The name of Wilhelm II is inseparably connected to World War I and the suffering that the wreckless decisions of Wilhelm and his peers in the other European states brought over the entire world. With that kind of background and the knowledge that Wilhelm II lived long enough to experience the first two years of World War II one question remains.
What did Wilhelm II think of World War II? Had he learned his lesson and rejected the war? Or was he just as excited as he had been during the early stages of World War I?
In 1938, Wilhelm`s II opinion on another war was ambiguous. But as soon as WW II started, Wilhelm II immediately stood behind the war and the German army and followed the course of the war with great interest and pride from his exile in the Netherlands. He attributed parts of the German success to himself since most of the officers had trained and served under him in WW I. However, he also only experienced the (successful) first years of WW II since he died in 1941.
Let`s take a closer look!
Wilhelm II lived in a political exile in the Netherlands from the time of his involuntary abdication in November 1918 to his death on 4 June 1941. And just like Wilhelm II had closely observed the political situation in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, he also closely observed World War II from his exile in Huis Doorn.
Wilhelm II had a pretty ambiguous opinion on a potential war in the years leading up to WW II. On the one hand, he hoped for peace and did not congratulate Hitler when Germany annexed Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938 (which really disappointed Hitler). But on the other hand, he also ranted against every measure the other European states took against Germany.
By the way. Not only Wilhelms opinion on a potential war was ambiguous in 1938. His opinions and thoughts of Hitler and the NSDAP had also changed several times during the 1920s and early 1930s but had solidified after 1934.
However, his ambiguous opinion on a potential war changed as soon as World War II actually started. As soon as WW II started in September of 1939, Wilhelm II immediately stood behind the war and the German troops. He closely followed the progress of the war by visualizing the movement of troops & frontline with colored pins on a huge map (just like he had done during WW I).
The victory over Poland and the occupation of Norway & Denmark made Wilhelm II both happy and proud since he stated that these victories were won by the same men who had served under him in World War I.
And after the German victory over France in the middle of June 1940, Wilhelm II sent Hitler his congratulations for the first time.
So Wilhelm was definitely excited and enthusiastic about the German achievements during the first years of World War II.
That, however, did not change anything in his personal situation.
Wilhelm II remained in exile in the Netherlands even after Germany had occupied the Netherlands and France. The only change was that Huis Doorn, the residence of Wilhelm II during his exile, was now guarded by German instead of Dutch troops.
Aside from that the war also hit Wilhelm II on a personal level. Two of the grandsons of Wilhelm II had already fallen in 1940 (Oskar in 1939 in Poland and Wilhelm in 1940 during the invasion of France). As a reaction to the death of prince Wilhelm (the grandson of Wilhelm II) Hitler issued the so-called Prinzenerlass that prohibited any member of one of the formerly reigning houses from fighting on the frontlines. Here you can find out more about why the death of Wilhelm in particular caused Hitler to make that decision.
Soon after the German occupation of France in the summer of 1940, the health of Wilhelm II slowly started to deteriorate while his hate for England intensified.
So when Wilhelm II received the news that German troops had taken the island of Crete from the British he triumphed for the last time stating „Das ist ja fabelhaft! Unsere herrlichen Truppen“ („Isn`t that magnificent! Our glorious troops“). But on the same day, 3 June 1941, Wilhelm II suffered a pulmonary embolism and died one day later on 4 June 1941.
Aside from his patriotism, his excitement over the successes of the German troops might have also been connected to the role he attributed to himself.
Wilhelm II ruled the German Empire from 1888 to 1918. So most of the officers who fought in World War II had been trained in his war academies, and had had their first commands in World War I under his supreme command. Because of that, it seems quite likely that one reason why Wilhelm II was so excited over the German successes was that he attributed at least parts of this success to himself.
But while it clearly shows that Wilhelm II was quite thrilled about World War II and the German victories, it is also important to note that he did not experience catastrophic defeats in the second half of the war. Since Wilhelm II died on 4 June 1941 (18 days before Germany attacked the Soviet Union), he only experienced the German successes, not the catastrophic defeats!
It would certainly be interesting to know how Wilhelm II would have reacted to the second half of World War II, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Battle of Stalingrad. But due to his death at the age of 82 in 1941, we will never know.
Speaking of the Battle of Stalingrad. Have you ever asked yourself why Hitler categorically refused to retreat from Stalingrad despite the catastrophic situation of his army? Here you can find my article with the 5 reasons for his decision.
And here you can find out more about the 4 reasons why Stalingrad was such an important target in the first place.
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).