Sunday, February 7, 2021

Hermine An Empress in Exile by Moniek Bloks


Princess Hermine of Schonaich-Carolath's relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm II began when her young son, Georg Wilhelm wrote a letter to the exiled former Emperor.  He thought that the recently widowed Wilhelm looked lonely and he wanted the former Kaiser to know that when he wanted to "fight for you when I am a man."

Wilhelm II responded with two letters and a photo.  One letter was for Georg Wilhelm and the other for his mother.  He invited both of them to visit him in Doorn.   The meeting between Wilhelm, whose wife had died a year earlier, and Hermine, was propitious.   Her trip to Doorn was set for early June.   Wilhelm was smitten and proposed marriage.  They were engaged in October and married on November 5, 1922.

The marriage did not meet the approval of most German monarchists and Wilhelm's children.  Hermine, a Princess of Reuss by birth, was widowed in 1920, when her husband, Prince Johann Georg, only 46 years old, died after a long illness in 1920.  It is easy to describe Hermine as a formidable woman, ready to multi-task by raising five children and run her late husband's estate, Saabor.  She would also have to walk the uneasy steps of a younger second wife, who had neither the approbation nor affection of Wilhelm II's family nor most monarchists.

Hermine was eager to join Wilhelm in his exile at Doorn.  Unlike Wilhelm, she had the ability to visit Germany, to check on her older children at school, and check on Saabor.   Her visits to Berlin, especially, allowed Hermine to cultivate access with leading Nazi officials as she was an early supporter of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.   

With the self-confidence that she could muster, Hermine ingratiated herself with Nazi officials as she believed Hitler would restore her husband to the throne.   This never happened.    The Netherlands was invaded by the Germans in 1940. Hermine welcomed the German soldiers.

Wilhelm II died at Doorn on June 4, 1941.  Hermine was once again a widow.  Although she would visit Doorn several times before the end of the war,  Hermine divided most of her time between her estate in Silesia and an apartment in Berlin's Old Palace.

She was forced to leave Schloss Saabor in January 1945 and fled to her sister's home in Rossla.  The Americans were advancing and she thought her family would be safe.  She dismissed the threat of Soviet troops, which is what happened.  

Hermine's final two years were spent in Soviet internment in Frankfurt-am-Oder.  She died in August.

Although Hermine is mentioned in numerous biographies of Wilhelm II, she has not been treated to her own biography until.  Dutch historian Moniek Bloks is to be commended for her honest portrayal of Hermine in Hermine An Empress in Exile, which was recently published in paperback by John Hunt/Chronos Books.

Blok has made meticulous use of original source material, including Hermine's autobiography, Days in Doorn (1928), and shines a light on Hermine's life.  She does not hold back with the negatives: family dynamics and her support for Hitler.

Hermine's life changed inexorably when her son sent his letter to the former Kaiser.  If she had not married Wilhelm, it is unlikely that anyone would have been interested in Hermine.  She would have remained at Schloss Saabor or married another minor Prince.  Her marriage to the former German emperor brought press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic.  She was sought out for interviews even after she ended up interned by Soviet troops.

This is Moniek Bloks's second book.  Her first book, Carolina of Nassau, was published in 2019 by John Hunt/Chronos.

She is best known for her blog, History of Royal Women, where she writes about "amazing women."  I can only imagine what amazing woman will be the subject of her next full-length biography.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent book, on a little known person. I do wish it was longer, but perhaps there was not enough material known to draw upon. I also found the author’s first book short too.