The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Preface
After the Revolution of November 9th, 1918, I was requested by the People's Commissioners to enter the Foreign Office as a collateral Secretary of State. One of the first tasks which I set myself was to ascertain whether incriminating material had been removed from the archives, as many at that time feared would be the case. I saw nothing to confirm this suspicion. On the contrary, the first materials which I obtained to test it showed that important materials were at hand. I proposed to the Commissioners that, as a beginning, the documents relating to the outbreak of the war should be published. We owed that to the German people, who had a right to learn the truth about those who had hitherto guided the course of the State. It was, I urged, also necessary because nothing else could so clearly bring home to the incredulous foreigner our complete breach with the old régime.
The Commissioners agreed with me, and entrusted me with the collection and editing of the documents. My past record was, I hope, a warrant that no inconvenient material would be suppressed. The only reservation made was that I should not, like Eisner, issue the separate documents according as they came to light, but should wait until they all lay ready to hand. Politically, this was not quite the most desirable plan, for it necessarily meant the postponing of the publication and of its favourable influence on foreign countries. But it cut the ground from under the champions of the old régime, who could not say that we were garbling the material, and producing documents torn from their context, to which no evidential force could be attached.
I recognized the justice of this view and acted accordingly.
When, in December, my party colleagues, Barth, Dittmann and Haase, left the Government, I also resigned my post as State Secretary, but declared my willingness to proceed with the collection and editing of the war-documents. On this I received the following missive, dated January 4th:
“In reply to your communication of January 2nd, the Imperial Government requests you to continue your activity as joint-editor of the documents relating to the outbreak of the war.
“For the Imperial Government,
The term “joint-editor” refers to the practice in vogue during those weeks of associating a Majority and an Independent Socialist in all the higher offices, and Quarck had been appointed along with me.
This practice ceased with the withdrawal of the Independents from the Government. Quarck's joint-editorship also shortly came to an end, and I remained sole editor.
But I need hardly say that I did not execute alone the whole of this great task. Before I had obtained other help, my wife, who had, indeed, for past decades been associated with the planning and execution of almost all my works, came loyally to my aid. Before long, however, a special editorial bureau was found to be necessary.
The work had to be speeded up, and, besides this, I had literary work to do in connection with the Department of Socialization. In December, Quarck and I had already appealed to Dr. Gustav Mayer to let us call upon him for more workers in the collection and arrangement of the documents than I was able to give. He cordially agreed, although he was thus obliged to lay aside other tasks in which he was interested. At his instance we also obtained the services of Dr. Hermann Meyer, Archivist of the Secret Archives of State, for archival work, and then, at the beginning of February, as the work accumulated and a speedy conclusion became desirable, we engaged also Dr. Richard Wolff and Fräulein N. Stiebel, cand. hist.
I feel it my duty to thank all of the above, and particularly the two gentlemen first mentioned, for the valuable and devoted labours which they gave to this great undertaking.
They put it in my power to inform Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, on March 26th, that the collection was practically completed and could at once be set up in type. There were, indeed, a number of points still to be settled: thus, the dates of dispatch or reception of certain documents could not at the moment be accurately fixed. But these and other matters, such as a table of contents, etc., could be added during the process of composition.
It was necessary to go to press as soon as possible if we wished, before the opening of peace negotiations, to lay before the world the clearest evidence that the German Government, which should conduct these negotiations, had nothing whatever in common with that which had declared war.
But the Government clearly took another view. They postponed the publication, and issued, instead of these documents, a report on the outbreak of the war in the White Book of June, 1919, to which reference is made in the present work, and which reveals anything but a breach with the policy of the fallen Government.
While my colleagues and I were awaiting instructions to send the collection to the printers, we occupied ourselves in the completion of the work and in giving it the finishing touches. As, however, the hopes of a speedy permission to go to press became ever more remote, I could not withhold my colleagues from the other urgent duties which were calling them. At the beginning of May they concluded their work on the documents. I knew, however, that I could reckon on their immediate services as soon as we received orders to print.
Yet even after the signing of the Peace Treaty these orders were delayed.
At last, one fine day in the middle of September, I was rung up on the telephone about this matter—not, indeed, by the Foreign Office, but by a newspaper, which wanted to know whether it was true that Herren Mendelssohn, Montgelas and Schücking were to publish my collection, and not myself. I could only reply that I knew less of it than did the inquirer. I only heard of it through the newspapers.
The Government was, in fact, so wanting in good faith as to give to others, without even informing me of the fact, the publication of the collection of documents undertaken by me and carried out under my direction.
To this day the reasons for throwing me overboard have never been clear to me. The Government has never given any.
Their proceedings created so much bad blood that they found themselves compelled to call in. Professor Schücking and Count Montgelas came to me at the end of September with the assurance that what they intended to publish was exclusively my collection, in which not a line should be altered without my consent. I was also to receive every facility for seeing the work through the press. They begged me to sanction the publication.
These two gentlemen were therefore, to all intents and purposes, merely commissioned to subject my work to a supervision which I had no reason to shun, and to attend to all those minor details which are necessarily associated with the printing of a work of this class, and which I was glad to leave in their hands.
As I was not at all concerned about my own personality, but very much about the work in hand, I saw no reason to sulk in a corner, and I declared myself willing to co-operate in the work provided the material went to press at once.
This, too, was promised me, and so this collection of documents of the Foreign Office about the outbreak of the war, which had almost become a myth, has at last made its appearance.
Naturally, in the course of the work I had not contented myself with merely stringing the material together. I felt compelled to bring into relation with each other all the revelations offered by a mass of nearly nine hundred documents, and to bring out their connection with the remaining and already-known material connected with the outbreak of the war. I did this not as a partisan, but as an historian, who is simply anxious to discover how things came about.
I undertook this work in the first instance merely for my own satisfaction. An historian cannot collect materials without inwardly working over them. But the more the work progressed, the more keenly I desired that it should not be done for myself alone, but for the great mass of the public, who would have less time and, for the most part, less opportunity than I to work carefully through the huge mass of material.
Thus it was that the present volume took shape. In its essential features it has been ready for months. I have, however, continually delayed its publication, a proceeding also demanded by the constant necessity for working-in and dealing with new materials which cropped up, especially in the German White Book of June, and the publications of Dr. Gooss.
It cost me much self-denial not to bring out my work in view of the flood of revelations about the war which were poured forth during the past few months. It was not easy to be silent where I had so much to say.
In view of the constant delays of the Government, I should have felt myself justified in letting my book appear even before the publication of the documents, the collection of which had been so long completed.
Since I laid down my post as Collateral Secretary, I had not worked in the archives of the Foreign Office as one of its officials, but as an independent historian. As proof of this, I may observe that since that date I have received no salary or remuneration of any kind.
An historian who makes use of archives owes no account to any superior authority of the use he may make of the fruits of his labours.
If, in spite of all this, I kept silence, it was not due to any juristic but rather to political considerations. The whole political advantage which might accrue to the German people in the eyes of its former enemies through the publication of these documents was only to be looked for if they were published by, not against, the Government. No doubt, in the last resort, the publication would have had to take place, even in the latter case. The situation of our internal politics would have demanded it. But so long as there was any possibility that the Government would itself publish these documents, I did not wish to anticipate it with my elaboration of the material.
And now they have in fact appeared, and I have no longer any reason for delay.
I have no doubt that my views will be much contested—there can be no view of the war to which everyone would assent. And no language is more ambiguous, none is so much intended to be read between the lines, as that of diplomacy, with which we are here almost exclusively concerned. The Kaiser alone discards all diplomatic methods of expressing himself. The clearness of his utterances leaves nothing to be desired. And his marginal comments afford the rare satisfaction to a people of seeing, for once, an Emperor in undress.
Yet, in spite of all diplomatic disguises, the Austrian documents have brought about an almost unanimous agreement as to the guilt attaching to Austrian statecraft. For anyone who has reached the point of rightly estimating this fact, the language of the German documents will not present much difficulty in enabling him to pass judgment on German statecraft as well.
In view of all that has now become so clear, the temptation was strongly felt to show how sorely the German people were misled, especially by those in the ranks of the Majority Socialists, who so violently attacked the position of myself and my friends during the war, and who defended most strongly the war-policy of the Imperial Government. Truly, of their conceptions there remains to-day nothing but a heap of broken crockery.
But just for this reason it is hardly necessary at the present day to do battle with David, Heilmann, and others. Moreover, if one did so, it would be at cost of the strict exposition of the facts, and it was to be feared that a publication which appeals to all who sincerely desire to know the truth about the origin of the war might, through such a polemic, take on the partisan or even personal character, which I desired to avoid. I have, therefore, confined polemics to cases where it was required, in order to make clear the situation of affairs, and have as far as possible avoided recrimination. That this work will, nevertheless, involve me in fresh controversy, I am well prepared to discover.
But whatever attitude one may take towards it, I trust that every reader of the documents here published will keep one thing in mind: They testify to the thoughts and deeds of German statesmen, not of the German people. The guilt of the latter, so far as they are guilty, consists only in this, that they did not concern themselves sufficiently about the foreign policy of their rulers. But this is a fault which the German people shares with every other. It was in vain that more than half a century ago, at the foundation of the first International, Marx proclaimed it to be the “duty of the working classes to master for themselves the mysteries of international statecraft, in order to keep an eye on the diplomatic proceedings of their Governments.”
Hitherto this has only been achieved in very imperfect measure. The present war, with its dreadful consequences, points the working classes more sternly than ever to the fulfilment of this duty.
As a slight attempt in that direction, I offer the present work.
Berlin, 1st November, 1919.