A LIFE IN CONSTANT STRUGGLE

Click here to see the baptism entry.

The constant struggle with life, society and death defined the existence of the last Emperor of the German Empire that was proclaimed in 1871. Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Preußen (Prussia) was born on 27 January 1859 in the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin. The screenshots from Archion show his baptism and confirmation entries. Complications during his birth resulted in an undersupply and subsequent paralysis of the prince’s left arm. The arm remained underdeveloped all his life. His mother Victoria (1840 - 1901), daughter of the British Queen Victoria, considered this her personal fault and tried to remedy her son’s disability by cures that were at times bizarre. These tortures were responsible for the uneasiness with which Wilhelm thought back to his childhood. 

Click here to see the confirmation entry.

Wilhelm ruled over the German Empire for thirty years, coining this timespan from 1888 to 1918 the “Wilhelmine era” Brought up with a strict hand, striving for recognition and always aware of falling short of the requirements of his position, Wilhelm became a suspicious person who immediately saw the bad sides of his fellow human beings. In a letter from the 1890s, his mother warned him not to fall victim to the pride and boastfulness that high positions of power involve: “You are young, healthy, and successful, and arrogant & boastful in the pride of your newly gained power, (...) a selfish disregard of the feelings & desires of other people always, sooner or later, severely punishes the selfish person itself & lack of childish humbleness never remains unrevenged.”   

His nationalist, conservative and relentless military attitude becomes particularly evident in his speeches. We are still familiar with quotes, e.g. from the famous “Hun speech” on occasion of the suppression of the Boxer Uprising in China: “There shall be no forgiveness!” Prisoners shall not be taken! Who falls into your hands shall be forfeited to you! As a thousand years ago the Huns under their king Etzel made a name for themselves (...) the name German shall be confirmed by you in China for a thousand years in a way that a Chinese shall never again dare to look at a German disapprovingly!”    

In spite of his efforts to relieve the Germans’ distress - among other things by banning Sunday work, night work for women and children and women’s work during the last months of pregnancy and by introducing work restrictions for children under fourteen - the press criticized the Emperor’s policy throughout his life. After the end of World War I and major political changes, he was advised to abdicate voluntarily. Even though considerations of a military offensive against the progressing revolution were virulent, the Emperor had no choice but to resign. The revolution had reached Berlin, Max von Baden (Badenia) already announced Wilhelm’s abdication as Emperor and King and transferred the office of the Imperial Chancellor to Friedrich Ebert. At the same time, Philipp Scheidemann and Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the republic. Wilhelm officially abdicated on 28 November 1918, 19 days after these events. Still, his desire to return to the throne remained unbroken. Thus, after going into exile to the Netherlands, he arranged that his bones should only be transferred to German ground once the monarchy had been established again. On 4 June 1941, he died in the House of Doorn.