From Volume Five, Issue Four, Fall 1996:
Wilhelm II in his later years.
THE END OF AN ERA
By William J. Gilwee
The Passing of the Hohenzollerns
Editor's note: I have taken the liberty of retitling this article to make it more encompassing than that which the author had provided.
On 24 September 1994 the New York Times reported that Prince Louis Ferdinand, the son of the late Crown Prince Wilhelm and the grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, had died two days earlier at his home in Germany. Louis was 86 years old, heir to the German crown and head of the House of Hohenzollen. He had become heir in 1933 when his older brother married someone not accepted by the family. As heir he had always hoped for the return of the monarchy but he was a realist and thought the only way it would return was in a very limited fashion such as in Denmark. The Times alludes to the fact that Prince Louis had played a part with some German generals in plans to assassinate Hitler.
Prince Louis was survived by three sons and two daughters. His wife, Grand Duchess Kira (a Romanov), died several years ago. Prince Louis Ferdinand previously had selected his grandson, George Friedreich Ferdinand, to be his successor as head of the House of Hohenzollen.
On 16 October 1994 the San Jose Mercury News had an article by a reporter who had interviewed Prince Louis in 1946. At the time the prince was working for the U.S. Army as an interpreter in Bad Kissingen, Germany. The reporter recalled how gracious the prince was and how well he conversed in English. The prince had worked for Ford in Detroit from 1929 to 1934. In 1938, while on their honeymoon, the prince and his bride had visited President Roosevelt. Roosevelt had told him he would meet with Hitler to attempt to settle the problems in Europe. The prince passed this message on to von Ribbontrop, whom he had known previously as a champagne salesman, but nothing came of the offer.
The death of Prince Louis Ferdinand calls to mind the Kaiser's life after World War I. Probably the most hated man in the world at that time, he led a life of relative obscurity until he died in 1941. Other than an occasional picture of a lonely old man chopping wood, the news about the Kaiser was just a few lines in the back pages of newspapers. Considering what had happened to his cousin, Nicholas II and his family, Kaiser "Bill" was much better off.
The situation for Germany was hopeless by 9 November 1918. The revolution which started that morning in Berlin had taken place the previous day in Munich. The German High Seas Fleet had mutinied on 28 October and some of the Kaiser's most trusted regiments raised the Bolshevist flag. Prince Max of Baden, the Kaiser's cousin, had taken over as chancellor on 1 October. In an attempt to save the Hohenzollern dynasty Prince Max suggested that the Kaiser abdicate in favor of a regency for his 12-year-old grandson, Prince William. The crown prince was not suggested because he was disliked even more than the Kaiser due to the part he had played in the Battle of Verdun.
In spite of the fact that the Socialists indicated they would agree to this plan, the Kaiser refused. By this time the Kaiser was back at his military headquarters on a large estate outside the Belgian city of Spa. Hindenberg's staff interviewed 39 top commanders to see if they thought their troops would follow the Kaiser against the Bolsheviks. Only one general replied affirmatively. Hindenberg convinced the Kaiser that he must abdicate.
At 4:30 a.m. on 10 November 1918 the Kaiser boarded the gold and white imperial train and began the 40-mile journey to Holland. He arrived at the border at 7:30 a.m. at the town of Eysen, where he handed his sword over to a bewildered Dutch border guard. After a six-hour delay the Kaiser was allowed into Holland and immediately took up residence at Amerongen at the home of Count Bentinck with a staff of 40 officers and servants. Most of the staff left by the end of that month. A young aide, Captain Ilsemann, stayed on until the Kaiser's death many years later. On 12 November the crown prince, in spite of his promise to his father that he would stay with the army, crossed into Holland and Queen Wilhelmina of Holland allowed him to take one aide. She also gave him a small home on the desolate island of Wieringan.
On 28 November 1918 the Kaiser signed the official act of abdication as King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany. On the same day the empress joined him in Holland.
In January 1920 the Allies insisted that the Kaiser be extradited for trial but the Dutch government refused and nothing ever came of the demand. During his exile in Holland the Kaiser followed events in Germany closely. He felt that he had been betrayed by Hindenberg and was being falsely accused by the German people of running away. He still blamed everyone but himself for the catastrophe of the Great War.
In the spring of 1920 the Kaiser bought an estate in Holland called Doorn House. The German government allowed him to bring furnishings from palaces in Germany. In May of 1920 the crown prince was allowed to visit his parents at Doorn House. The Kaiser's youngest son, Prince Guaiacum, was also visiting his parents. Guaiacum had left Germany and gone to Switzerland. The Kaiser was unhappy with Guaiacum's gambling and womanizing. A few weeks later Guaiacum shot himself.
The empress died in April 1921 after a long illness. Her body was returned to Germany for burial at Potsdam. The Kaiser and crown prince were not allowed to return for the funeral. The lonely Kaiser remarried in November 1922 to a young war widow, Princess Hermine of Reusse. By this time he had built some guest cottages because of the large number of friends and relatives who visited him at Doorn House.
By 1925 the economic situation in Germany had improved after seven years of upheaval. The market crash of 1929 once again brought widespread unemployment. In 1930 Chancellor Bruning proposed restoring the monarchy with one of the Kaiser's grandsons (Wilhelm or Louis Ferdinand). President Hindenberg said he would accept only Wilhelm II. The Kaiser could have broken this impasse if he would have declared for one of his grandsons, but he refused.
The crown prince had returned to Germany in 1923 and knew many of the top Nazis. Hitler told him that he wanted to restore the monarchy. With the Kaiser's permission, two of his other sons, Prince August Wilhelm and Prince Oskar, joined the Nazi party. Hitler did not live up to his promise about restoring the monarchy. In 1933 Herman Goring, who at that time was the new Prussian minister-president, told the Kaiser that he could no longer draw income from his German estates but that he and his sons would be paid an allowance from the German government. The Kaiser was warned that if any of them spoke out against the Nazis the allowance would end. In January 1934 the Nazis broke up a celebration honoring Wilhelm II's 75th birthday.
After this the Kaiser's feeling toward Hitler began to decline. In 1940 after the German army invaded Holland. Churchill sent an RAF plane to take the Kaiser to the safety of England. The Kaiser declined the offer, stating that he had been accused of running away in 1918 and whatever happened he would stay in Holland. The German army soon swept over Holland and it was ordered not to fraternize with the Kaiser. This order was largely ignored and many officers sneaked into talk with the old "War Lord."
On 26 May 1940 the Kaiser's grandson (Prince Louis Ferdinand's brother) died from wounds suffered in France. His funeral in Potsdam attracted a crowd of 50,000. This outpouring of support for the monarchy enraged Hitler who issued orders that all members of the Hohenzollern family were to be dismissed from the military services. Prince Louis Ferdinand, who had been serving in the Luftwaffe as a flight instructor, was discharged at this time.
The Hohenzollern family members were afraid of reprisals and the Kaiser's court chamberlain, General Von Dommes, suggested that the Kaiser make some gesture in support of Hitler. On 15 June 1940 the Kaiser sent a telegram to Hitler congratulating him for capturing Paris. This telegram was widely published and upset monarchists who were conspiring against Hitler. The telegram was the Kaiser's last official act. He died on 5 June 1941 and was buried at Doorn House. Thus the last of the imperial leaders of the Great War was gone.
Click here to visit the Kaiser's pages at Trenches on the Web for additional info and photos.
Kaiser Wilhelm II and the author
in the lobby of the Atlantic Hotel, Hamburg.
(Photo by Mrs. Gilwee)
Bill Gilwee is a retired research chemist who worked at NASA/Ames, Moffett Field, California. He commanded a platoon in the 1st Marine Division in Korea. He grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and has a number of relatives who served in the Great War, one of whom was in Harry Truman 's Battery D. Bill has been a member of TGWS since 1987.