When we think of the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s, then the exiled emperor Wilhelm II is usually nobody we would really consider. Yet both men lived at the same time and both men had at least indirect contact. But what did Wilhelm II think of Hitler and his companions?
In the late 1920s, Wilhelm II hoped that Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP would eventually restore the monarchy and reinstate him as emperor. Hermann Göring even visited Wilhelm II in his Dutch exile in 1931 and 1932. But on 30 January 1934, all of Wilhelm`s hopes were ultimately crushed when Göring proposed a bill that dissolved all monarchist organizations, and the SA attacked a meeting of monarchists in Berlin.
Let`s take a closer look.
The abdication of Wilhelm II was not voluntary. Instead, the emperor only learned of his abdication afterward on 9 November 1918. On the same night, the night of the 9 to 10 November 1918, Wilhelm II and a small group of confidants left the German headquarters in Spa (Belgium) for the neutral Netherlands.
By the way. The fact that the Netherlands gave Wilhelm II political asylum did not sit well with the victors of World War I. Here you can find out more about that.
Wilhelm II would eventually get political asylum in the Netherlands and was allowed to reside in Huis Doorn, a lavish country house. While the government of the Netherlands gave Wilhelm II political asylum, Wilhelm II was officially seen as a civilian. Yet he was allowed to keep a small court to maintain at least some illusion of his former grandeur. After Wilhelm II had secured his political asylum in the neutral Netherlands, he went into a legal fight with the Free State of Prussia over getting his confiscated assets back.
As soon as his financial future was secured and Huis Doorn was furnished (Wilhelm II had 64 railway wagons full of furniture and art brought from his former castles to Huis Doorn, where we would live throughout his exile), he could turn towards his final goal.
Wilhelm II never accepted his abdication and started to work towards his reinstallment as emperor as soon as he had settled into his exile in the neutral Netherlands. A driving power behind that was Hermine von Reuß, his second wife. But both soon realized that a return of Wilhelm II as emperor would only be possible if it was supported by a political mass movement.
And since the left was extremely anti-monarchy after World War I, the best chance to be reinstated as emperor was to hope for the support of the political right wing. That was especially promising since many old officers and generals of Wilhelm II played major roles in the political right during the Weimar Republic.
Two good examples of that are Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg. Erich Ludendorff had not only been a general in the Imperials army during WWI, but he was also a member of the NSDAP and supported Hitler in his (failed) Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. And Paul von Hindenburg, first general, then Generalfeldmarschall (general field marshal) of the Imperial German Army, would become the second elected President of the Weimar Republic in 1925.
With that kind of personal connection to the NSDAP, it seems just natural that Wilhelm II (well, more precisely his wife Hermine) would soon come into contact with Adolf Hitler and other leading figures in the NSDAP. But during the early 1920s, the political extreme right was still splintered. However, that changed.
Wilhelm II saw Hitler and the NSDAP as his best chance to be reinstalled as emperor. The navy officer Magnus von Levetzow (he had served under Wilhelm II in WW I) and the networking of his second wife Hermine opened the way for direct talks between Wilhelm II and leading Nazi figures. Hermann Göring even met Wilhelm II on two occasions in 1931 and 1932. And Hermine (Wilhelm`s second wife) even met with Hitler himself on 18. November 1931 in Berlin.
Unlike Wilhelm II, who was prohibited from leaving his exile in the Netherlands, Hermine could enter Germany. Here you can find out more about the excuse she officially used for her presence in Germany. Wilhelm did not have that chance, so he had to wait until he was visited.
Hermann Göring visited Wilhelm II in his exile in Huis Doorn (Netherlands) on 18 and 19 January 1931, and again on 20 and 21 May 1932. After the second meeting with Göring, Wilhelm II was convinced that the Nazis would support his return to the throne.
But that kind of confidence tanked in the middle of 1932 after Wilhelm II had written a letter to his son in which he heavily criticized the National Socialists. Unfortunately for him, that letter ended up at Hermann Göring, who was not amused and took it upon himself to inform the former emperor of the end of his support.
Wilhelm`s II hopes that Hitler would reinstall him as emperor tanked even further when Hitler proclaimed in March of 1933, Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, that the reinstallment of the monarchy was currently taboo for him.
And while there would still be a couple of meetings between Hitler and delegates of Wilhelm II, any hopes of being reinstalled as emperor ended in 1934.
Wilhelm II lost any hope that Hitler would reinstall him as emperor after Hermann Göring proposed a bill that led to the dissolution of all monarchist organizations. Soon after, the thug squads of the SA put these words into action when they attacked and shattered a meeting of monarchists in Berlin.
So while Wilhelm II had originally hoped that Hitler and the NSDAP would eventually restore the monarchy, retrieve him from his exile in the Netherlands, and reinstate him as emperor, these hopes perished during the early 1930s.
Wilhelm II would continue to live in his Dutch exile throughout the 1930s and until his death in June of 1941. That meant that Wilhelm II experienced the early years of World War II. And that leads to one last question.
What did Wilhelm II think of World War II? Did he support the war? You can find the answer in my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
John van der Kiste: Wilhelm II. Germany`s last Emperor (Sutton 1999).
Jacco Pekelder, Joep Schenk, Cornelis van der Bas: Der Kaiser und das Dritte Reich. Die Hohenzollern zwischen Restauration und Nationalsozialismus (Göttingen 2021).