Kaiser Wilhelm II reflects on his abdication (1922)

Writing in 1922, the former Kaiser Wilhelm II – then living in exile in Holland – reflected on the events of late 1918 that led to his abdication:

“The decision as to my going or staying, as to my renunciation of the Imperial Crown and retention of the Royal Crown of Prussia, was summarily snatched from me. The army was shaken to the core by the erroneous belief that its King had abandoned it at the most critical moment of all.

If the conduct of the Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, is considered as a whole, it looks like this: first, a solemn declaration that he will place himself, together with the new Government, before the Emperor’s throne, to protect it; then, the suppression of an address which might have made a favorable impression on public opinion; then the removal of the Emperor from all cooperation in the Government; the sacrifice of the respect due to the Emperor by the lifting of censorship; failure to support the monarchy in the matter of abdication; then, attempts to persuade the Emperor to abdicate voluntarily; and, finally, the announcement of my abdication by wireless, whereby the Chancellor went over my head.

This sequence of events shows the course—a perilous one for the nation—followed by Scheidemann, who held the Chancellor in the palm of his hand. Scheidemann left the ministers, his colleagues, in the dark as to his real purposes, drove Prince Max from one step to another, and finally summoned Ebert, declaring that the leaders no longer had the masses under control. Thus he caused the Prince to sacrifice the Emperor, the princes, and the Empire and made him the destroyer of the Empire. After that, Scheidemann overthrew the weak princely “statesman.”

After the arrival of the wireless message, the situation was difficult. To be sure, troops were being transported to Spa for the purpose of proceeding undisturbed with work at the main headquarters, but the Field Marshal no longer thought it possible to absolutely count on their reliability in the event that rebellious forces should advance from Aix-le-Chapelle and Cologne and confront our troops with the dilemma of whether or not to fight against their own comrades. In view of this, he advised me to leave the army and go to some neutral country, for the purpose of avoiding such a “civil war.”

I went through a fearful internal struggle. On the one hand, I, as a soldier, was outraged by the idea of abandoning my still faithful, brave troops. On the other hand, our foes had declared that they were unwilling to work with me to conclude any peace endurable to Germany, and there was also my own Government’s statement that civil war as to be prevented only by my departure for foreign lands.

In this struggle, I set aside all that was personal. I consciously sacrificed myself and my throne in the belief that, by so doing, I was best serving the interests of my beloved Fatherland. The sacrifice was in vain. My departure brought us neither better armistice conditions nor better peace terms; nor did it prevent civil war – on the contrary, it hastened and intensified, in the most pernicious manner, the disintegration of the army and the nation.”