Kaiser Wilhelm II is mostly known as the emperor who led the German Empire into the First World War. While that is commonly known, his fate after Word War 1 is less commonly known. So in the following, I would like to talk about Kaiser Wilhem`s II life after WW I and his abdication.
Wilhelm II immediately fled to the neutral Netherlands after chancellor Max von Baden had proclaimed his abdication on 9 November 1918 without Wilhelm`s knowledge. He got political asylum in the Netherlands and spent the rest of his life in exile at Huis Doorn. From there, he observed the political situation in the Weimar Republic and waited for an opportunity to return to Germany and be reinstated as Emperor.
Wilhelm II wouldn`t even leave Huis Doorn during World War II (on which he had a pretty interesting and ambivalent opinion). He would eventually die in Huis Doorn where he was also buried.
Let`s take a closer look.
Kaiser Wilhelm II during the last months of WW I
Wilhelm II was born on 27 January 1859 in Berlin as the son of Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia (the future German Emperor and King of Prussia Frederick III) and Victoria, Princess Royal and the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
After his father, Frederick III, had died of Laryngeal cancer after only 99 days as German Emperor and King of Prussia, Wilhelm II became German Emperor and King of Prussia on 15 June 1888. During his rule, Germany would fight in World War I, which was eventually lost.
While Wilhelm II had displayed himself as the supreme commander of the German army during the first phase of Word War I, that changed as things became more and more hopeless. The worse the German situation in World War I grew, the less did Wilhelm II present himself as the supreme commander handing over the spotlight to Paul von Hindenburg (first general, later field marshal). Wilhelm II only dismissed Paul von Hindenburg after the German troops on the Western front had been overrun by the Allied powers.
The government and the responsibility for World War I were then put on Prince Max von Baden, a cousin of Wilhelm II and the last Chancellor of the German Empire. The assignment of the relatively liberal Max von Baden increased hopes that the German Empire could be turned into a Parliamentary Monarchy and that a speedy end to the war was near.
But the allied forces made two problematic demands:
- The German Empire had to lay down its arms
- The King of Prussia (Wilhelm II and his successors) must never be given control over the Politics of the German Empire
Suddenly large parts of the German public started to see Kaiser Wilhelm II as an obstacle to peace! And on 4 November 1918, sailors of the German Navy mutinied in Kiel after they had received orders to depart for one last suicidal attack against the English navy. The mutiny turned into a wildfire and within days every monarchy in the states of the German Empire had fallen.
At noon on 9 November 1918 and under the pressure of the Social Democrats, chancellor Max von Baden proclaimed the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II (who learned about his own abdication at the Imperial army headquarter in the Belgian Spa). SPD and USPD took over the government.
But while all that happened in Berlin, Wilhelm II had a big problem. He had suddenly lost his throne and as a result his protection.
In the night from 9 to 10 November 1918, Wilhelm II and a few of his loyal confidantes left the headquarter in Spa (Belgium) and traveled to the neutral Netherlands where Wilhelm II asked for political asylum. He probably feared that the victors of WW I would put him in front of a war crimes tribunal.
And that brings us to the years of Wilhelm`s II political asylum in the Netherlands.
Kaiser Wilhelm II and his political asylum in the Netherlands
After news of his involuntary abdication had reached Wilhelm II at his headquarters in Spa (Belgium), he decided to leave for the neutral Netherlands on the night of 9th to 10th November 1918.
But things did not go so smoothly.
Before the Dutch government allowed the abdicated Wilhelm II to enter the Netherlands, he was forced to spend 24 hours at the train station of Eijschen before he was allowed to continue his journey to Kasteel Amerongen. There, he would sign his official abdication certificate on 28 November 1918. A few months later, the Dutch government, much to the displeasure of the victors of WW I, granted Wilhelm II political asylum. That probably saved Wilhelm II from being put on trial.
In the spring of 1920, Wilhelm II and his wife moved to Huis Doorn which he had discreetly bought in the main time. There, Wilhelm II would live the rest of his days until he died in 1941. However, even though Wilhelm II outlived the rest of his days in the Netherlands, he also spend the 1920s and parts of the 1930s working towards his return to Germany and his reinstalment as German Emperor.
Kaiser Wilhelm II in the 1920s: Working towards the restoration of the German monarchy
Even though Wilhelm II had officially (but involuntarily) abdicated, he never got used to the loss of power and even during the 1930s, his life was still shaped by making plans to return as German Emperor.
Wilhelms II second wife Hermine, who he had married in 1922, one year after his first wife Victoria had died, even insisted on being called „Kaiserin“ (empress) even though she and Wilhelm were living in the Netherlands where they had gotten political asylum.
Throughout the time of his political asylum in the Netherlands, Wilhelm II always kept a keen eye on the political situation and the developments in the Weimar Republic. He was closely looking for any sign of a potential collapse of the Weimar Republic since he hoped that that would be his chance to return to Germany and retake his position as Emperor.
Every day after dinner, Wilhelm II would comment on the political situation of the Weimar Republic in a long monologue in front of his small court. He had been granted a small court by the Dutch government so that he could at least pretend that some of his former importance had remained even though he was living in exile. During these monologues, Wilhelm II would also make a conspiracy of Jews, Freemasons, and Jesuits responsible for the German defeat in Word War I.
Most of Wilhelms small court encouraged him in his plans and hopes to one day return to Germany and bring back the monarchy (and himself as emperor). But since Wilhelm II wasn`t allowed to leave his exile in the Netherlands, it was mostly his second wife, Hermine, who traveled to Germany and networked. It was also Hermine, who first made contact between the former emperor and the National Socialists. Wilhelm saw them as a potential way to become emperor again, more on that here.
She, unlike Wilhelm, could enter Germany without any notice under the excuse of having to take care of their extensive holdings (farms, forests, and so on).
And that brings us to the last point of what Wilhelm did in the years after World War I.
Wilhelm II and his fight for his assets after WW I
As mentioned, Wilhelm had been abdicated and had fled into the neural Netherlands. But there was one big problem he had to sort out before he could even think of planning his return to Germany. Most of his belongings (including his family`s wealth, castles, art, and vast estates) were in Germany, the same country he had to flee from.
So getting his assets back was high up on Wilhelms to-do list after World War I.
It took Wilhelm II years of legal battles to get his confiscated assets back. There were two reasons for that. First, it was unclear what he personally owned in the first place. Ever since the Hohenzollern (the noble dynasty of Wilhelm II) had been both German Emperor and King of Prussia, there was no clear separation between what castles, art, and holdings were private property and which castles, art, and holdings were the property of the Prussian Crown. And after a disastrous war, the public opinion of the abdicated monarch was pretty low, so several political parties ran on the promise to not return the assets, which had been confiscated by the state, to Wilhelm II.
The Free State of Prussia (the successor of the Kingdom of Prussia after WW I) confiscated all of Wilhelm`s II assets in November of 1918. However, in 1918 it also transferred half a million Reichsmark as compensation for the confiscated assets to Wilhelm. In 1919, another 66 million Reichsmark were transferred to Wilhelm II as compensation.
And in 1919, 64 railway carriages with furniture and art from Wilhelm`s various (former) castles were sent to Huis Doorn so that Wilhelm could live befitting even though living in exile.
So it is safe to say that the financial situation of the former German emperor in his Dutch exile was pretty comfortable. With that kind of money behind him, Wilhelm II could start working towards his return to Germany, and his reinstalment as emperor. And both Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP played an important role in his plans. But that is a story for another time.
Have you ever wondered what emperor Wilhelm II thought of World War II? Then I would like to recommend you 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).