince Rupprecht was an opponent of the new regime and so the family had to deal with many difficulties.

Between 1936 and 1939 Irmingard, her sister Editha and two of her Luxembourgish  cousins Elisabeth and Marie Adelheid went to "Sacré Coeur" a boarding school in England. A year later her two younger sisters Hilda and Gabrielle followed. The families hoped to protect the girls, and Grand Duchess Charlotte and Crown Princess Antonia accompanied the girls in the first few days. At "Sacré Coeur" Irmingard had some famous classmates: Joan and Patricia Kennedy, as well as Benedikta and Maria Adelgunde of Hohenzollern ("Mädi and Mimi" in the book). During this time Irmingard, her sisters, and cousins were invited to meet Queen Mary.

With the start of World War II an odyssey started. The family spent the summer of 1939 in Luxembourg, and after that the girls moved to Brussels to enter another "Sacré Coeur" school. There they also met with Empress Zita of Austria and her children, who spent part of their exile in Steenokkerzeel near Brussels. The family returned to Munich but left the city shortly afterwards to live in Italy. King Vittorio Emanuele helped the family to flee by sending his private saloon car. In Italy the family spent some time in Rome where Prince Heinrich went into hiding, Florence where Crown Prince Rupprecht went into hiding as well as in Padua and Brixen.

After an assassination attempt on Hitler failed, the Gestapo (the Nazi's secret police) imprisoned Crown Princess Antonia and the rest of her children except of Irmingard who stayed with family friends during this time. Crown Princess Antonia was sent to a hospital in Innsbruck while her children were brought to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Later Princess Irmingard was also caught by the Gestapo and sent to Innsbruck as well because of typhus. There she met her mother. After their recovery they were sent into concentration camps as well, Irmingard to Sachsenhausen and Antonia was brought to Weimar. From Sachsenhausen Irmingard and her siblings were sent to Flossenbürg and later to Dachau. During this time the siblings didn't know about their parents' destiny. In April 1945 they were liberated by American soldiers and sent back to Schloss Leutstetten.

Princess Irmingard describes this horror very personally and emphatically. The despair of not knowing if and how to survive the next day is supported by various paintings by Irmingard, which she painted during and after her stay in the concentration camps. These paintings can also be seen at the "Museum der bayerischen Könige" in Schwangau.

After the war was over Irmingard was sent to the USA for recovery. Her sister Hilda married in Peru, and she was the only family member who took part in this wedding. The book ends with a detailed description of her father's 80th birthday celebrations, Irmingard's own wedding and the death of her mother. 

In her autobiography Irmingard of Bavaria gives a lively description of her family life in a time of unrest. She shows how close the extended Grand Ducal and Crown Princely family were and how they managed to stay in contact throughout the years. Her book includes many private family pictures, most of them never released before. It is a recommendation for everyone who is interested in the history of the houses of Wittelsbach and Nassau/Luxembourg from a more personal point of view.             

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