GHDI logo

Kaiser Wilhelm II on his Abdication (Retrospective Account, 1922)

page 3 of 3    print version    return to list previous document      next document


For thirty years, the army was my pride and joy. 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 a stab in the back from the dagger of the revolutionaries—at the very moment when peace was within reach!

And the fact that it was in my proud navy, my own creation, that the first open rebellion occurred, 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, and, together with it, hurled himself upon the enemy, seeking death in one last attack. That, however, would not only have rendered impossible the armistice, so ardently desired by the nation, and concerning which the commission sent from Berlin to General Foch was already negotiating, but it would have also 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 transferred from the fighting front; but, by so doing, I would have put the finishing touches on Germany’s collapse, since, in addition to the struggle with the enemy, who certainly would have pressed forward in pursuit, civil war would have also 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 anticipated.

I knew also that I, in particular, would be called upon to champion the cause of my people in clearing up the question of war guilt—which was increasingly becoming the decisive point in our future destiny—since I better than anyone could bear witness to Germany’s desire for peace and to our clean conscience.

After unspeakably arduous internal struggles, and following the most urgent advice of the highest ranking counselors who were present at the moment, I decided to leave the country, since, in view of the reports provided to me, I believed that, by so doing, I would most faithfully serve Germany, enable better armistice and peace terms for her, and spare her the further loss of human lives, distress, and misery.

Source of English translation: Wilhelm II, The Kaiser's Memoirs. English translation by Thomas R.Ybarra. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1922, pp. 285-91. English translation edited by GHDI staff.

Source of original German text: Kaiser Wilhlem II, Ereignisse und Gestalten aus den Jahren 1878-1918. Leipzig und Berlin: Verlag von K. F. Koehler, 1922, pp. 242-46.

first page < previous   |   next > last page