Fact of the day: January 23rd

On this day in 1920 the Netherlands refused to surrender ex Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to the Allies.

Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium, when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late 1918. Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine, the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him. After the outbreak of the German Revolution, Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate. Up to that point, he accepted that he would likely have to give up the imperial crown, but still hoped to retain the Prussian kingship. The unreality of this belief was revealed when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm’s abdication of both titles on 9 November 1918.

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On 10 November, Wilhelm now a private citizen, crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war. Upon the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles in early 1919, Article 227 expressly provided for the prosecution of Wilhelm “for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties”, but Queen Wilhelmina refused to extradite him, despite appeals from the Allies. King George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as “the greatest criminal in history”, but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s proposal to “hang the Kaiser”. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States rejected extradition, arguing that punishing Wilhelm for waging war would destabilize international order and lose the peace.

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