Archive of former Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, 1918-1941
At the end of the First World War in November 1918 the German Empire found itself in a crisis situation. On the western front the army had for all practical purposes already been defeated in September and in Germany itself a mood of imminent revolution, mutiny and disintegrating authority reigned. As early as October Kaiser Wilhelm II felt compelled to take a step in the direction of democracy by appointing a parliamentary government under prince Max von Baden as Imperial Chancellor. His strategy of trying to preserve the monarchy through the abdication of the Kaiser and Crown Prince in favour of a regent failed due to the Kaiser’s indecisiveness. As the news from Berlin worsened, the Kaiser, who was in Spa in Belgium at the time, finally announced his willingness to abdicate as German Emperor, but wished to remain King of Prussia in order to lead his armies back to the fatherland. His troops, however, would no longer follow him. Since the Kaiser could neither return to a Berlin grown unsafe through the threat of revolution nor remain with his unreliable forces in Spa, he had no other choice than to flee to the nearby and neutral territory of the Netherlands, where he arrived with his suite on 10 November 1918, the Dutch government arranging for hospitality. On the 11th the Kaiser signed the instrument of abdication. This was the start of his long exile in the Netherlands that would last until his death on 4 June 1941. Most of his stay was spent at the castle-like residence he had purchased known as Huis Doorn.
Plans to return
From the moment he had set foot on Dutch soil until his death in 1941, the Kaiser himself remained convinced that he would some day be able to return to Germany. Through invitations, for example, to Herman Göring, who visited Doorn twice, and by publishing books and pamphlets himself or having them published, the Kaiser tried to justify his period of rule and prepare his return to Germany as monarch. All these efforts, however, yielded very few results, for only a small part of the people wanted him back as ruler and with the rise of National Socialism the ranks of those loyal to the Kaiser thinned even more.
The Kaiser himself always maintained an ambivalent attitude toward the Nazis. In one of his archaeological studies, for example, he treated the origin of the swastika: one version with the arms facing left was said to symbolize the sun, happiness and prosperity, whereas, the other, the one adopted by the Nazis, symbolized misfortune and decline. The Kaiser’s negative attitude toward the Nazis seems attested to by the fact that he sheltered refugees from their regime. Nevertheless he sent Adolf Hitler his congratulations on the capitulation of France in 1940. Such contradictions were typical of the Kaiser’s character.
In addition to his activities in the political sphere, the Kaiser now had time to devote to his hobbies. In the early years of his stay in the Netherlands, he chopped wood on an almost daily basis; he often also took long walks. It was archaeology, however, that proved to be his greatest and most productive hobby. In addition, the Kaiser also composed and delivered many religious sermons.
At first the Kaiser’s financial situation was anything but rosy since the new government in Germany had confiscated a large part of his personal fortune. Nonetheless the Kaiser possessed sufficient funds to purchase Huis Doorn and to furnish the interior with 20 boxcars of furniture brought from imperial possessions in Germany. His various revenues allowed the Kaiser to maintain a reasonable-sized court, including a fleet of automobiles and staff for handling correspondence and the household.
Daily life at Huis Doorn centered around the Kaiser, who invited a steady stream of guests to visit him. High point of the social year was the Kaiser’s birthday on 27 January at which many princely personalities from Germany were often present. The Kaiser in exile turned out to be a more human figure than had been supposed during his reign, though he remained a man torn by inner conflicts, oscillating between hope and despair concerning his eventual return to Germany as monarch. As time passed, the Kaiser became more and more a tragic figure until death took him at the age of 82. He was interred in the garden of Huis Doorn.