1916-1925: America– War and Peace

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Author: William II of Germany  | Date: 1918

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The Kaiser Abdicates and Apologizes in Exile

BY the present document I renounce forever my rights to the crown of Prussia and the rights to the German imperial crown. I release at the same time all the officials of the German Empire and Prussia and also all officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the Prussian Navy and Army and of contingents from confederated States from the oath of fidelity they have taken to me, as their Emperor, King, and supreme chief.

I expect from them until a new organization of the German Empire exists that they will aid those who effectively hold the power in Germany to protect the German people against the menacing dangers of anarchy, famine, and foreign domination.

Made and executed and signed by our own hand with the imperial seal at Amerongen, November 28 (1918).

WILHELM

* * * *

For thirty years the army was my pride. For it I lived, upon it I labored. And now, after four and a half brilliant years of war with unprecedented victories, it was forced to collapse by the stab in the back from the dagger of the revolutionists, at the very moment when peace was within reach!

And the fact that it was in my proud navy, my creation, that there was first open rebellion, cut me most deeply to the heart.

There has been much talk about my having abandoned the army and gone to neutral foreign parts.

Some say the Emperor should have gone to some regiment at the front, hurled himself with it upon the enemy, and sought death in one last attack. That, however, would not only have rendered impossible the Armistice, ardently desired by the nation, concerning which the commission sent from Berlin to General Foch was already negotiating, but would also have meant the useless sacrifice of the lives of many soldiers—of some of the very best and most faithful, in fact.

Others say the Emperor should have returned home at the head of the army. But a peaceful return was no longer possible; the rebels had already seized the Rhine bridges and other important points in the rear of the army. I could, to be sure, have forced my way back at the head of loyal troops taken from the fighting front; but by so doing, I should have put the finishing touch to Germany’s collapse, since, in addition to the struggle with the enemy, who would certainly have pressed forward in pursuit, civil war would also have ensued.

Still others say the Emperor should have killed himself. That was made impossible by my firm Christian beliefs. And would not people have exclaimed:

"How cowardly! Now he shirks all responsibility by committing suicide!" This alternative was also eliminated because I had to consider how to be of help and use to my people and my country in the evil time that was to be foreseen.

I knew also that I was particularly called upon to champion the cause of my people in the clearing up of the question of war guilt—which was disclosing itself more and more as the pivotal point in our future destiny—since I, better than anyone else, could bear witness to Germany’s desire for peace and to our clean conscience.

After unspeakably arduous soul struggles, and following the most urgent advice of my counselors of the highest rank who were present at the moment, I decided to leave the country, since, in view of the reports made to me, I must needs believe that, by so doing, I should most faithfully serve Germany, make possible better armistice and peace terms for her, and spare her further loss of human lives, distress and misery….

When the Entente’s demand that I and the German army leaders should be surrendered for trial before Entente tribunals became known, I immediately asked myself whether I could be of use to my fatherland by giving myself up before the German people and the German Government had expressed themselves regarding this demand. It was clear to me that, in the opinion of the Entente, such a surrender would so seriously shake the prestige of Germany, as a state and people, for all time, that we could never again take our place, with equal rights, equal dignity, and equal title to alliances, in the first rank of nations, where we belonged.

I recognized it as my duty not to sacrifice the honor and dignity of Germany. The question resolved itself in deciding whether there was any way to give myself up which might benefit the German nation and not subject it to the above-mentioned disadvantages. Were there such a way I should have been ready without hesitation to add another sacrifice to those already made.

The question of my giving myself up has also been debated—as I know—in well-meaning and earnest German circles. Wherever this was due to psychological depression or failure to realize the impression which self-chastisement, self-debasement, and fruitless martyrdom in the face of the Entente’s demand, cursorily mentioned above, it was in order to arrive at a cleancut decision—in other words, at an emphatic refusal.

It was otherwise with the considerations based upon the assumption that I might, by taking upon myself, before the eyes of the whole world, the responsibility for all important decisions and acts of my Government connected with the war, contribute toward making the fate of the German nation easier. Here was not an act of unpolitical sentimentality, but, on the contrary, a deed which, in my eyes, had much to commend it. The thought that, according to the Constitution of the Empire then in force, not I, but the Chancellor alone as well known—bore the responsibility, would naturally not have bothered me with regard to this.

Had there been even the slightest prospect of bettering Germany’s situation by taking such a step, there would have been no possible doubt for me personally as to what I should do. Already I had shown my personal willingness to sacrifice myself when I left the country and gave up the throne of my fathers, because I had been erroneously and deceivingly assured that I could, by so doing, make possible better peace terms for my people and prevent civil war. I should likewise have made this further attempt to help my people, despite the fact that, in the meantime, one of the considerations in favor of it which have been urged upon me—viz., the prevention of civil war—had already turned out to be false.

There was, however, no possibility of helping the German people by such an act. Surrender of my person would have had no result beyond our obedience to the demand from the Entente that I be given up. For no tribunal in the world can pronounce a just sentence before the state archives of all the nations participating in the war are thrown open, as has been done, and is still being done, by Germany.

Who, after the unprecedented judgment of Versailles, could still summon up optimism enough to believe that the Entente nations would place their secret documents at the disposal of such a tribunal? Therefore, after careful reflection on my part, I gave the decisive importance that was due to the above-mentional dignity and honor, and rejected the idea of giving myself up. It was not for me to play the role of Vercingetorix, who, as is well known, relying upon the magnanimity of his foes, surrendered himself to them in order to obtain a better fate for his people. In view of the conduct of our enemies during the war and in the peace negotiations, it was surely not to be assumed that the Entente would show any greater magnanimity than did Caesar when he threw the noble Gaul into chains, subsequently had him executed, and, in spite of what Vercingetorix had done, enslaved his people just the same.

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Chicago: William II of Germany, "The Kaiser Abdicates and Apologizes in Exile," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.187-192 Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JIAXRYZY3BHZBBD.

MLA: William II of Germany. "The Kaiser Abdicates and Apologizes in Exile." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.187-192, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JIAXRYZY3BHZBBD.

Harvard: William II of Germany, 'The Kaiser Abdicates and Apologizes in Exile' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.187-192. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JIAXRYZY3BHZBBD.