The last measure of the House of Hohenzollern, 80 years ago today
Note this official Christmas card of Kaiser Wilhelm II sent to Hugh, 5th Earl of Lonsdale in 1910. The card features a portrait of the Kaiser with his first grandson Wilhelm, eldest son of the Kaiser’s heir, Crown Prince Wilhelm. The card bears the Kaiser’s handwritten greetings in English.
Although the Kaiser fled his country for exile in Holland in November 1918 and never returned to Germany, a number of his sons and grandsons remained in the Vaterland, often falling back on the “family business” of becoming Army officers.
While the Crown Prince had nominally led an Army Group in the Great War (and was held by the French as a war criminal because of it in 1945), he was blackballed and kept under close Gestapo surveillance after 1933, lest he would go on to inspire monarchists.
Ironically, the Crown Prince’s brother, Prince August Wilhelm, was allowed to serve in the SA, reaching the rank of SA-Obergruppenführer. Another brother, Prince Oskar, who had been wounded twice in the great war, was allowed to join the Wehrmacht as a “Generalmajor zur Verfügung” (Major general, unassigned). Prince Louis Ferdinand, an aviation buff, flew in the recently-restored Luftwaffe.
Further, two of the Crown Prince’s sons, Prince Hubertus– who joined the Wehrmacht in 1934 and served as an officer in the 8th Infantry Regiment– and Prince Wilhelm, the young boy seen with his grandfather at the top, saw line service in WWII. Tragically, their first cousin, Prince Oskar’s son, Prince Oskar Wilhelm Karl Hans Kuno, was killed as a lieutenant in the opening act of the conflict on 5 September 1939 at Widawka in Poland, aged 24.
Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, the former Kaiser’s favorite grandson and the former Crown Prince’s no. 1 son, died of wounds in a field hospital in Nivelles on 26 May 1940, aged 33. At the time, he was an Oberleutnant der Reserve in Kleffel’s 1. Infanterie-Division, serving as a company commander in the elite 1st Regiment.
The high profile of his death, and that of Prince Oskar Wilhelm’s death in Poland the previous September, led Hitler to issue the so-called Prinzenerlass, or “princes’ decree” which removed all of the remaining Hohenzollerns from the German military.
Nonetheless, they would not be the last of their line to die for Germany.
In 1977, Prince Louis Ferdinand Oskar Christian of Prussia, grandson of the Crown Prince and great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was killed while on maneuvers with the Bundeswehr, which he had joined in 1967 as a reserve officer. He was 33.