When we think of Wilhelm II, then we usually also think of the German defeat in World War I. But the life of Wilhelm II did not end in late 1918 with the end of World War II. Instead, he lived until June of 1941 and experienced the first years of World War II from his exile in the Netherlands. So what did Wilhelm II do during the war before he died in June of 1941? Did he play a significant role or no role at all?
Since August of 1939, 3000 Dutch soldiers were stationed at Huis Doorn (the residence of Wilhelm II in his Dutch exile). After the German attack on the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, Wilhelm II was offered to go to Great Britain into exile, which he refused. On 14 May 1940, the Dutch garrison was replaced by German soldiers, who continued to guard Huis Doorn but were prohibited from entering the estate or talking to Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II spent his time in exile woodcutting, hunting, and reading. He died on 4 June 1941 after he suffered a pulmonary embolism the day before.
So Wilhelm only experienced the first years of World War II which were extremely successful from a German point of few. That also shaped Wilhelms` opinion on World War II.
Let`s take a closer look!
Wilhelm II had fled to the neutral Netherlands on the night of 9th to 10th November 1918 where he eventually got political asylum. Ever since 1920, Wilhelm and his second wife Hermine, as well as a small court that allowed Wilhelm to maintain a certain level of grandeur, resided in the lavish Huis Doorn in the Netherlands. From there, they were working towards Wilhelms` reinstalment as Emperor.
But while the political asylum Wilhelm II had gotten in the Netherlands saved him from being put to court, he could also not leave the Netherlands. So Wilhelm II even stayed in his Dutch exile at Huis Doorn when the German attack on Poland started World War II in 1939.
Ever since August of 1939, 3000 Dutch soldiers were stationed at Huis Doorn (the residence of Wilhelm II in his exile in the Netherlands). After the start of the German invasion of the Netherlands on 10 Mai 1940, Wilhelm II received an offer to go into exile in Great Britain. He refused that offer since he feared the final loss of his reputation when pictures of him and Winston Churchill would eventually be published.
So Wilhelm II remained in Huis Doorn which was reached by German troops on 14 May 1940, only 4 days after the start of the attack on the Netherlands. Wilhelm II welcomed the German soldiers with champagne and breakfast, but his situation didn`t really change.
While Hitler and especially Hermann Göring had had contact with Wilhelm II during the 1920s and early 1930s, the former emperor was now seen as a risk to Hitler’s rule. As a result, the Dutch garrison guarding Wilhelm II at Huis Doorn was replaced by a German garrison. But soldiers and officers were strictly prohibited from entering the estate and conversations with Wilhelm II were un-wished for.
By the way. Hitler’s fear of resurfacing royalist feelings among his soldiers and the German population was not ungrounded and resulted in the so-called „Prinzenerlass“. The „Prinzenerlass“ from 1940 prohibited members of one of the formerly reigning houses from fighting on the frontlines. After 1943, all members of the formerly reigning houses were dismissed from the Wehrmacht.
The reason for the Prinzenerlass can be found in the death of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (grandson of Wilhelm II & oldest son of the Crown prince Wilhelm) during the invasion of France. His burial service in Berlin drew more than 50,000 mourners. The ensuing sympathy of the German public towards the imperial family bothered Hitler and made him fear for his power.
After the death of his grandson, Wilhelm II remained in Huis Doorn where his hate for England intensified after Great Britain continued fighting even though France had been defeated. As such it should not come as a surprise that Wilhelm II celebrated the German occupation of the formerly British island of Crete on 3 June 1941. The same evening he suffered a pulmonary embolism and died one day later on 4 June 1941.
Speaking of Wilhelm`s excitement over the occupation of Crete. Have you ever wondered what Wilhelm II thought of World War II? Had he learned his lesson after WW I? Here you can find my article with more information on Wilhelms` thoughts on World War II.
And here you can find out more about the relation between Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler as well as his opinion on Hitler.
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).