Key Figures in World War I
World War I was a major conflict from 1915 to 1918 which pitted the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary against the Allied Powers of the British Empire, France, Russia, Italy and their allies. Two of the most iconic figures from the war were the leaders from each side: the Allied Powers’ Kaiser Wilhelm II, and the Central Powers’ Adolf Hitler. Despite the fact that they were enemies, it is uncertain whether the two figures ever crossed paths.
Kaiser Wilhelm II was the ruler of the German Empire, having inherited the role from his grandfather Kaiser Friedrich III. Admired as “the preferred leader” of Germany, Wilhelm was seen as a progressive individual, often taking risks or making daring decisions. He was experienced in the navy and was keen to highlight the German nation in a positive light, leaving a large footprint during his rule.
Adolf Hitler, on the other hand, was a brilliant and charismatic Austrian-born leader who rose to power as the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany. Famous for his powerful rally speeches, divisive rhetoric and notorious reputation, Hitler worked to simultaneously restore Germany’s pride and advance his own doctrines. The combination of his rhetoric and charisma was mentioned by historians and experts as being integral in shaping the state of the Third Reich.
Did They Ever Meet?
Over a century after WWI, it is impossible to definitively answer whether Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler ever had the chance to meet. Some historians believe that it is very unlikely; after all, the two men held opposing view points on how Germany should be run. Wilhelm advocated for progressive reforms, while Hitler’s early speeches revolved around right-wing nationalism.
However, there are some experts who are willing to entertain the idea of the two men crossing paths. Though they profess that such a meeting was unlikely, they point out the possibility of the two meeting during the years before World War I. It was during this period that Hitler was still a young politician. On the other hand, Wilhelm was busy working on diplomatic missions.
These experts provide evidence and context to back up their hypotheses. In 1907, for instance, Kaiser Wilhelm traveled to Vienna once for negotiations and to arrive at a solution for the Bosnian Crisis. During his 9 day stay, he stayed at the Imperial Palace, where Adolf Hitler was encountered in the same year. Experts point to this as possible evidence of a possible at least passing acquaintance.
Kaiser Wilhelm’s Relationship with Austria-Hungary
As Kaiser, Wilhelm had a complex relationship with Austria-Hungary. Under his rule, Germany and Austria-Hungary had a timeline in which they both prospered economically and militarily, had cultural exchanges and exchanged ideologies between both nations. The relationship between Wilhelm and the Austro-Hungarians was shared both by Wilhelm and from some of the leaders of Austria including Franz-Joseph who both ruled their lands at the same time. While Wilhelm had a good relationship with any Hungarian leader from his court his relations with Austria had been more tumultuous due to Wilhelm trying to manipulate the internal politics of that country.
Wilhelm followed the policy of what he had called the Dreibund, which was an alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. During those years, Wilhelm tried to create a stronger and more independent German Empire and the Dreibund was the way to get to that goal. With this policy, Wilhelm tried to be a coordinator between Germany and Austria-Hungary, but all the while consolidating Germany’s power, military, and political presence. This policy, however, was not truly successful, as it created tension and distrust between Wilhelm and the Austrians.
At the same time, Wilhelm was known to be a good politician, and had a vision of regaining Germany’s honor and reputation after the tensions of the Franco-Prussian War. After the war between Russia and Japan in 1904, Wilhelm saw an opening for Germany to become a major player in the international scene. The fall of the prestige of France, Russia and the Ottoman Empire, gave Wilhelm an opportunity for Germany to become a major power in Europe. By Germany supporting the Austria-Hungary alliance, Wilhelm was trying to gain more diplomatic powers for Germany that could convert into military strength.
The Death of Kaiser Wilhelm II
Kaiser Wilhelm died in 1941, five days after Adolf Hitler. Following the death of Wilhelm, his son, Prince Eitel Fredirch, took over and ruled until the monarchy was abolished in 1918. Wilhelm is buried in his family tomb in the Church of Peace in Potsdam, Germany. His death was a pivotal event in Germany’s history, with many historians crediting the start of World War I and the political instability in central Europe to Wilhelm’s rule.
Wilhelm had been unjustly blamed for leading Germany into World War I. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked the war, was believed to have been incited by Wilhelm’s foreign policies. He was declared a war criminal in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles, a peace agreement between the Allied Powers and Germany which ended the war. Despite this, Kaiser Wilhelm has been remembered for his progressive ideas and vision for central Europe, many of which heavily influenced Adolf Hitler.
DidHitler Inherit Kaiser Wilhelm’s Policies?
Adolf Hitler was heavily influenced by Kaiser Wilhelm’s policy of ‘drang nach osten’ which was also known as the ‘drive to the east’. This policy was aimed at expanding German territory in the east. Hitler saw this as an opportunity to extend German power and influence, despite facing resistance from the Slavic nations which were considered by Hitler as inferior to the German nation.
Hitler’s ambitions were regarded as a continuation of Wilhelm’s policies. This is mainly due to the fact that both figures were nationalists, with ambitions of making Germany the leading power in Europe. Furthermore, Hitler also believed in racial superiority, much like Kaiser Wilhelm who was known to have advocated for ‘Völkisch’ German nationalism. Historians believe that Hitler’s policies such as his anti-Semitism and pro-Aryan ideology were closely inspired by Wilhelm and the policies he implemented in the late 19th century.
Hitler and Wilhelm both believed in strong German leadership. Hitler compared himself to Wilhelm in this respect and their similarities can be seen in the way in which they both treated their armies as if they were extensions of their own will. Historians have also pointed out that both figures believed in territorial expansion as a way of strengthening the German nation. Marrying these two factors together, historians believe that Hitler merely continued the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm.
Hitler’s Legacy in Post-War Germany
Hitler’s legacy in post-war Germany has been complicated, with many Germans rejecting the national pride which he championed. In Germany, much of what Hitler represented has been condemned. Most of the Nazi symbols and writings were outlawed, and the Nazi era is largely left out of the traditional German school curriculum. Despite this, there are some German conservatives who still display admiration for Hitler and his ideology, and openly engage in neo-Nazi activities.
Hitler is remembered for his attempts to unite Germany and reignite the German pride which had been squandered due to the humiliating terms of surrender at the end of World War I. To this day, Germany still suffers from a certain national insecurity due to the legacy of World War I. It is undeniable that Adolf Hitler left a lasting legacy, both positive and negative, on Germany and the rest of the world.
The Impact of Wilhelm and Hitler on World War I and II
Though Wilhelm and Hitler were two different figures, Kaiser Wilhelm’s influence over Adolf Hitler is undeniable. Wilhelm had a major impact on internal German politics, laying the groundwork for a more unified German state which would later be nurtured by Hitler. In regards to World War I, Wilhelm must also take responsibility for his role in leading Germany into a catastrophic war.
Similarly, Adolf Hitler’s impact on the world is undeniable. Hitler led the Nazi party, which irreversibly changed the course of history by plunging Europe and the rest of the world into another major conflict. The policy of ‘drang nach osten’ and his pro-Aryan ideology are still the basis of many neo-Nazi organizations today. Overall, the impact of these two figures on world history is immense.
In conclusion, while the possibility of Adolf Hitler and Kaiser Wilhelm meeting is still debatable, what is certain is the major impact that both of these figures had on history. Their policies and views changed the course of both World War I and II, and their influence is still at the forefront of German politics. Wilhelm and Hitler, though enemies, left a lasting legacy in Germany and the world, a legacy which is still echoed today.