Abdication of Wilhelm II

The abdication of Wilhelm II as German Emperor and King of Prussia was declared by Chancellor Maximilian of Baden on 9 November 1918; it was formally affirmed by a written statement of Wilhelm on 28 November, made while in exile in Amerongen, the Netherlands. The abdication caused the German Empire to dissolve and concluded the House of Hohenzollern's 500-year rule over Prussia and its predecessor state, Brandenburg. Wilhelm reigned from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. As a result of the abdication and the German Revolution of 1918–19, the nobility as a legally-defined class was abolished. Following the proclamation of the Weimar Constitution on 11 August 1919, all Germans were declared equal before the law.[1] The rulers of the twenty-two constituent states of the Empire also had to relinquish their monarchical titles and domains.

abdication statement
Abdication statement of Wilhelm II, signed 28 November 1918

Abdication negotiations edit

German General Headquarters, 8 January 1917. Chief of the General Staff Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and Wilhelm II with General Erich Ludendorff.

After the Oberste Heeresleitung stated the German front was about to collapse and asked for immediate negotiation of an armistice, the cabinet of Chancellor Georg von Hertling resigned on 30 September 1918. Hertling, with the support of Conrad Haußmann, Oberst Hans von Haeften [de] and Erich Ludendorff suggested Prince Maximilian of Baden as his successor and to have Wilhelm II appoint Maximilian as Chancellor of Germany and minister president of Prussia.[2][3] When Maximilian arrived in Berlin on 1 October, Emperor Wilhelm II convinced him to take the post and appointed him on 3 October 1918. The message asking for an armistice went out on 4 October, hopefully to be accepted by President of the United States Woodrow Wilson.[4]: 44  In late October, Wilson's third note seemed to imply that negotiations of an armistice would be dependent on the abdication of Wilhelm II. On 1 November, Maximilian wrote to all the ruling Princes of Germany, asking them whether they would approve of an abdication by the Emperor.[3] On 6 November, Maximilian urged Wilhelm II to abdicate. The Kaiser, who had fled from Berlin to the Spa, Belgium OHL-headquarters, was willing to consider abdication only as Emperor, not as King of Prussia.[citation needed][5]

Around 4 November, delegations of sailors dispersed to all of the country's big cities. By 7 November the revolution had seized all large coastal cities as well as Hanover, Braunschweig, Frankfurt on Main, and Munich.

On 7 November, Maximilian met with Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and discussed his plan to go to Spa and convince Wilhelm II to abdicate. He was thinking about Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia, Wilhelm's second son, being the regent.[4]: 76  However, the outbreak of the German Revolution in Berlin prevented Maximilian from implementing his plan. Ebert decided that to keep control of the socialist uprising, the emperor had to resign quickly and that a new government was required.[4]: 77 

Abdication and flight edit

Placard for The Pall Mall Gazette, 26 June 1919

Even though the uprising in Berlin had swelled into a revolution, Wilhelm could not decide whether to abdicate. He recognized that he had likely lost his imperial crown, but he hoped to retain the Prussian kingship, believing that as monarch of two-thirds of Germany he could play a role in any new government. This ultimately proved to be impossible. Wilhelm had believed that he ruled as emperor in a personal union with Prussia. Under the Constitution of the German Empire, however, the empire was a federation of states under the permanent presidency of Prussia. This meant that the imperial crown was tied to the Prussian crown, and one crown could not be renounced without renouncing the other.

Hope of preserving the monarchy dwindled rapidly in the face of growing revolutionary unrest. With masses gathering in Berlin, Prince Maximilian unilaterally announced Wilhelm's abdication of both crowns at noon on 9 November 1918, as well as the renunciation of Crown Prince Wilhelm.[4]: 86  The proclamation, written by Theodor Lewald, the Under Secretary of State at the Imperial Home Office, read:

His Majesty the Emperor and King has made the decision to renounce to the throne.

The Imperial Chancellor shall remain in office only until the matters related to the abdication of the Emperor, the renunciation of His Imperial and Royal Highness the Crown Prince to the thrones of the German Empire and of Prussia, and the establishment of the regency have been settled. He intends to propose to the Regent the appointment of Deputy Ebert as Imperial Chancellor and the introduction of a bill for the election by universal suffrage of a constituent German national assembly, on which it would fall to determine the future definitive form of government of the German people, inclusive of the populations who should wish to request their entry into the Reich.

Berlin, 9 November 1918.

The Imperial Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden.

The final mention referred to the potential reunion of German-Austria to the rest of Germany, following the dissolution of the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian empire.

Maximilian himself was forced to resign later the same day when it became clear that only Ebert could effectively exert control. Later that day, one of Ebert's secretaries of state (ministers), Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, proclaimed Germany to be a republic. General Wilhelm Groener, Ludendorff's replacement, then informed Wilhelm that the army definitely would not fight to keep him on the throne. Army commander and lifelong royalist Paul von Hindenburg felt obliged, and with some embarrassment, to advise Wilhelm to give up the crown. It was only then that Wilhelm accepted the fait accompli and agreed to give up the throne.[6] On 10 November, Wilhelm boarded a train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war.[7]

Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles, which was concluded in early 1919, provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm "for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties". Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and the Dutch government, however, refused the Allies' requests to extradite him. King George V wrote that his cousin was "the greatest criminal in history", but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George's proposal to "hang the Kaiser". President Wilson also opposed extradition, arguing that punishing Wilhelm would destabilize international order and lose the peace.[8]

"Statement of Abdication" edit

Wilhelm first settled at Amerongen Castle, where on 28 November he issued a belated statement of abdication of both the Prussian and imperial thrones. He also released his soldiers and officials in both Prussia and the empire from their oaths of loyalty to him.[9]

  • Statement of Abdication. I herewith renounce for all time claims to the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith. At the same time I release all officials of the German Empire and of Prussia, as well as all officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the navy and of the Prussian army, as well as the troops of the federated states of Germany, from the oath of fidelity which they tendered to me as their Emperor, King and Commander-in-Chief. I expect of them that until the re-establishment of order in the German Empire they shall render assistance to those in actual power in Germany, in protecting the German people from the threatening dangers of anarchy, famine, and foreign rule. Proclaimed under our own hand and with the imperial seal attached. Amerongen, 28 November 1918. Signed WILLIAM.[10]

Efforts to restore the Kaiserreich edit

German National People's Party
"The monarchical form of government corresponds to the uniqueness and historical development of Germany.... [W]e are committed to the renewal of the German empire as established under the Hohenzollerns."[11]
Reichskriegsflagge in use during the Kapp Putsch, to overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish a right-wing government, supported by monarchist factions, 13 March 1920[12]
Monarchist[13] DNVP leader Kuno von Westarp and DNVP member Prince Oskar of Prussia with Prince Eitel Friedrich. December 1924. Later, the nationalist DNVP and NSDAP (Nazi Party) were in a coalition government (1933-1945).
Harzburg Front: DNVP - NSDAP coalition. Alfred Hugenberg with Prince Eitel Friedrich. 10 October 1931. See, Gleichschaltung NSDAP-DNVP coalition.

Wilhelm moved to the municipality of Doorn, to Huis Doorn on 15 May 1920.[14] The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of packages from the New Palace at Potsdam.[15] In 1922, Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs[16]—a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating World War I and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy. In the early 1930s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the German Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser.[17] His second wife, Hermine Reuss of Greiz, actively petitioned the Nazi government on her husband's behalf, but the petitions were ignored.

Hitler humbly greeting Hindenburg on Potsdam Day, 21 March 1933

After Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as chancellor in 1933, the Nazi regime restored the Prussian imperial flag. On 21 March 1933, the new Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony at the Garrison Church in Potsdam, which was until 1918, the Parish church of the Prussian royal family. This "Day of Potsdam" was held to demonstrate unity between the Nazi movement and the old Prussian elite and military. Hitler appeared in a morning coat and humbly greeted Hindenburg.[18][19]

After the deposed heir of Wilhelm II, Crown Prince Wilhelm, joined Der Stahlhelm, which in 1931 merged into the Harzburg Front, Hitler visited the former Crown Prince at Cecilienhof in 1926, in 1933 (on the "Day of Potsdam"), and in 1935.[20][page needed] In September 1939, Kaiser Wilhelm's adjutant, General von Dommes [de], wrote on his behalf to Hitler, stating that the House of Hohenzollern "remained loyal" stating nine Prussian Princes (one son and eight grandchildren) were stationed at the front, concluding "because of the special circumstances that require residence in a neutral foreign country, His Majesty must personally decline to make the aforementioned comment. The Emperor has therefore charged me with making a communication."[21]

In March 1939, Hitler demanded the return of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, a strip of land that separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany.[22] German forces then invaded Poland, which started World War II. The invasion restored the Prussian territories lost in 1918.

When Hitler invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, Wilhelm declined Prime Minister Winston Churchill's offer to grant Wilhelm asylum in the United Kingdom. Wilhelm preferred to spend his remaining days at Huis Doorn. He died there on 4 June 1941.[23]

In admiration of Hitler's success during the opening months of the war, Wilhelm sent a congratulatory telegram to Hitler in May 1940 when the Netherlands surrendered: "My Fuhrer, I congratulate you and hope that under your marvellous leadership the German monarchy will be restored completely." The aging Wilhelm then retired completely from public life.

"Just as the Bismarck Empire arose from the year 1866, so too will the Greater Germanic Empire arise from this day."
Adolf Hitler. 9 April 1940[24]

In another telegram to Hitler upon the fall of Paris a month later, Wilhelm stated, "Congratulations, you have won using my troops." In a letter to his daughter Victoria Louise, Duchess of Brunswick, he wrote triumphantly, "Thus is the pernicious Entente Cordiale of Uncle Edward VII brought to nought."[25] In a letter of 1940 to his sister Princess Margaret of Prussia, Wilhelm wrote: "The hand of God is creating a new world & working miracles.... We are becoming the U.S. of Europe under German leadership, a united European Continent."[21]

However, Wilhem's opinion of Hitler behind closed doors was much less favourable. In a 1938 interview with Ken magazine, he said of the dictator:

"There is a man alone, without family, without children, without God...He builds legions but he doesn’t build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, tradition: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children. [Of Germany under Hitler he says]...an all-swallowing State, disdainful of human dignities and the ancient structure of our race, sets itself up in place of everything else. And the man who, alone, incorporates in himself this whole State, has neither a God to honour nor a dynasty to conserve, nor a past to consult...

For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism. I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed...He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters...

This man could bring home victories to our people each year without bringing them...glory...But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians and artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics..."
Wilhelm von Hohenzollern. 15 December 1938[26]

Hohenzollern claims (post 1919) edit

Adolf Hitler and Crown Prince Wilhelm at their second meeting, in Potsdam on 21 March 1933.
Crown Prince Wilhelm, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, and August von Mackensen, 19 January 1933. Field Marshal von Mackensen was a monarchist[27] and a military tutor to Wilhelm II and his son. His high-profile black Life Hussars uniform was adopted by the SS. Göring made von Mackensen a Prussian state councillor in 1933.

Friedrich Wilhelm was the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the last crown prince of the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Crown Prince Wilhelm abdicated around the same time as his father in 1918. A military commander, he was second in command to his Commander in Chief father, with Generalfeldmarschall Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria and Generalfeldmarschall Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg, at German military headquarters during World War I until the armistice of 11 November 1918. As such, Wilhelm II and Crown Prince Wilhelm directly commanded their Chief of the General Staff, General Paul von Hindenburg, throughout the war.

In 1933, von Hindenburg appointed Nazi Party Leader Adolf Hitler as the new Chancellor of Germany. Upon Hindenburg's death, Hitler officially became Führer and Chancellor of the Realm/Reich. Previously in Germany (1871-1918), the Chancellor was responsible only to the German Kaiser. In 1933, the Nazi regime abolished the flag of the Weimar Republic and officially restored the Imperial German flag, alongside the Swastika, however this would only last until 1935.

In 1916, Crown Prince Wilhelm invested Hermann Göring, who later became a senior Nazi figure, with an Iron Cross after Göring flew reconnaissance and bombing missions in a Feldflieger Abteilung 25 in Prince Wilhelm's Fifth Army.[28] Like many veterans, Göring believed the stab-in-the-back legend, whereby the German Army had not actually lost World War I, but had been betrayed by Marxists, Jews, and especially Republicans, who had overthrown the German monarchy.[29] In 1933, with Hitler and the Nazi Party in power, Göring was appointed minister of the interior for Prussia.[30] for which he established a Prussian police force called the Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo.[31] The headquarters of the Reich Security Main Office, Sicherheitsdienst, Gestapo, and Schutzstaffel (SS) in Nazi Germany (1933-1945) was "symbolically" housed at Prinz Albrecht - Strasse, off Wilhelm - straße, in Berlin.

In the early 1930s, Wilhelm II apparently hoped that the successes of the Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with Crown Prince Wilhelm's son as the fourth Kaiser.[17] After Crown Prince Wilhelm joined Der Stahlhelm, which merged in 1931 into the Harzburg Front, Adolf Hitler visited him at Cecilienhof in 1926, 1933 (on the "Day of Potsdam") and 1935.[20][page needed] In May 1940, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, the son of Crown Prince Wilhelm and his nominee to be the "fourth Kaiser," took part in the invasion of France. He was wounded during the fighting in Valenciennes and died on 26 May 1940. The service drew over 50,000 mourners.[32] His death and the ensuing sympathy of the German public toward a member of the former German royal house greatly bothered Hitler. He began to see the Hohenzollerns as a threat to his power. In 1940, Hitler issued the Prinzenerlass, which prohibited princes from German royal houses from serving in the military (the Wehrmacht),[32] but did not prohibit their membership in military Sturmabteilung (SA) and SS units.

A gathering of high-ranking Nazi officials in Berlin in 1933. Including August Wilhelm of Prussia (third from the left).

Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia was the fourth son of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his first wife, Augusta Victoria. Already holding a position in the Prussian state, August Wilhelm became a member of the German Reichstag in 1933. He hoped "that Hitler would one day hoist him or his son Alexander up to the vacant throne of the Kaiser". In 1939, August Wilhelm was made an SA-Obergruppenführer, the second highest SA rank. Translated as "senior group leader",[33] Obergruppenführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank first created in 1932 as a rank of the SA and adopted by the SS one year later. Until 1942, it was the highest commissioned SS rank, inferior only to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.
As listed, Prince August was given Nazi Party membership number 24, as number 12 was SS-Obergruppenführer Philipp Bouhler. He was a SS-Reichsleiter, the same SS rank as Himmler and Joseph Goebbels. He was second only to the rank of the Führer in the Nazi Party. Philipp Bouhler worked alongside Philipp, Landgrave of Hesse, who was a close friend of Göring. Bouhler was head of Nazi Action T4 euthanasia program for children and the handicapped (70,000 murders). Deputy Führer Rudolf Hesse, also ranked SS-Obergruppenführer and SS-Reichsleiter, was number 14. Hesse and Hitler, like Göring, believed in the stab-in-the-back myth.[34][35]

After making derogatory remarks in 1942 about Goebbels, Prince August was denounced, sidelined, and banned from making public speeches. In 1945, with former Crown Princess Cecilie, August fled the approaching Red Army to Kronberg to take refuge with his aunt Princess Margaret of Prussia.

Prince Alexander Ferdinand was the only son of Prince August and his wife Princess Alexandra Victoria.[36] In 1939, Prince Alexander was a first lieutenant in the Air Force Signal Corps.[37][38] Like his father, Prince August hoped that Hitler "would one day hoist him, or his son, up to the vacant throne of the Kaiser". Prince Alexander's and his father's support of the Nazis caused disagreements among the Hohenzollerns, with Wilhelm II urging them both to leave the Nazi Party.[39] In 1933, Prince Alexander Ferdinand quit the SA and became a private in the German regular army.[40] In 1934, Berlin leaked out that the 21-year-old Prince had quit the SA because Hitler had chosen him to be his successor as "head man in Germany when he [Hitler] no longer can carry the torch".[40] The report said that Goebbels was expected to oppose the prince's nomination.[40] Unlike many princes untrusted and removed from their commands by Hitler, Prince Alexander was the only Hohenzollern allowed to remain at his post.[41]

Portrait Title and
NSDAP Rank and
Join date Membership number
Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia
1 April 1930 24 Obergruppenführer
Born 29 January 1887. Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia, was the fourth son of Wilhelm II, German Emperor by his first wife, Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein. Prince August joined NSDAP with the low membership number 24. In 1931, he was accepted into the SA with the rank of "Standartenführer". Prince August hoped "that Hitler would one day hoist him or his son Alexander up to the vacant throne of the Kaiser".
  Prince Alexander Ferdinand of Prussia
1 May 1931 534782 German Army Born 26 December 1912. Prince Alexander of Prussia was son of Prince August Wilhelm and Princess Alexandra Victoria. As of November 1939, Prince Alexander Ferdinand was a first lieutenant in the Air Force Signal Corps, stationed in Wiesbaden.[37][38] In 1933, Prince Alexander Ferdinand quit the SA and became a private in the German regular army.[40]
  Prince Karl Franz of Prussia
1 May 1935 2407422 Leutnant
German Army
Born 15 December 1916. Prince Karl Franz was the only child born to Prince Joachim of Prussia by his wife Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt. During World War II, Karl Franz served as a lieutenant in an armoured car division, and at one point was stationed on the Polish front.[42] He was awarded the Iron Cross.

Abolished federal princedoms of the Kaiserreich edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Article 109 of the Weimar Constitution constitutes: Adelsbezeichnungen gelten nur als Teil des Namens und dürfen nicht mehr verliehen werden ("Noble names are only recognised as part of the surname and may no longer be granted").
  2. ^ "Biografie Prinz Max von Baden" (in German). Deutsches Historisches Museum. Archived from the original on 2 July 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Biografie Prinz Max von Baden" (in German). Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Retrieved 22 July 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Haffner, Sebastian (2002). Die deutsche Revolution 1918/19 (in German). Kindler. ISBN 3-463-40423-0.
  5. ^ Willoweit, Dietmar; Schlinker, Steffen (2019). Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte (8 ed.). § 37, Rn. 4: C.H. Beck. p. 305. ISBN 978-3-406-72635-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ Cecil 1996, vol. 2 p. 292.
  7. ^ Cecil 1996, vol. 2 p. 294.
  8. ^ Ashton & Hellema 2000, pp. 53–78.
  9. ^ Hart, Albert Bushnell (1919). The American Year Book: A Record of Events and Progress. p. 153.
  10. ^ Statement of Abdication (1918). As translated and appearing in the 1923 Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, edited by Charles F. Horne.
  11. ^ "German National People's Party Program", pages 348-352 from The Weimar Republic Sourcebook edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994 page 349.
  12. ^ Der Lüttwitz-Kapp-Putsch 1920. Lebendiges Museum Online (in German). Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  13. ^ Beck, Hermann The Fateful Alliance: German Conservatives and Nazis in 1933 Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009, pp. 47–48. "Westarp continued to maintain that he was a monarchist utterly committed to restoring the House of Hohenzollern while his party was participating in a republican government".
  14. ^ Macdonogh 2001, p. 426.
  15. ^ Macdonogh 2001, p. 425.
  16. ^ Hohenzollern 1922.
  17. ^ a b Radowitz, Baron Clemens Von (3 July 1922). "MONARCHY WILL RETURN, BUT NOT I, SAYS EX-KAISER". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2008.
  18. ^ City of Potsdam.
  19. ^ Shirer 1960, pp. 196–197.
  20. ^ a b Müller, Heike; Berndt, Harald (2006). Schloss Cecilienhof und die Konferenz von Potsdam 1945 (in German). Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten. ISBN 3-910068-16-2.
  21. ^ a b Petropoulos 2006, p. 170.
  22. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 486.
  23. ^ Gilbert 1994, p. 523.
  24. ^ Sager & Winkler 2007, p. 74.
  25. ^ Palmer 1978, p. 226.
  26. ^ Ken Magazine, p. 17, December 1938
  27. ^ Showalter, D. E., Tannenberg: Clash of Empires. Hamden: Archon, 1991. p 177
  28. ^ Manvell 2011, pp. 28–29.
  29. ^ Manvell 2011, p. 39.
  30. ^ Manvell 2011, p. 92.
  31. ^ Evans 2005, p. 54.
  32. ^ a b "Wilhelm Prinz von Preussen". Preussen.de (in German). Archived from the original on 2012-02-12. Retrieved 12 July 2008.
  33. ^ McNab 2009, p. 15.
  34. ^ Nesbit & van Acker 2011, p. 15.
  35. ^ Evans 2003, p. 177.
  36. ^ Lundy, Darryl. "The Peerage: Alexander Ferdinand Prinz von Preußen". Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  37. ^ a b "Family of Ex-Kaiser Sends Many to Front" (PDF). The New York Times. 26 November 1939. Retrieved 14 December 2010.[dead link]
  38. ^ a b "Kaiser's Kin Serve Hitler In Nazi Army". Berlin: Associated Press. 26 November 1939 – via The Washington Post.
  39. ^ MacDonogh, Giles (2000). The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 449. ISBN 9780312305574.
  40. ^ a b c d "Prince Chosen by Hitler as Reich Regent" (PDF). Tonawanda Evening News. 2 January 1934. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  41. ^ Petropoulos, Jonathan (2006). Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany. New York City: Oxford University Press. p. 243. ISBN 9780199796076.
  42. ^ "Kaiser's Grandson is Killed in Action". The New York Times. Berlin. 17 September 1939.

Bibliography edit

External links edit