January 23

This Day in History

World War I

Jan 23, 1920:

Netherlands refuses to extradite Kaiser Wilhelm to the Allies

On this day in 1920, the Dutch government refuses demands by the Allies for the extradition of Wilhelm II, the former kaiser of Germany, who has been living in exile in the Netherlands since November 1918.

By early November 1918, things were looking dismal for the Central Powers on all fronts of the Great War. The kaiser was at German army headquarters in the Belgian resort town of Spa when news reached him, in quick succession, of labor unrest in Berlin, a mutiny within the Imperial Navy and what looked like the beginnings of full-fledged revolution in Germany. From every direction, it seemed, came calls for peace, reform and the removal of the kaiser. Wilhelm II was told that the German General Staff would make a unified, orderly march home to Germany when the war ended, but it would not defend him against his internal opponents.

Faced with this lack of support, the kaiser agreed to abdicate his throne on November 9, 1918. Shortly after that, Wilhelm, the last of the powerful Hohenzollern monarchs, traveled from Spa to Holland, never to return to German soil.

In January 1920, Wilhelm headed the list of so-called war criminals put together by the Allies and made public after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The Netherlands, under the young, strong-willed Queen Wilhelmina, refused to extradite him for prosecution and Wilhelm remained in Holland, where he settled in the municipality of Doorn. Personal tragedy struck when his son, Joachim, committed suicide later in 1920. Augusta, his wife and the mother of his seven children, died barely a year later. In 1922, Wilhelm remarried and published his memoirs, proclaiming his innocence in the promotion of the Great War.

Unlike Wilhelmina and the rest of the Dutch royal family, Wilhelm turned down Winston Churchill's offer of asylum in Britain in 1940, as Hitler's armies pushed through Holland, choosing instead to live under German occupation. He died the following year.

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