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Wilhelm von Preußen (1906–1940)

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Prince William of Prussia 1920

Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Joseph Christian Olaf Prince of Prussia (* 4 July 1906 in Potsdam; † 26 May 1940 in Nivelles) from the House of Hohenzollern was the eldest son of the German and Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and the Crown Princess Cecilie. The opportunities for Wilhelm to achieve historical significance, which appeared several times because of his origins, did not come to fruition.

Life

Wilhelm as a toddler with his mother

In the monarchy

Wilhelm was the first child of the Crown Prince and Crown Princess couple, and was born in the Marble Palace. On his tenth birthday, his grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm II traditionally commissioned him as a lieutenant in the 1st Guards Regiment on Foot and awarded him the Order of the Black Eagle. After his father took command of the 1st Life Hussar Regiment in Danzig, the family lived in Sopot from 1912 until the Crown Prince was transferred to Berlin in January 1914.[1] During the years of the First World War, the father was absent, after which he was in exile in the Netherlands until 1923, after which he lived mostly separately from his wife. Cecilie therefore brought up Wilhelm and his five siblings almost alone from 1914 onwards. Wilhelm’s tutor was Carl Kappus from 1916. The family moved into the newly built Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam in 1917.

Wilhelm and Louis Ferdinand of Prussia in mourning for their grandmother, 1921

When revolution inevitably loomed in early November 1918, Imperial Chancellor Max von Baden attempted to save the Hohenzollern monarchy by proposing that the emperor, who had fled to Spa, abdicate, exclude the crown prince from succession to the throne, transfer the crown to his grandson Wilhelm, and leave the regency to himself as imperial administrator and guardian of the minor emperor. The plan, with which the MSPD leader Friedrich Ebert also agreed,[2] failed due to the strict refusal of Wilhelm II.[3]

Wilhelm (right) with father and grandfather (1927)

In the Republic

Even after the end of the monarchy, Wilhelm remained the successor candidate in the Hohenzollern dynasty as head of the house and, in the event of a restoration of the monarchy, as German Emperor and King of Prussia. Active monarchist forces such as the German National People’s Party (DNVP) did not see in the abdicated emperor or in his son, who had also departed, the suitable representatives of the renewed German emperorship they wanted. They wanted Wilhelm as crown pretender under the name of Wilhelm III. Only out of “motives of tact and good taste” did the DNVP refrain from a corresponding proclamation.[4] In general, the emperor and the crown prince met with rejection in the younger, but also in the traditionalist right-wing camp, because they “left the front leaderless in the hour of danger”.[5] Ecclesiastical conservative circles doubted whether the rulers of the Republic could be regarded as “authorities” in the sense of Romans 13[6] were to be regarded as “authorities” at all. One spokesman, the theologian Reinhard Mumm, confessed in the Reichsbote: “My emperor is called Wilhelm III.”[7]

Wilhelm attended the municipal Realgymnasium in Potsdam with his brother Louis Ferdinand, where he was a student representative for team sports previously rejected in Prussian schools, such as football and handball, and was more popular than his intellectual and elitist brother.[8] In the early 1920s he joined the Jungstahlhelm as an ordinary member, to the displeasure of Wilhelm II. From 1925 Wilhelm studied law at the Albertus University in Königsberg, the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and the Rhenish Friedrich Wilhelm University in Bonn. He became a member of the Corps Borussia Bonn (1926) and Corpsschleifenträger of the Saxo-Borussia (1928).[9] He fought several Mensuren and was a second.[10] Politically Wilhelm did not step out, but was active within the respective university groups of the young Stahlhelm, which united from 1927 in the Stahlhelm-Studentenring Langemarck. In the steel helmet federation East Prussia he brought it to the national warden.

In 1926, Wilhelm inadvertently caused a political scandal. The Chief of Army Command, Colonel General Hans von Seeckt, had allowed him to take part in a maneuver of Infantry Regiment No. 9, which continued the tradition of “his” 1st Guards Regiment, without consulting Reichswehr Minister Otto Geßler. The left-liberal Geßler took the incident, denounced especially by the left-wing press, as an opportunity to have Seeckt, who was at enmity with him, deposed.

In 1927, the impostor Harry Domela caused renewed interest in his person throughout Germany and Europe, which Wilhelm did not want. He had been impersonating him in Thuringia since November 1926 and had fooled the pillars of society with his intelligent and cultivated manner. In December Domela was exposed, in January 1927 he was arrested and sentenced to seven months in prison. Well-known authors, including Thomas Mann, Kurt Tucholsky and Carl von Ossietzky, celebrated his “Köpenickiade” in the still monarchist and obedient milieu of German notables. The Malik publishing house published Domela’s account of his experiences with a portrait of Wilhelm on the dust jacket until he had this prohibited by the courts in January 1928.

Unbeknownst to him, Wilhelm played a major role in attempts by Reich Chancellor Heinrich Brüning to move closer to his long-term goal of restoring the monarchy. According to this, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg was to have held office as Reichsverweser until Wilhelm succeeded him as monarch at the age of 35. They failed because Hindenburg did not agree to a diminution of his personal power.[11]

During the National Socialist era

In the final phase of the Weimar Republic, the DNVP had aligned its policies with common ground with the National Socialists, but this only seemingly bridged the sharp antagonisms of the Stahlhelm and the SA. Wilhelm, too, initially welcomed Hitler’s seizure of power in his rare public appearances. The enthusiasm quickly faded in the face of the Gleichschaltung of the Stahlhelm, which ended with the takeover into the SA. Still in the summer of 1933 Wilhelm joined one of the circles around the deposed second Stahlhelm federal leader Theodor Duesterberg. Duesterberg’s former adjutant Hans-Jürgen Graf von Blumenthal, the young conservative editor Hans-Albrecht Herzner, and later Hans-Viktor von Salviati, the brother of Wilhelm’s fiancée, belonged to the circle of friends that had formed at two meetings of the “Langemärcker” in Naumburg in the summer and fall of 1933. A friendship developed with Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz.[12]

Wilhelm became known to the general public as a transcender of rigid class boundaries because of his connection to Dorothea von Salviati (1907-1972) from Bad Godesberg. He had fallen in love with her as a student in Bonn. The union with a daughter of the court marshal of one of Emperor Wilhelm’s sisters was not considered equal under the Hohenzollern house law and therefore met with the strict rejection of Wilhelm II and the Crown Prince. This appeared as a new chapter in the long series of generational conflicts in the House of Hohenzollern.

On 3 June 1933, Wilhelm and Dorothea were married without the family’s knowledge. Only the best man, Hubertus of Prussia, was privy to it. Wilhelm had thus renounced his first-born rights and his successor role passed to his next-born brother Louis Ferdinand. Hitler now opined to third parties that with this break in Hohenzollern tradition, the “monarchical idea in Germany was buried.” Nevertheless, he at times considered Wilhelm suitable to assume a representative role in the Nazi state.[13] Wilhelm himself had already declared in April 1933 that his father’s and grandfather’s ideas of a return to monarchy under the National Socialists were illusions.[14] On the “restoration of military sovereignty” Wilhelm wished to take up a career as an active officer in the Wehrmacht. Hitler prevented this, despite the support of the highly respected Field Marshal August von Mackensen.[15] Wilhelm became a reserve officer in the 1st Infantry Regiment in Königsberg.[16] From 1935 onwards he lived as a landowner and farmer with his wife and their two daughters Felicitas and Christa at Klein Obisch Castle near Glogau in Silesia.

In 1938, Wilhelm’s circle of friends joined the initiators of the coup plans known as the September Conspiracy. The plans were triggered by the idea that Hitler’s policies in the Sudeten crisis were steering Germany into a war against the Western powers that was hopeless from the outset. The conspirators wanted to capture Hitler in the Reich Chancellery by a shock troop under Erwin von Witzleben.[17] He was to be either tried or declared insane by doctors. Several meetings of Wilhelm with Hans Oster, the main participant and collaborator of Wilhelm Canaris in the Abwehr, are documented.[18] In addition, through Heinz, contacts had been established with representatives of the Social Democratic camp such as Wilhelm Leuschner, Julius Leber and Gustav Dahrendorf, with the trade unionist Hermann Maaß and with bourgeois opposition figures around Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who agreed with the replacement of the Nazi state by a constitutional monarchy based on the example of Great Britain and strictly rejected any return to “Wilhelmine conditions”.

In the first half of August 1938, the participants met in Klein Obisch and discussed a draft constitution with Wilhelm. Previously, there had been disagreement on the question of who should assume the role of head of state in the desired military dictatorship. In the end, Goerdeler also agreed to proclaim Wilhelm regent of the Reich and later to place him at the head of a re-established monarchy.[19]

It is unclear whether Wilhelm was aware of the intention, kept secret from the other conspirators, of Stoßtrupp participants Oster and Heinz to kill Hitler in a faked scuffle upon his arrest. As a participant in the conspiracy, which was already bogged down, Heinz informed Wilhelm of the failure of the attempted coup a week after the Munich Conference.[20] In the Munich Agreement, Hitler had prevailed thanks to the appeasement policies of the Western powers and was at the height of his foreign policy successes. In view of this, the conspirators refrained from continuing their enterprise.

Renewed, but practically unfeasible, plans for overthrow by the conspiratorial group came after the outbreak of World War II in October 1939, when Germany had begun an obviously unwinnable war by invading Poland. This time the plan was to liquidate the entire Nazi leadership, hold free elections, return to the rule of law, and initiate peace negotiations. There were no plans to restore the monarchy. The pretender to the throne, Louis Ferdinand, would have been ready, but he was difficult to assess, and Wilhelm had made it clear that he rejected a wartime coup d’état.[21]

Death and burial

While participating in the French campaign as a first lieutenant with the Wehrmacht’s 1st Infantry Division in May 1940, Wilhelm was severely wounded during the storming of Valenciennes on 23 May 1940. Three days later he died in a field hospital in Nivelles, Belgium. According to his last will and testament, which he had communicated to Salviati, Heinz delivered the death notice to his widow and took over the care of his daughters.[16]

The public learned nothing of the prince’s death from the press and radio. The news itself, as well as the place and date of the funeral, could only become known through funeral notices and from word of mouth, but nevertheless spread quickly. On 29 May 1940, after the funeral service in the Friedenskirche, 50,000 people dressed in black formed a three-kilometre-long silent line through Sanssouci Park to the Temple of Antiquity, the burial site. The monarchic-conservative part of the opposition to the Nazi regime had seen Wilhelm as a beacon of hope until the end of his life.[22] The largest unorganized mass rally of his reign prompted Hitler to promulgate the Princes’ Decree, which initially prohibited members of former German ruling dynasties from serving on the front and, from 1943, from serving in the Wehrmacht in general.

Wilhelm’s funeral had shown for the last time the considerable size of the former ruling family’s potential counter-charisma to Hitler. However, it did not use it in any form against National Socialism, either during Wilhelm’s lifetime or later.[23] The Gestapo only came across the September Conspiracy of 1938 and its ramifications during the investigation of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944. Put in the picture by Walter Huppenkothen in October 1944, Hitler ordered the findings to be kept absolutely secret and forbade them to be passed on to the Chief Reich Prosecutor.[24]

Children

  • Felicitas Cecilie Alexandrine Helene Dorothea Princess of Prussia (* 7 June 1934 in Bonn; † 1 August 2009 in Wohltorf) ∞ I. Bonn 12 September 1958 (divorced 1972) Dinnies von der Osten (* 21 May 1929 in Köslin); ∞ II. Aumühle 27 October 1972 Jörg von Nostitz-Wallwitz (* 26 September 1937 in Verden/Aller)
  • Christa Friederike Alexandrine Viktoria Princess of Prussia (* 31 October 1936 in Klein Obisch) ∞ Wahlscheid 24 March 1960 Peter Liebes (* 18 January 1926 in Munich, † 5 May 1967 in Bonn)

Literature

  • Prince William of Prussia, in: International Biographical Archive 09/1955 of 21 February 1955, in the Munzinger Archive (article available free of charge)

Web links

Commons: William of Prussia– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. Helga Tödt: The Krupps of the East. Schichau and his heirs. An industrial dynasty on the Baltic Sea. Pro Business 2012, ISBN 978-3-86386-345-6, p. 120.
  2. On the MSPD’s policy on the abdication question in late October/early November 1918, see Lothar Machtan: Kaisersturz. Vom Scheitern im Herzen der Macht 1918. Theiss, Darmstadt 2018, ISBN 978-3-8062-3760-3, pp. 150-156.
  3. On the rescue plan, see Theodor Eschenburg: Max von Baden. In ders: The improvised democracy. Collected essays on the Weimar Republic. Piper, Munich 1963, pp. 103-109.
  4. Gestalten rings um Hindenburg (anonymous, e. i. Kurt von Reibnitz). Reisser, Dresden 1928, p. 170.
  5. On the “widespread basic attitude” see Susanne Meinl: Nationalsozialisten gegen Hitler. The national revolutionary opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 274 f., there the quotation of Hermann Ehrhardt (1926, Bund Wiking) and similarly Theodor Duesterberg (Stahlhelm, 1933).
  6. Romans. Chapter 13 in the Luther edition of 1912 at Bibel-online.net
  7. Cited in Karl Kupisch: Die deutschen Landeskirchen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-52376-9, p. 99 f.
  8. See the biography of Wilhelm in Susanne Meinl: Nationalsozialisten gegen Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, pp. 196-201.
  9. Kösener Corpslisten 1960, 9/1013; 66/1460
  10. B. von Donner: Memories of Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. Deutsche Corpszeitung 6/1958, p. 189 f.
  11. Wolfram Pyta: Hindenburg. Herrschaft zwischen Hohenzollern und Hitler. Siedler, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-88680-865-6, pp. 650-653.
  12. On the “Naumburg Circle” around Wilhelm, see Susanne Meinl: Nationalsozialisten gegen Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 200.
  13. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. Die nationalrevolutionäre Opposition um Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 293 f.; on the citation of Hitler p. 411, footnote 68.
  14. Towards the journalist Bella Fromm, Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The national revolutionary opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 198.
  15. Theo Schwarzmüller: Between Kaiser and “Führer”. Field Marshal August von Mackensen. A political biography. Schöningh, Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, Zurich 1995, ISBN 3-506-78283-5, p. 375.
  16. a b Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 311.
  17. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 291 f.
  18. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 293.
  19. Peter Hoffmann. Resistance, Coup d’Etat, Assassination. The struggle of the opposition against Hitler. Ullstein, Frankfurt (M.), Berlin, Vienna 1974, ISBN 3-548-03077-7, p. 703, footnote 253.
  20. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 300.
  21. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. The National Revolutionary Opposition around Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 308 f.
  22. On this and the later funeral service, see Gerd Heinrich: Geschichte Preußens. State and Dynasty. Ullstein, Frankfurt/M., Berlin, Wien 1984, ISBN 3-548-34216-7, p. 515 f.
  23. Stephan Malinowski:The Hohenzollerns and Hitler.Cicero online, 30 June 2005, accessed 14 February 2020.
  24. Susanne Meinl: National Socialists against Hitler. Die nationalrevolutionäre Opposition um Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz. Siedler, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-88680-613-8, p. 326.