Incredible story of forbidden lesbian romance in a concentration camp leaves viewers in tears – as woman discovers how her grandmother first locked eyes with her lover while singing from Madame Butterfly
- Nelly and Nadine: Ravensbruck 1944, retells a forbidden love story
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Viewers have been moved to tears by the extraordinary story of a lesbian couple whose love blossomed in a concentration camp during the holocaust.
After watching Nelly and Nadine: Ravensbruck 1944, a Storyville programme that aired on BBC Four last night, people took to Twitter to say they had been left ‘ugly crying’ by the story.
The programme follows Sylvie Bianchi as she explores the story of her late grandmother Nelly Mousset-Vos, an opera singer who was part of the Belgian Resistance, and Nadine Hwang, who met at a concentration camp in Ravensbruck.
Although Nelly was not Jewish, her role in the Resistance led to her arrest in Paris in 1943 and her placement in the camp.
Nadine was the daughter of the Chinese ambassador to Spain and was deported to the camp in 1944 for reasons that remain unclear.
At the beginning of the documentary, Sylvie reveals she has been in possession of her grandmother’s diaries since her mother passed away and left lots of documents behind.
She reveals her mother told her: ‘This is your grandmother’s diary. Her experience from the camps… it’s better off in your hands.’
Sylvie adds: ‘I clearly remember how I opened it and started to read but it was too difficult. I couldn’t go on.
‘So I put it back and I told myself to wait.’
Nelly and Nadine: Ravensbruck, 1944, follows Sylvie Bianchi as she reads the diary of her grandmother Nelly Mousset-Vos who was sent to a concentration camp following her arrest in Paris in 1943 for being part of the Belgian Resistance
Nadine Hwang (left) and Nelly Vousset-Mos (right) met at Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1944
After the documentary aired onw viewer took to Twitter where she revealed she had been reduced to tears
As she says it is her ‘responsibility’ to read and understand her grandmother’s story, she lays out the virtually untouched pages, which were written on a typewriter, on her kitchen table.
Throughout the programme, Nelly’s written words are recreated by a voiceover as her story is retraced from her arrest until she was liberated from the concentration camp.
Recalling her arrest, she wrote: ‘I was torn away from this world.
She then describes being held in St Gilles prison: ‘The iron door opens and our lunch – soup – was handed out. Anxiety suffocated me. I couldn’t swallow a thing.’
Nelly writes about being taken from the prison to the camp on a packed train in inhumane conditions for a gruelling five-day journey.
When the train stops, she writes how SS soldiers aggressively forced the prisoners off.
The film hears how Nadine and Nelly reunited following the war and relocated to Venezuela where they lived together while posing as cousins
Viewers took to Twitter to praise the film for its ‘extraordinary’ retelling of the love story between the two women
‘Standing in the rain for ages, we wait,’ she writes. ‘I see these long processions of miserable women in rags. Emaciated. Their gaze fixed. Their features drawn with anguish.
‘Using what little strength they had to push wagons of sand while being beaten and shouted at.’
She tells of how she and the other train passengers are finally pushed into the showers at the camp after 12 hours of waiting in the ‘icy’ rain. After being stripped and put into a ‘flimsy’ dress which has been marked with a cross, she is pushed back out again and admitted to a dormitory filled with three-tiered bunk beds.
‘I hoist myself up to a top bunk, shivering with cold and fear,’ she writes. ‘I pray, mechanically, to keep the flame of life alive.’
As Sylvie recounts her grandmother’s time in Ravensbruck concentration camp, she notes how the opera singer performed to fellow campmates to keep spirits up.
Recalling one performance, Nelly writes that someone in the crowd asked her to sing something from Madame Butterfly.
As she sings she says ‘joy overwhelms me, delirious joy.
‘A round of applause. Two arms grip me, two kisses on my cheek. Butterfly stands before me. Her hair black, her skin ivory… Nadine.
‘She says: ‘The good Lord has been kind to us this evening!”
As viewers watched the documentary and listened to Nelly’s account, they were moved to tears by her recollections.
One person wrote on Twitter: ‘My God. I’ll never hear Madame Butterfly in the same way again.
‘What a love story. I’m actually ugly crying. Nelly and Nadine.’
Another viewer, who described the film as ‘unmissable’, said: ‘An extraordinary story and footage.’
One viewer added: ‘An extraordinary story of how love conquers pain, adversity and evil. A huge recommended watch.’
As the film continues, it follows how Nelly and Nadine reunited following the war and relocated to Venezuela, where they lived together while posing as cousins.
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