Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Signature of Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann Hollweg (born November 29, 1856 in Hohenfinow , Brandenburg province , † January 2, 1921 there ) was a German politician during the German Empire . His career began as an administrative officer and culminated in his term of office as Reich Chancellor from 1909 to 1917.

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg represented liberal views and was close to the Progressive People's Party . As a non-partisan chancellor, he tried to strike a balance between social democracy and conservatism ( politics of the diagonals , truce politics ). This request earned him praise, but above all criticism from both sides. Its role in the beginning of the First World War is controversial. In 1914/15 he opposed the extreme annexationism of right-wing circles, but also pursued far-reaching war aims himself. In 1916/17 he tried to achieve a " peace of understanding " on the basis of a strengthened German position of power. A conflict with the 3rd Supreme Army Command ( Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff ) led to his dismissal on July 13, 1917 (successor to Georg Michaelis ). His ethical values ​​and his progressive stance as a guideline of politics influenced the SeSiSo-Club , the Solf-Kreis and the Kreisau-Kreis . Thanks to his contacts with the SPD , it found a certain acceptance among the bourgeoisie at times .



Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg grew up in Hohenfinow in the province of Brandenburg, where his family had moved in 1855. Theobald's first lessons were given by teachers and private tutors . The educational goals of the father Felix von Bethmann Hollweg were hardness against himself, willpower, loyalty and the fulfillment of duty. This was reflected in Theobald's general living conditions in Hohenfinow. His older brother Max left Brandenburg in an argument with his father in 1884 in order to emigrate to America, where he died in poor circumstances before the turn of the century.

The annual visit to their aunts, the sisters of the urbane mother, in Paris was a welcome change from the dreary, provincial everyday life for the sons. There Theobald was able to get to know the European environment at an early stage and to dispose of possible prejudices regarding the supposed "hereditary enemy". There was also a particularly close relationship with his grandfather, Moritz August von Bethmann Hollweg , who, coming from Rheineck Castle , spoke, played and read with his grandson on his visits to Hohenfinow. Moritz August von Bethmann Hollweg had pursued a moderately conservative policy in the period of Vormärz and was - in contrast to his son Felix, the father of Theobald - not closed to liberal ideas ( see also: Bethmann (family) ). His grandson was characterized by an above-average musical talent, which he demonstrated by playing the piano.

In 1869 he entered the Royal State School Pforta as a junior high school , where he graduated as the best in his class in 1875. His thesis dealt with the Persians' by Aeschylus from the standpoint of poetics of Aristotle considered . He wrote them in Latin, as is customary in old-language grammar schools. Bethmann Hollweg later stated that he had "never had the feeling of mental overload as it did then". From these tough school experiences grew his criticism of the "teacher of history" and a backward-looking, unworldly attitude. At the same time he owes Schulpforta "an independent judgment".

He was tolerated rather than appreciated by his classmates because of a certain degree of spiritual arrogance. Bethmann Hollweg kept his only two school friends, Karl Lamprecht and Wolfgang von Oettingen , until her death. In order to pass the final exam, his grandfather gave him a trip to Italy lasting several months . He wrote about this to his friend Oettingen:

"The most delicious benefit a trip to Rome brings is that one learns to suppress sentimentality a little before the grandeur of history and nature."


After the trip he began to study law in Strasbourg , the next stage of his training was the University of Leipzig in 1876 . After serving as a one-year volunteer in Berlin, he felt “lazy and apathetic”, lived through the day and found his youthful idealism “damn threadbare”.

After the failed second assassination attempt on Kaiser Wilhelm I on June 2, 1878, he wrote that he had been cured of his utopian ideal "of the dissolution of the individual fatherland into a general world mush". But despite his protest against the "vile socialist aspirations", he did not assign himself to any of the existing political directions. In equal measure, he condemned "doctrinally liberal efforts", the "incredibly stupid reactionaries" and the "self-appointed crusader knights ". The emerging political line was that of the center, the compromise between non-revolutionary social democracy and monarchist conservatism.

Bethmann Hollweg passed his final exam at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin . His teacher there was Rudolf von Gneist . His studies in the capital were certainly not for patriotic reasons: Bethmann Hollweg wanted to “go back to the Rhine” as soon as possible. However, he stayed in Berlin and worked as a trainee lawyer at the District Court of Berlin I. He read a lot, mainly in English and French, and discussed with his college friends. But he himself judged his social intercourse “as a fault of my clumsiness” as limited and confessed that one “will probably remain a boring guy for all eternity”. Contrary to the trend of the time, he did not join any student association.

Following his love for hunting , he traveled to the Carpathian Mountains in 1879 , after having decided beforehand to acquire the Prussian officer's license. Bethmann Hollweg visited Vienna and Budapest and wrote to Oettingen: "Foreign country and foreign customs, how delicious it is for us Nordic beavers". It becomes clear that Bethmann Hollweg always looked beyond the horizon of the German nation-state. He dealt with other peoples, and his foreign language skills were not the norm for a Prussian trainee lawyer. In October 1880 the lawyer came to the Frankfurt (Oder) district court .

Administrative officer

In 1882 Bethmann Hollweg joined the Frankfurt (Oder) district government before he moved to his father's office in Freienwalde . In 1884 he passed the assessor examination “with distinction” in Frankfurt . His inauguration as royal government assessor took place on December 10, 1884. The following year, Bethmann Hollweg went to the Brandenburg provincial government in Potsdam . As early as the middle of 1885, Felix von Bethmann Hollweg wanted to give up his post in the district of Oberbarnim , which is why the son initially took over the office on an interim basis, but on January 20, 1886 through his official appointment. At the age of 29, Bethmann Hollweg became the youngest district administrator in the province of Brandenburg.

Martha from Bethmann Hollweg. Bust of Georg Kolbe , 1910

In July 1889 he married Martha von Pfuel (* April 21, 1865 - May 11, 1914), the daughter of the chief electoral director Gustav von Pfuel at Wilkendorf Castle (near Strausberg ). The marriage of the niece of the Prussian Prime Minister Ernst von Pfuel is at the same time a symbol for the acclimatization of Bethmann Hollweg in the “clumsy East”. After all, Bethmann Hollweg had long been considered a “Frankfurt banker's offspring” because of his West German, middle-class descent, which in the circles of the conservative nobility was seen as a flaw. The marriage gave birth to four children (one died early). According to Gerhard von Mutius (Bethmann Hollweg's cousin) “he was and remained a lonely person in all phases of his life. He was neither educational nor playful enough to indulge in family life ”. His eldest son August Friedrich (born June 4, 1890) died on December 9, 1914 on the Eastern Front. The daughter Isa (1894–1967) married the diplomat Julius von Zech-Burkersroda in 1915 .

He exercised the office of district administrator with the greatest accuracy and courageous commitment. If his father was still following the Prussian junker style , a new understanding of office entered into with the trained lawyer: he drove to the villages himself, talked not only with the landlords but also with their workers, and checked the annual investments. As the representative of the Prussian king, Bethmann Hollweg showed great justice. Its work was based on the principle of voluntary participation by the citizens rather than on authoritarian instructions. The pronounced feeling for his “wards” made him one of the most progressive district administrators of his time.

In 1890, conservatives , national liberals and free conservatives put Bethmann Hollweg up as a joint candidate for the Reichstag . Politically, he followed in the footsteps of his father Felix, who had advised his reluctant son to run for office. The candidacy was successful with a majority of only one vote, but protests by the opposing candidates over alleged irregularities led to a new election in which the free conservative district administrator no longer took part. This ended the short episode of Bethmann Hollweg as a party politician. Throughout his life he did not like the party system.

After ten years as a district administrator, he was promoted to senior presidential councilor in the Potsdam governing council in 1896 . He remained in this office for three years before he was appointed district president in Bromberg on July 1, 1899 . Only three months later, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, at the age of 43, rose to the head of the Province of Brandenburg as the youngest President of Prussia. This rapid professional success was made possible by several factors: on the one hand by his own talent in statesmanship, then by the prestige of his grandfather and on the other hand by the intercession of Chancellor Clovis zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst , who had been watching the rise of the young senior president for some time .

At the head of one of the most important provinces in the kingdom, Bethmann Hollweg now had completely new opportunities to establish social contacts. The rapid development of the cosmopolitan city of Berlin raised complex questions about the new industrial society for him. If his contemporaries called him a “born Chief President”, Bethmann Hollweg himself felt out of place: He cursed in Goethe's manner about the “busy idleness” of the “fools, philistines and rascals of officials”. He also resumed correspondence with his friend Oettingen after an interruption of almost fifteen years. Without a particular reason, Oettingen and Bethmann Hollweg had become strangers to each other. During this time, the latter had neglected his social contacts while fulfilling his professional duties. In 1901, however, he took a step towards resuming the relationship and wrote to Oettingen:

“I am a person who was never up to the plethora of tasks assigned to him, who has become a superficial and therefore unsatisfied dilettante, and who has nevertheless flown position after position completely. […] When will the envy of the gods reveal itself to me, or will I serve my guilt by not being able to fully and purely enjoy undeserved happiness? That I experience the relationship between strength and duty in a painful way every day? "

Upper President Bethmann Hollweg oriented himself on developments in other European countries: As a “Prussian cosmopolitan ” he stayed in Paris in 1904. Before that he had trained in London as a guest of Paul Metternich : In Berlin, the incorporation of suburbs was on the agenda and Bethmann Hollweg took the Greater London City Association as a model for this task .

Prussian Minister of the Interior

On March 21, 1905, Bethmann Hollweg was appointed Prussian Minister of the Interior and with it the final rise in politics. Bethmann Hollweg accepted the task reluctantly, as he represented views that “do not fit into Prussian schematism”. The appointment was particularly controversial among the conservatives. Ernst von Heydebrand wrote: “As Minister of the Interior, we need a man with a firm hand and a backbone. […] Instead of a man, give us a philosopher. ”According to Bernhard von Bülow's testimony , Heydebrand went even further:“ The man is too clever for me. ”For social democrats and radical liberals, he was just another representative of the hated authoritarian state, which is why him too looked at the left side with reserve. Bethmann Hollweg's party-political homelessness made itself felt right from the start.

He set himself an important task, who recognized the slow drifting apart of Wilhelmine society in an increasingly nationalistic, militaristic right and an increasingly radical, republican left, to overcome the contradictions of political interests through compromises. In the future, too, he tried to steer a course that was conciliatory in terms of foreign and domestic policy. As he himself often said, he wanted to find a "diagonal politics" between the conservative and the liberal radical currents. He wrote to the then newly appointed head of the Reich Chancellery, Friedrich Wilhelm von Loebell :

“The elements to be reconciled no longer have any internal relationship for mutual political views. They stand opposite one another like the limbs of different worlds. Hopefully you will succeed in having a balancing effect, because without gradual assimilation we will come to completely untenable conditions. "

As a politician, he was quick to focus on the SPD's commitment to the existing state structure. In his inaugural address in the Prussian House of Representatives on April 6, 1905, he commented on the motion of the left for the creation of a public welfare office. He described the people's welfare as "the most important and serious task of the present". The "promotion of national folk culture" must form the core of every state activity and contribute to the "refinement of the amusements" of the people. At the same time, he impressively opposed political, religious and social resentment by shouting the Seneca quote to the MPs (to the great applause of the Left and National Liberals): “Nihil humani a me alienum puto” (German: “I don't consider anything human to be alien to me . "). He draws trust in the “human ability to develop” and is pleased that the “cultural need of the citizens, even in the lower classes”, is constantly increasing. Bethmann Hollweg promised to examine the application thoroughly and benevolently, and pointed out that "liberation from bureaucratic shackles is only possible with the free participation of all popular groups".

These sounds were unusual for a Prussian Minister of the Interior. In 1909, the Berliner Tageblatt wrote in retrospect of Bethmann Hollweg's inaugural speech: “In this three-class parliament, with its flat utility thinking, people were not used to finding something like a worldview and seeing the necessities of the state corroborated by philosophical reasons. Herr von Bethmann Hollweg was marveled at like a rara avis (rare bird). "

In 1906 the question of three-class voting rights was discussed in the Prussian House of Representatives : Here, Bethmann Hollweg's course was much more complex than that of his colleagues. In parliament he refused to transfer the general and equal right to vote in the Reichstag to Prussia, emphasizing that the royal state government “does not want to lag behind what is necessary, but does not want to go beyond what is sufficient”. The minister warned against “democratic equalization”, but praised the “tremendous ambition of our workers” and the slow but decisive turn to the “great aristocrat of the spirit, Kant ”. His views try to "develop the human instincts that strive for the highest". Bethmann Hollweg wrote to his friend Oettingen:

“I was well aware that with my speech I wasn't just stabbing a wasp's nest, but also putting my own personality at risk. Our Prussian electoral law is untenable in the long run, and even if it provided a parliament capable of action, its conservative majority is so trite-minded and, with the full feeling of its inviolable power, so humiliating for anyone who wants to move forward, that we have to look for new foundations . But even for this basic idea I do not find any understanding either in the State Ministry or probably also in His Majesty and, of course, under no circumstances in the majority of the Diet. [...] Driving the conservatives forward and pushing the liberals away from party questions and party templates - I despair of the possibility when I see my words, mostly maliciously, misunderstood and twisted. The connection between outlook on life and politics has become completely incomprehensible to people, and one exposes oneself to scornful criticism if one refers to it in a very modest way. "

In the same year, the Polish school strike broke out, with which the Polish schoolchildren in the province of Poznan - supported by the Catholic clergy - tried to ensure that lessons could be taught in Polish again. The conservatives insisted on increasing the military presence in Posen, which Bethmann Hollweg resolutely rejected. On the contrary, he approved the future of religious instruction in Polish. He saw compulsory orders as "no longer recommendable state means of power of the past, which is morally questionable".

In 1907, the focus was on reducing bureaucracy : he called on the Prussian mansion to “loosen the bureaucratic fetters” and on February 19 declared in front of the House of Representatives that he wanted to decentralize as much as possible. According to his own statement, he went “beyond the left of the house”.

The minister's attitude that the Kingdom of Prussia must become more humane and tolerant in everyday life was evident in the 1906 affair about the homosexual tendencies of the emperor's friend Philipp zu Eulenburg . The imperial court commissioned the Berlin police headquarters to draw up a list of all homosexuals with higher rankings. As Minister of the Interior, Bethmann Hollweg had to check this list before handing it over to the Privy Council . Instead, he returned it to the responsible criminalist, Hans von Tresckow , with the remark that he did not want to make so many people unhappy.

In October 1907 Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg's time as minister in Prussia came to an end when he moved to the Reich Office of the Interior . On June 24, 1907, he was promoted to State Secretary as the successor to the sober but committed Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner . At the same time, he became Vice President of the Prussian State Ministry , the most important politician of the German Empire after Chancellor Bülow.

State Secretary for the Interior

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

Bethmann Hollweg was appointed State Secretary of the Interior by Bülow immediately after the Reichstag election in 1907 , which represented a bitter defeat for the Social Democrats. After Posadowsky, who was perceived as rebellious, the Chancellor hoped to have appointed an employee with whom it was far more convenient to work. Bethmann Hollweg had only accepted the office very reluctantly. Since he saw the appeal as an imperial order, he ultimately saw no alternative for himself. He wrote to his wife:

“I didn't look for the new burden, I fought against it to the last. Now that it is imposed on me, I must try to wear it as I am. I am not afraid of positive work, of the laws that public opinion wants, and of the apolitical spirit of our nation, which refuses to give up preconceived notions and which must be forced to sacrifice if it succeeds is supposed to oblige all vital to political cooperation. "

In addition to the demanding tasks as the most important department head in Germany, there was (mostly) the chairmanship (as the representative of the Reich Chancellor) in the Federal Council . Standing in the socio-political tradition of his predecessor, he gave domestic politics a new profile: In October 1907, Bethmann Hollweg attended the German Workers' Congress, a central meeting of the Christian trade unions, where the appearance of an imperial state secretary was seen as a major step forward.

On December 2, 1907, the creation of a Reich Labor Office was up for debate in the Reichstag, which the State Secretary rejected simply because he had been asked to hand over his own departments. At the same time, he rejected the claim that the government was on hold in social-political matters: “I have never discovered the slightest trace of tired skepticism in this activity; In it, however, far away from the parliamentary arena, our present-day Germany was formed. ”This reflects his attitude that the“ searching and groping for new things takes place in the people themselves, not among the representatives of the people ”. "To create space for the new views that have emerged from the changed economic and social conditions."

Only a few days later he interpreted the then § 7 (so-called "language paragraph ") of the Reichsvereingesetz draft as State Secretary that the ban on the use of a foreign language as a negotiating language would only apply if the use of the foreign idiom was directed against the empire be. He declared the establishment of Polish associations to be permissible. (See also: Bülow block ) The draft was accepted by the Reichstag.

In the spring of 1908 the members of the Prussian Privy Council held a discussion about a new law against social democratic aspirations. Reich Chancellor Bülow transferred the powers of attorney to his State Secretary on this point. However, instead of submitting a bill, Bethmann Hollweg rejected the request for such a provision. This would seriously affect the “bourgeoisisation of social democracy”, which Bethmann Hollweg has tried to promote on many occasions.

At the same time six Social Democratic MPs were about to enter the Prussian state parliament. Bethmann Hollweg considered this process with the brief remark: “That is the freedom I mean.” On his advice, the Emperor announced an electoral reform in the Kingdom of Prussia in Bethmann Hollweg's throne speech of October 20, 1908. Wilhelm II promised an "organic further development", which the monarch described as one of the "most important tasks of the present". Friedrich Naumann , who liked the style of the State Secretary, later emphasized Bethmann Hollweg's positive influence on the Kaiser.

On October 28, 1908, just eight days after the hopeful speech from the throne, Wilhelm II gave the Daily Telegraph the interview that led to the affair of the same name . As a result, Bülow lost the emperor's trust , who dismissed him when the Bülow bloc collapsed in the debate about the introduction of the inheritance tax . This opened the way for Vice Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to the highest office of politician.


Taking office and reactions

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

Wilhelm II appointed Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor on July 7, 1909 for various reasons: on the one hand, he had already been his deputy during Bülow's term of office, on the other hand, the emperor knew that the state secretary had a balanced personality, who was supposed to calm the situation of the rival parties. In addition, Bethmann Hollweg was in the favor of Wilhelm II due to his modest demeanor and his successes as an imperial advisor. Bethmann Hollweg's appointment was previously in political circles, among others. a. by Friedrich August von Holstein .

Loebell, the head of the Reich Chancellery, later wrote that Bethmann Hollweg had tearfully implored him to advise Bülow not to propose an appointment. Instead, the Upper President of the Rhine Province , Clemens Freiherr von Schorlemer-Lieser , should become Chancellor. Finally, Bethmann Hollweg accepted his promotion as an imperial order which he had to obey. He told Karl von Eisendecher : “Only a genius or a man consumed by power and ambition can strive for such an office. And I'm neither. The common man can only accept it in the last compulsion of conscientiousness. "

From all parties, including the SPD, there was a rather positive response to the appointment: The center had doubts, and for the Social Democrats Bethmann Hollweg was just another Reich Chancellor loyal to the emperor. But the benevolent neutrality of the entire party spectrum resulted from the complexity of his person : It was not an Ostelbier , not a Junker in the strict sense, which the left took up as a positive sign. His family history made him valued by the National Liberals and the Center, and his work as an administrative officer created trust with the Conservatives.

Political friend Bethmann Hollweg: Ambassador Paul Graf Metternich

The response from abroad was exclusively friendly: the French journal Journal des Débats spoke of a "calming symptom" for Franco-German relations . The French ambassador in Berlin, Jules Cambon , even sent the new Chancellor an official letter of congratulations. Something like this had never happened before. The German Embassy in London under Count Metternich wrote that the British King Edward VII considered the new Chancellor to be an “important partner in maintaining the peace”. Even Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire sent congratulatory telegrams to the Chancellery. William H. Taft , the President of the United States , praised the fact that for the first time a German Chancellor had been removed from internal administration.

Baroness Spitzemberg , a lady from court circles, commented on the appointment as follows: "How can such a noble horse pull such a heavy and lost cart out of the swamp?"

Domestic positions

In 1910, Bethmann Hollweg submitted a reform bill to change the Prussian electoral law, which was rejected by the state parliament.

In January of the same year there was a letter contact with the historian Karl Lamprecht . Bethmann Hollweg wrote to him that the government was facing the "great task of political education of the people while eliminating the rule of phrases and superficial evaluations". Bethmann Hollweg saw the basic task of a statesman as “listening carefully to developments”.

Since he had felt a special obligation to the southern German states since his time as State Secretary, not least because of his study visit to Strasbourg, he pushed ahead with the reform of the constitutional status of the realm of Alsace-Lorraine . The Reichsland received its own constitution with a bicameral parliament, the lower house of which met according to Reichstag electoral law. Against violent protests from conservatives and the military, the Reich Chancellor's bill was accepted on March 23, 1911. Unlike in Prussia, Bethmann Hollweg did not oppose any influential conservatives, which is why his democratic constitutional initiative was able to come to a close.

With the date of March 22, 1911, the reserve officer was given the character of a major general à la suite of the army with the uniform of the 1st Guard Dragoons Regiment "Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Ireland".

Foreign policy positions

In foreign policy , Bethmann Hollweg attached great importance to an understanding with Great Britain from the start. At the same time, he considered German-Austrian relations to be so problem-free that he considered it more important to be friendly towards the other powers. As State Secretary for Foreign Affairs , he appointed Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter , who was initially considered to be a good cast, but later turned out to be a disappointment. The impulsive Swabian represented a contrast to the Chancellor in many ways: not only in his spirited way of life, but above all in matters of foreign policy. Although Kaiser Wilhelm II in his 1909 speech from the throne called for the empire to step up its efforts to promote "peaceful and friendly relations with the other powers", Kiderlen-Waechter's diplomacy in connection with the panther jump to Agadir did not at all correspond to this maxim. Bethmann Hollweg said in the Reichstag on March 5, 1910:

“Our foreign policy towards all powers is only aimed at allowing Germany's economic and cultural forces to develop freely. This guideline is not chosen artificially, but results automatically from the existence of these forces. No power on earth can switch off or suppress the free competition of other nations. […] We are all dependent on following the principles of an honest businessman in this competition. "

In 1911 he took up this word from the businessman again as a marginal comment on the unauthorized action of his state secretary before the German trading day in Heidelberg, which was worrying for the chancellor :

"No sensible businessman thinks he is called to sole rule."

Later, Bethmann Hollweg was often reproached for his passive appearance in the Second Morocco Crisis. The fact that, despite his concerns about Kiderlen-Waechter's policy, he gave his State Secretary a free hand can be explained by the Chancellor's feeling of lack of foreign policy expertise. Due to constant self-criticism, Bethmann Hollweg did not consider herself competent enough to stand up to the supposed expert Kiderlen-Waechter on the Moroccan issue.

For Bethmann Hollweg, the second foreign policy problem besides the Morocco crisis was the expansion of the Imperial Navy requested by State Secretary Alfred von Tirpitz . The Chancellor relied on close cooperation with Great Britain on this issue. The dialogue with the United Kingdom should, on the one hand, enable a cautious fleet expansion and, at the same time, improve relations through honesty. Bethmann Hollweg and Ambassador Paul Metternich tried to follow this path together from 1909. Due to threatening speeches by the German Conservatives in the Reichstag and the British Conservatives in the Houses of Parliament , these efforts were unsuccessful. The consequences of the Moroccan crisis were felt in this field since 1911, and the temporary rapprochement was made up for.

( See also: German-British arms race .)

German-Russian relations had been given new impetus before the Morocco crisis. In 1910, Tsar Nicholas II was in Potsdam, which the Chancellor described in a letter to Eisendecher as a “springboard for an understanding with England”. According to the records of the Russian court, the tsar saw a warlike involvement with Germany “moved a long way away”.

Bethmann Hollweg's foreign policy was seriously criticized by the right. The conservatives denigrated the chancellor as a “coward”. On the other hand, recognition came from the SPD. Ludwig Frank praised the Chancellor in the Reichstag after he had called a war with France over Morocco a “crime” and condemned the “demagogic ways” of the conservatives. This speech by Bethmann Hollweg was a "courageous and meritorious act of lasting value," according to the Social Democrats. But criticism came from the camp of the National Liberals. Walther Rathenau, who was actually a political friend of the Chancellor, wrote after a meeting with Bülow: “Lack of goals in internal and external politics. His (Bülow's) policy would have had one more goal: space in the sun , fleet, world power. Now nothing more. "

Caricature on Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter and Bethmann Hollweg in connection with the Morocco crisis

The Moroccan crisis, which dragged Bethmann Hollweg into international politics like never before, was settled with a Franco-German agreement in which the German Empire (again) gave up its claims to Morocco and in return received New Cameroon , an extension of German Cameroon . The conservative colonial state secretary Friedrich von Lindequist protested violently and resigned in November 1911. But instead of appointing the successor proposed by Lindequist, Bethmann Hollweg elected the liberal governor of Samoa , Wilhelm Solf . He was one of the few foreign politicians in the empire who fully represented Bethmann Hollweg's line. Solf attached great importance to understanding and a peaceful emancipation of Germany. In this sense he acted as the guardian of Bethmann Hollweg's political legacy even after the death.

In 1912, Bethmann Hollweg's renewed attempt to achieve a compromise with Great Britain on the naval issue failed with the Haldane mission . Nevertheless, Bethmann Hollweg enjoyed a good reputation with the British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Gray : "So long as Bethmann Hollweg is chancellor we will cooperate with Germany for the peace of Europe."

In 1912 the Chancellor used a meeting between the emperor and the tsar in Baltischport (today Paldiski, Estonia ) arranged as a return visit for the tsar's visit to Potsdam for a friendly discussion. After talks with Prime Minister Kokowzow and Foreign Minister Sasonow , Bethmann Hollweg was able to write to Eisendecher that he had been able to establish “trusting and friendly relationships”. After the official conference, the Chancellor stayed in Russia for a few days and visited the cities of Saint Petersburg and Moscow . He was impressed by the new impressions that Saint Petersburg offered him. In addition, he was able to free himself from prejudices that he “sucked in from our frivolous journalism”. The "cheers of our irresponsible politicians" seemed to him even more dangerous when viewed from a distance. On the “deeply refreshing trip” he forgot the “domestic misery” and was able to draw the hope of being able to achieve greater colonial and world trade efforts in the long term without starting a war. He also found a certain strength in his attitude towards the Pan-Germans , whose "super clever alarm articles" he viewed with derision. But with “these sheep's heads” there is “no policy to be made”.

On July 25, 1912, Walther Rathenau stayed in Hohenfinow to talk to the Chancellor about his trip to Russia. Rathenau noted in his diary that Bethmann Hollweg wanted to “maintain the modus vivendi also in the Russia question”. These words underline that there was by no means a feeling of war preparation in German politics. In matters of foreign policy, Rathenau Bethmann Hollweg had proposed the following: European customs union, British imperialism in the Mediterranean to be stopped, then an alliance with Great Britain for the purpose of understanding and own colonial acquisitions. These demands did not arise from the Chancellor's ideas, but he signed the catalog of proposals with “generally agreed”.

Domestic politics during the Zabern affair

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

At the end of 1913, the Zabern affair shook German politics and the public. In Zabern , Alsace , a lieutenant had insulted the Alsatians in a speech to soldiers and called for them to stab rebellious Alsatians. However, he was only marginally held accountable by his colonel and, following protests by the Alsatians, the military even illegally arrested some citizens. Before the Chancellor had to face the indignation of the Reichstag and the population, he contacted the governor of the realm of Alsace-Lorraine , Karl von Wedel . The Chancellor saw his political path the diagonals, the center endangered. The angry mood heated up the internal conflicts of the empire again and tore old wounds again.

On December 2, 1913, Bethmann Hollweg declared in the Reichstag that the “emperor's coat” must be “respected under all circumstances”. This led to the general impression that the Chancellor had fully followed the War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn in his remarks . The parties that had previously supported Bethmann Hollweg as a carrier of progressive politics, d. H. Center , Progressive People's Party , National Liberal Party and Social Democrats all brought in a motion of no confidence in the Reich Chancellor. Philipp Scheidemann pointed out the exemplary constitutional conditions in Great Britain and the Netherlands, to which Bethmann Hollweg reacted with dismissive, disgruntled heckling. The previous center chancellor seemed to have moved to the right, despite the fact that he was still downright hated in national-conservative circles and decried as a “democrat”. With the support of the Crown Prince , the people of Berlin let their displeasure run free: protest marches formed in the streets, shouting "Bethmann Soll-weg". Meanwhile, the emperor had personnel suggestions obtained. Bethmann Hollweg felt “caught up in the parliamentary rain of fire”, as he wrote to Oettingen. “That's probably why I'm not a good politician”. The Chancellor had appeared in parliament against his convictions in order to maintain the government's neutrality and to underpin his loyalty to the emperor. Ultimately, however, he had given in to the military and found himself in a position of weakness. During Bethmann Hollweg's great crisis, he confessed for the first time that he regretted not having a party behind him. He wrote to the Crown Prince:

"Rattling a sword without threatening the country's honor, security and future is not only foolhardy, it is criminal."


While Bethmann Hollweg was critical of the armament of the fleet, he himself operated the armament of the land army. In April 1912, he submitted an army bill to the Reichstag that provided for armament. On this point he took no account of the criticism of the SPD. The SPD chairman Hugo Haase warned in the Reichstag: The continued armaments led to an escalating arms race and increased "the danger of world fire".

Exactly one year later, Bethmann Hollweg submitted the next draft to the Reichstag. It envisaged an increase in the presence of the land army by 136,000 men and demanded almost 1.3 billion marks in additional funds for this and for massive arms purchases. Hugo Haase stated in the Reichstag: "The army bill [...] demands monstrous sacrifices from the people [...] It by far exceeds anything that a people in peacetime was ever expected of a government in times of peace." Bethmann Hollweg combined the bill with a cover bill which provided for an "extraordinary military contribution" of all assets over 10,000 marks. Since the SPD had always called for direct taxes for the wealthy, the SPD parliamentary group agreed to this cover bill after a controversial debate.

Time of hope

At the turn of 1913/1914 the mood had slowly calmed down, and the Chancellor was surrounded by a new optimism in foreign policy. With the peace of Bucharest , it seemed to Bethmann Hollweg, the problems in the Balkans had been solved in the medium term, and renewed correspondence with Russian Foreign Minister Sasonov stabilized towards the east. The Liman crisis surrounding the German military mission in the Ottoman Empire was over, despite the Pan-Slavist mood in the Tsarist Empire. Bethmann Hollweg wrote to Eisendecher: "Life could be passable if only people weren't too unreasonable."

All the quotes from the Chancellor show that he was always anxious to prevent a major European war. The more decisive action by Russia in northern Persia also resulted in a temporary rapprochement between Great Britain and Germany. When the government became aware of a British-Russian naval convention in the early summer of 1914, this cast a heavy shadow over Bethmann Hollweg's foreign policy. Disappointed in his trust in Foreign Minister Edward Gray, he wrote to the German Embassy in Constantinople that it was important to get through time without major conflicts. A few days later, after a dispute with Chief of Staff Moltke, he went on the peaceful summer vacation to Hohenfinow, which was abruptly ended shortly after his arrival by the attack in Sarajevo .

From the “blank check” to the outbreak of war

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

His wife Bethmann Hollweg had died only a few weeks earlier, and the Chancellor was exposed to the greatest difficulties of his political career in the July crisis . After the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne, Wilhelm II rushed forward and issued the famous blank check to the Ambassador of the Danube Monarchy in Berlin, Szögyeny , which, however, was not a major innovation: " Nibelung loyalty " had prevailed in the dual union since Chancellor Hohenlohe. Bethmann Hollweg later wrote in his reflections that “these views of the emperor coincided” with his views. On July 6, 1914, the Chancellor reassured the Austrian embassy that the German Reich would faithfully fight at the side of its ally. The aggressive action of Austria-Hungary against Serbia took place with Bethmann Hollweg's backing.

At the same time, he had State Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow telegraphed to Lichnowsky, the German ambassador in London, that in relation to the British government “everything must be avoided that could give the impression that we are inciting the Austrians to war”. Out of the idea of ​​being able to localize the conflict, Bethmann Hollweg advocated the continuation of the imperial Nordland cruise . The Chancellor gave Austrian politics a free hand, but not without criticism, as the French ambassador in Vienna, Dumaine, testified.

As his confidante Kurt Riezler noted, Bethmann Hollweg expressed fear early on that if Austria were to strike expansionist tones, the conflict could no longer be sustained in the Balkans and "could lead to world wars".

But even when the Foreign Office finally knew in July 1914 that Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia was to be formulated in an unacceptable manner, the Chancellor let the Austrians do it. When asked, the Reich Chancellery stated: “We cannot comment on the formulation of the demands on Serbia, as this is Austria's business.” Believing in Britain's neutrality, he telegraphed the London Foreign Office : “Since Austria is safeguarding vital interests in its approach, is a Ingerenz excluded the allied Germany. [...] We will only be forced to reach for swords. "

When Serbia's diplomatically sent reply to the Austrian ultimatum arrived in Berlin on July 27, 1914, the Kaiser saw no reason to go to war. Wilhelm II suggested that Austria should occupy Belgrade for further negotiations on a permanent solution to the Balkan inquiry. In view of the threat of British entry into the war, Bethmann Hollweg also briefly represented the “stop in Belgrade” proposal, combined with Austria's renunciation of annexation to Serbia. But he knew that this was considered unsatisfactory by the Russian side. Therefore, when the Kaiser “threatened to weaken again”, the Chancellor and the Foreign Office thwarted the proposal for moderation by delaying and incorrectly forwarding it to Vienna.

At the same time the supposed presented Triple Alliance Comrade Italy demands for compensation for the Austrian action in the Balkans. Vienna responded by offering to divide Serbia among Russia, which had not previously made any territorial claims in Serbia, and Austria, which was rejected with loud protest in Berlin. For the first time, Bethmann Hollweg came openly in armor against the Danube monarchy. He telegraphed the Foreign Office:

“The German Reich cannot support a policy of double bottoming. Otherwise we cannot mediate in St. Petersburg and will be completely caught up in Vienna. I don't want that, not even at the risk of being accused of fluffing. "

The sudden resistance against Austria showed again that far-reaching foreign policy decisions by Bethmann Hollweg did not arise from reasons of state or calculation, but from ethics. In his eyes, Vienna's approach contradicted the principle of the honest businessman. On the same day he spoke to the Kaiser about the fact that when the crisis was over, an understanding of the naval issue with Great Britain would again be considered.

The British Foreign Minister Gray warned Germany that if the conflict was not limited to Austria and Russia, but also included France and the Reich, Great Britain could not stand aside either. Bethmann Hollweg then informed the German ambassador in Vienna that Austria could not defend itself against negotiations with the Tsarist Empire. It is true that one is prepared to fulfill the alliance obligation, but not to "let oneself be frivolously [...] drawn into a world fire".

At this point it was already too late to brake Austria-Hungary. In retrospect, Harry Graf Kessler saw joint responsibility for this with the representatives of the German diplomacy in Vienna, where the Serbian answer was available on July 25th, but this was not immediately passed on to Berlin by telephone or telegraph, but was sent out by courier, so that the Berlin authorities would not have found out about it until July 27th. “It is clear to me that this is where the question of guilt lies, as far as it concerns us,” says Kessler, “and Dietrich Bethmann's reports shed light on me personally. He and Hoyos used every opportunity in Vienna to bring about the war, he told me himself. "Dietrich Bethmann probably contributed to the slow transmission to Berlin, perhaps out of fear" that his cousin Theobald would 'fall over' if he did he'll get the answer in time. "

In the meantime the military on the Danube and Neva had long since taken action, and Chief of Staff Moltke asked the Chancellor to initiate general German mobilization . Austria should not be left in the lurch. The General Staff's strategic route to invade Belgium ultimately thwarted all of Bethmann Hollweg's efforts to localize the conflict. In his memoirs, Tirpitz described the Chancellor's situation in those days as that of a “drowning man”.

Outbreak of war

Declaration of the state of war in the German Empire

The state of war was officially declared on July 31, 1914. In contrast to representatives of the Prussian Ministry of War, Bethmann Hollweg had insisted on formal declarations of war in order to “ have a confirmation under international law .” The deep desire for guidelines that would always apply during war was received with amazement in Berlin. Bethmann Hollweg rejected the Russian tsar's suggestion to bring the question of Serbia to the Permanent Court of Arbitration because the Russian general mobilization had taken place the day before.

On August 3, the Chancellor assured British Foreign Minister Gray that the Russian mobilization, which had put the Reich in such a predicament, was ultimately responsible for the German invasion of Belgium. He tried everything to avoid the violation of international law and to prevent "the madness of the self-tearing of the European cultural nations".

On August 4, Bethmann appeared before the Reichstag in anticipation of the British declaration of war to emphasize that Germany did not want war and that the Russian military had started the fire. The “injustice to Belgium” had to be redressed by the empire. But anyone who is so threatened should only think about how to get through.

On the evening of August 4th, Bethmann Hollweg had a conversation with the British Ambassador Goschen . The Chancellor poured out his soul in tears: for a “scrap of paper” ( just for a scrap of paper , the Belgian declaration of neutrality was meant) Great Britain wanted to wage war against a related nation that wanted to live in peace with it. All efforts collapsed before his eyes like a house of cards . Most recently, the Chancellor and Ambassador are said to have lay crying in their arms. In his observations , he later admitted that the word "scraps of paper" had been a derailment, but he maintained the view that Belgian neutrality was nothing compared to the approaching world war.

1914: Worries and the enthusiasm of victory

Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg

But at the beginning of the First World War , Bethmann Hollweg had undergone a number of illusions: He had now to discover that the war propaganda had also done the rest in the United Kingdom. A passionate willingness to go to war was awakened. B. was shown in the landing of a British expeditionary force on the coast of Flanders.

In the preliminary considerations mentioned later in the September program , the Kaiserreich formulated concrete war goals for the first time . The program contained annexionist territorial demands in Europe, which were directed primarily against Russia, as well as the creation of a European customs union , which should pave the way for the German economy in neighboring countries and at the same time secure German supremacy in Central Europe. Whether these plans stem from Bethmann Hollweg's thoughts cannot be proven. Rather, his colleague Kurt Riezler is considered the author of the September program. He himself wrote on September 20, 1914 that the Chancellor would "only ever listen to the question of war aims". Nevertheless, Bethmann Hollweg signed the war goals mentioned in the September program.

The Chancellor remained largely unaffected by the patriotic enthusiasm in Germany (“ August experience ”). A letter to his friend Oettingen, which he sent from the headquarters on August 30, 1914 , bears witness to this:

“Work and hope have been cut in two in my hands. But I feel innocent of the rivers of blood that flow now. Our people are glorious and cannot perish. Much difficult, maybe even the hardest, is ahead of us. "

Karl Helfferich , who in the background developed an enormous hostility towards one of the most important advisers to the Emperor and Chancellor, Walther Rathenau, accompanied Bethmann Hollweg to the Supreme Army Command. Helfferich later wrote that the question “Where is a way to peace?” Kept Bethmann Hollweg busy.

The Chancellor considered returning the German colony of Kiautschou (now Qingdao ) to China. The associated abandonment of the East Asia Squadron was intended to bring about rapprochement with Great Britain and also with Japan .

Nevertheless, according to Tirpitz, the Chancellor agreed to the annexation of Antwerp and a northern strip of territory in a conversation in August 1914 . In view of the demands of the military, the actual September program represented a significant mitigation. The Antwerp question was left open there. The Reich Chancellor did not see himself equal to the supposed technical competence of the General Staff, which is why he changed his course again. Quotes from this period, however, show his inner distance to his own political decisions. Bethmann Hollweg wrote to his colleague Otto Hammann on November 14, 1914 from the headquarters in Charleville:

“I am always full of shame when I compare what is being done in Berlin and what we are not doing here. If I even come to the front and see the thinned rows of our gray boys […] marching into the murders of Ypres, then it goes through my core. […] Belgium is a tough nut to crack. At the beginning I chattered the phrase about the semi-sovereign tributary state. Now I think it's a utopia. Even if we had already killed the bear. "

Bethmann Hollweg admitted to the liberal historian Hans Delbrück in 1918 that the demand for the restoration of Belgium would have been the best objectively. But under the enormous pressure emanating from the military and shouting for annexations ("This cursed mood at headquarters."), This was not possible at the time and, according to Bismarck, politics was the art of the possible.

Instead, the Chancellor spoke of the " bargaining chip " in Belgium and France. This formulation had the good thing for him that it did not lead to a premature determination. Because only at the end of the war would the question of redeeming the pledge arise. So the bargaining chip formula was a rhetorical weapon against annexionist claims. The word spoken on August 4, 1914, with which Bethmann Hollweg had confessed to being guilty of the “injustice to Belgium”, he probably never took back - which some historians doubt, however. In May 1917, he admitted to his friend Karl von Weizsäcker that with both formulations (pledge, injustice to Belgium) he had also wanted to bind the Social Democrats to the empire. Before the investigative committee of the Weimar National Assembly in 1919 he emphasized that he had never revoked the confession of injustice.

At all times Bethmann Hollweg emphasized the defensive character that the war had in his opinion. He always spoke of the "safeguarding" of the Reich and, in the event of victory, of a "stronger Germany", but never of a "bigger", as the all-German chemist Hans von Liebig remarked disapprovingly.

Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn

The Chancellor was not able to do full justice to the left, who insisted on a complete declaration of renunciation, even though he spoke at headquarters in March 1915 of the complete liberation of Belgium, in order to be sure of the goodwill of Wilhelm II. The “military public enlightenment” turned out to be a further problem. As early as September 1914, Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhayn called for the public to be systematically informed about the unfavorable military situation as a result of the Battle of the Marne . On the advice of the Foreign Office, which feared unpredictable consequences abroad , and several business associations, Bethmann Hollweg refused the government to spread the military truth.

In spite of all self-deception, the clearing-up can only happen “gradually through the events themselves”. The confidence of victory is after all a "moral factor of immense importance".

While the National Liberals in the Reichstag, ignorant of the actual situation at the front, moved further and further to the right and indulged in the idea of ​​annexation, Bethmann Hollweg found that the partisanship for large territorial claims largely coincided with the opposition to the Prussian electoral reform. The foreign policy fronts in the background were also of a domestic nature, which was to prove to be the decisive, deep-seated problem for the Chancellor and the German Empire.

But at the beginning of the war it was possible to bridge the social gaps in national high spirits through the so-called truce . This union was based in large part on the work of the Chancellor. So from the beginning he had the plan of leading military, e.g. B. Tirpitz ', to arrest the SPD executive committee at the beginning of the war and to dissolve the party, resolutely refused. In addition, Bethmann Hollweg had openly approached the Social Democrats in order to win them over to the Empire in the long term. But even the simple gesture of a handshake of welcome between him and August Bebel in 1912 had been seen in broad circles of the media as an expression of anti-state sentiments.

For a non-partisan chancellor it had to be important to win over the workers to participate in the war. On July 29, 1914, Bethmann Hollweg asked the SPD how it would deal with the war via the Social Democrat Albert Südekum , who was closest to the Reich Chancellor in his parliamentary group and often acted as a link between the government and the parliamentary opposition . To his satisfaction, he was assured that he would not have to reckon with sabotage or general strikes . After he had presented this letter from the SPD executive committee to the emperor, he spoke the famous phrase in the Reichstag on August 4th: "I don't know any parties, I only know Germans." At the meeting of the Prussian State Ministry on August 15th he called for fair treatment of the Social Democrats, which led to indignant remarks from the Conservatives.

In retrospect, Bethmann Hollweg viewed the day the war began as one of the greatest in German history. On August 4, 1914, the internal barriers that prevented the growing together into a true nation-state had fallen. At the beginning of October 1914 he said to the democrat Conrad Haußmann , who stayed several times in Hohenfinow:

“The barriers have to fall, a new era begins after the war. The class differences have receded more than ever before. "

Only in the following weeks did the Chancellor begin to realize that the conservatives, "as they sit there so freezing," did not want to join the new community across all worldviews.

Max Liebermann : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, 1915

Meanwhile, Bethmann Hollweg also took part in enemy victims. With this in mind, he proclaimed in the Reichstag in 1916:

“Always new peoples throw themselves into the bloodbath. At what end? "

The Chancellor's policy was always characterized by the absence of any nationalistic feelings of hatred. In the middle of the war against the “ hereditary enemy ” he read French literature ( Honoré de Balzac , Anatole France ), enjoyed the beauty of the French language and complained that modern art had not flourished in Berlin as it did in Paris. ( See also: Rinnsteinkunst ) His favorite painter was Max Liebermann , who was also politically close to him and in 1915 created a portrait of the Chancellor.

1915–1916: awakening

In the spirit of progressives and leftists, the government committed itself in February 1915 to the so-called "reorientation", which should also include a reform of the electoral law in Prussia. Bethmann Hollweg instructed the conservative interior minister Friedrich Wilhelm von Loebell (former director of the Chancellery) to submit a draft law . The reform draft introduced in the early summer of 1915 once again provided for a tiered electoral law. In the speech from the throne in 1916, Wilhelm II stood behind it by pointing out the reorientation - to Loebell's great displeasure. But the emperor's little hint, which the conservatives saw as a worrying gesture, didn't go far enough for Bethmann Hollweg. The military reacted with displeasure to the resumption of efforts to reform the electoral law: Colonel Albrecht von Thaer called the Chancellor “unsuitable” and the reform “extremely superfluous”. The Chancellor "should have been a girls' school teacher".

After several drafts, all of which expanded the plural suffrage , but did not transition to the same general suffrage , Bethmann Hollweg told Wahnschaffe that the three-class suffrage had "become impossible" and that it would be necessary to switch to the same suffrage.

At the end of September 1915, a German Chancellor received a Social Democrat, Philipp Scheidemann , for dinner for the first time in the Reich Chancellor's Palace. Scheidemann wrote in his memoirs:

"Every sentence by the Chancellor breathed a longing for peace and goodwill."

Meanwhile, from the left and the right, he was accused of weak decision-making. The lack of a political center became increasingly evident. Such a plan should have relied primarily on the national liberals, who, under their annexionist spokesmen Ernst Bassermann and Gustav Stresemann, did not think of cooperation with the left-liberal progressives behind Bethmann Hollweg.

How clearly the Chancellor saw the military situation of the Reich as early as the spring of 1915 was shown by an unusual proposal to the Prussian State Ministry: In it he suggested the cession of the Leobschütz and Pless districts of the province of Silesia to Austria so that territorial concessions to Italy would be easier for the Danube Monarchy . This is the only way to prevent Italy from entering the war on the side of the Entente . He told ministers that if Italy intervened, the war would be lost. His ministerial colleagues horrified and rejected the proposal as downright un-Prussian. Italy's declaration of war on May 23, 1915 made no further discussion of the “Silesian offer” necessary.

On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British passenger ship RMS Lusitania off Ireland. Over 120 Americans died in the process, which put a considerable strain on relations with the United States.

With that, the question of unrestricted submarine warfare came back on the agenda. In an interview in November 1914, Tirpitz described the submarine war as the only really effective antidote to the sea ​​blockade that the United Kingdom had imposed on Germany. In the expectation that humanitarian arguments would hardly meet with a response from the Admiralty, the Chancellor tried to avoid or at least delay the unrestricted submarine war by asking critical questions. So he doubted the decisive importance of such a military action against the British war economy. The Chancellor also feared early on that the United States would enter the war on the side of the Entente.

Although Chief of Staff Falkenhayn wavered, Wilhelm II, who had initially spoken of "unchristian warfare", partially gave in to the Admiralty. In February 1915, the Kaiser declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone. This in no way meant permission for unrestricted submarine warfare, but the German approach sparked sharp protests among the neutral neighboring countries.

The American President Woodrow Wilson - Hope Bethmann Hollweg for a peace of understanding

Nevertheless, the offer made by American President Woodrow Wilson to mediate and find a balance between the warring parties was valid . Bethmann Hollweg had already been impressed by America's diplomatic efforts in 1911: At that time, the former President Theodore Roosevelt had proposed a “transatlantic triple alliance” from Great Britain, Germany and the United States during a stay in Berlin. Bethmann Hollweg wrote enthusiastically to the German embassies in London and Washington that they should be committed to making this idea a reality. But international developments distanced the states ever further from one another.

On August 19, 1915, still in the political waters of the Lusitania sinking, Bethmann Hollweg stepped in front of the German Reichstag and spoke the pithy and resonant sentence:

"We can only use power - also externally - in the sense of freedom."

Nevertheless, power-political considerations were often more important than moral issues. When the reports of the German representatives in the Ottoman Empire about massacres of the Armenians increased and even the ambassador in Istanbul demanded intervention, the Chancellor remarked: “Our only goal is to keep Turkey by our side until the end of the war, indifferently whether or not the Armenians will perish. "

The introduction of general conscription in Great Britain in January 1916 caused resentment in Berlin and Washington alike. President Wilson suggested calling a peace conference and sent the special envoy Colonel House ( see also: Gray House Memorandum ) to Berlin. On February 19, 1916, the important "U-Boot Memorandum" of the Reich Chancellor was published. In it he used the word " Iron Curtain ", which later became so famous, and which should not be drawn around England.

He expressed his great concern to Admiral von Müller that the neutrals could stand united against Germany if the Reich did not observe the international agreements of the Hague Land Warfare during the war .

"They'll beat us to death like a great dog."

At the beginning of March 1916, Bethmann Hollweg showed himself to be unusually tough at the headquarters in Charleville. Under threat of resignation, he actually pushed through the postponement of unrestricted submarine warfare. Therefore Tirpitz submitted his resignation a little later, which he received on March 12th. The chancellor's greatest adversary and supporter of submarine warfare, which Bethmann Hollweg called a “crime against the German people”, was defeated.

On March 10, Albert Ballin wrote to the Chancellor that he had grown extraordinarily with the war and that he was taking responsibility on his shoulders with astonishing freshness and force, which he had probably evaded earlier. The chancellor adviser Riezler said that the gentleman on Hohenfinow had grown into his world-historical position.

At this point in time (March 24, 1916) the SPD was about to break up in Berlin. During a session of the Reichstag, large circles of the Social Democrats expressed their approval of the Prime Minister Bethmann Hollweg. The moderate wing under Friedrich Ebert seemed to be completely separated from the left side of the party. The SPD chairman Hugo Haase , who had spoken passionately in the Reichstag against the immeasurable bloodshed of the war and against the acceptance of the note budget, was therefore forced to resign and, with his supporters, expelled from the SPD parliamentary group. Bethmann Hollweg hoped for a merger of the Social Democrats, who supported his war policy, and the Progressive People's Party to form a parliamentary group in the center (“parliamentary group of the sensible”).

But on the same day, the US problem reappeared when the Sussex was shot down. Bethmann Hollweg urged the American ambassador in Berlin , James W. Gerard , for President Wilson to mediate in the international conflict. He brought up the dispatch of a German special envoy, for whom he provided Wilhelm Solf, and asserted that Germany would agree to a peace treaty "under liberal conditions" at any time.

The 3rd OHL Hindenburg and Ludendorff

Hindenburg and Ludendorff 1917

In February 1916 the German offensive began in front of Verdun . Falkenhayn wanted France to "bleed to death" because rapid progress, as had been the case in 1870/71 , failed due to the reality of the trenches . When news of the terrible circumstances before Verdun got into the German press, Bethmann Hollweg wrote to Cabinet Chief Rudolf von Valentini that he had to change the mind of the Kaiser to appoint Paul von Hindenburg as the new head of the General Staff.

In July, tensions between Falkenhayn and the Hindenburg-Ludendorff team increased. Industrialists such as Carl Duisberg , Emil Kirdorf and Ernst Poensgen , but also Paul Rohrbach and Walter Rathenau spoke in favor of transferring the OHL to the supposedly strong-willed men Hindenburg and Ludendorff and giving the two officers dictatorial powers in the civilian sector as well. Bethmann Hollweg supported these plans by publicly claiming that the name Hindenburg was the terror of the enemy. He got through that the Emperor Hindenburg handed over the supreme command for the entire Eastern Front. Since Falkenhayn did not want to and could not give up the additional troops demanded by Hindenburg, the conflict was programmed that would cost Falkenhayn the office. The final occasion was the declaration of war by Romania. On August 28th, Bethmann Hollweg got the emperor to dismiss Falkenhayn; the following day, Wilhelm II appointed Paul von Hindenburg Chief of the General Staff of the Field Army and Erich Ludendorff as the fully responsible First Quartermaster General . This position was specially invented for Ludendorff, who, as everyone involved knew, was the real head of the new OHL. Under the new leadership duo Hindenburg and Ludendorff, whom the Kaiser considered to be "a dubious character eaten away by ambition", the third Supreme Army Command began its work.

In 1916 an old problem became topical again with the Poland question. As early as July 1914, Wilhelm II had declared to the Polish Count Bogdan von Hutten-Czapski that if Germany were to win, he would give the Polish people freedom and give them independence. A year later, all of Poland was in the hands of the Central Powers. Falkenhayn pushed for the annexation of Poland to Austria-Hungary, which Bethmann Hollweg described as the “least unfavorable” solution with regard to the prospect of peace with Russia.

With the change in the general staff, the tone changed: General Ludendorff demanded the immediate establishment of a pseudo-independent kingdom of Poland as a "sanctuary for people who are necessary for further fighting in the east". Ludendorff's ideas about compulsory surveys in Poland were in conflict with the ideas of the Chancellor. In the spring of 1916 the Chancellor found haunting words against annexationism in the Reichstag:

"For Germany, not for a foreign piece of land, Germany's sons bleed and die."

Thereupon the Social Democratic MP Karl Liebknecht , spokesman for the anti-Bethmann, left-wing extremist SPD wing, jumped up and exclaimed: "That is not true!"

In negotiations with the Austrian Foreign Minister Stephan Burián von Rajecz in August 1916, the representatives of the Central Powers agreed on an independent constitutional kingdom of Poland, which, as Bethmann Hollweg enforced, was not to be proclaimed until the end of the war. On October 18, 1916, following protests from Vienna, the August agreement on Poland was declared invalid and Poland's independence was brought forward to November. On November 5, 1916, the proclamation of the reign of Poland was announced.

Bethmann Hollweg had succumbed to pressure from the army command and the Danube monarchy. He was only able to prevent forced recruitment; But the fact that the armed forces with the Polish armed forces began to recruit the first volunteers immediately after the proclamation of Polish independence, revealed Ludendorff's radical plans. Although the Chancellor was not the driving force in the Poland question, and even offered open resistance against the OHL, he was ultimately the one politically responsible and exposed to the accusations of history. Kurt Riezler wrote aptly: "The general pushes, the chancellor hesitates."

In the autumn of 1916, the OHL, which was increasingly becoming the real ruling force in the Reich, drafted a bill for military services. This was under the motto "If you don't want to work, you shouldn't eat" and included a. the proposal of forced labor for women. Colonel Max Bauer, the author of the pamphlet, encountered appalled protests from the Chancellor and the Prussian War Ministry , which ultimately brought the plan down.

At the same time took place at the insistence of the OHL deportation of Belgian workers to Germany. Despite Bethmann Hollweg's appeal to carefully examine the issue of slave labor, such coercive measures continued until February 1917.

1916/17: Peace initiatives and submarine war

On November 9, 1916, Bethmann Hollweg gave a much-noticed speech to the main committee of the Reichstag. After affirming, in response to the British Foreign Minister's allegations, that he had never called the annexation of Belgium a German intention, he exclaimed:

"Germany is always ready to join a League of Nations , yes, to place itself at the head of a League of Nations that keeps peacemakers in check."

These progressive words also represented the Chancellor's approval of the remarks made by American President Wilson, who had called for a mutual agreement on the basis of a League of Nations to be founded.

But US President Wilson ran his peace initiative only slowly, as he viewed it as a disadvantage in the upcoming American election campaign. In addition, the Bethmann-friendly camp in Germany followed the rise of Welsh David Lloyd George in Great Britain with concern. In September 1916, Lloyd George uttered his famous phrase of the "knock-out" to which Germany must succumb. Lloyd George finally rose to be Prime Minister of the UK in December 1916.

On October 7th, the center faction brought about a change in the question of unrestricted submarine warfare through a resolution. The center swung completely to the line of the military and for the first time called for unrestricted submarine warfare. Bethmann Hollweg later wrote in his considerations that Parliament had thus completely given political power to the OHL.

In the State Ministry on October 20, the Chancellor made the proposal of the Central Powers' own peace offer, referring to the lack of any tangible US initiative and the support of the Austrian Burián. He envisaged the restoration of the pre-war situation as far as possible . On the occasion of the Chancellor's proposal, Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff wrote to Admiral von Müller: "Nothing but worry, nothing but longing for peace cultivates his brain and heart."

In mid-November 1916, Bethmann Hollweg had ambassador Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff in Washington inquire about the prospect of a peace conference. But when the White House continued to show indecision, Bethmann Hollweg saw perhaps the last chance for a compromise peace in its own peace offer.

After the victory over Romania, when the military situation had changed again in favor of the Empire, the Chancellor offered the Entente a "peace of understanding" in the Reichstag on December 12th. He had the full support of the emperor behind him, who, in agreement with Bethmann Hollweg's efforts, wrote that the peace proposal was “a moral act that is necessary to free the world from the pressure on everyone.” The governments of the Entente States, however, assessed the initiative differently.

Map of German Central Africa : German colonies instead of annexations in Europe to ensure a lasting peace

On December 18, Wilson's long-awaited peace initiative took place. The American President demanded the disclosure of clearly formulated war goals, which the Empire was ready for, as well as the release of Belgium. In response to Pan-German demands, Wilhelm Solf made the compensatory proposal to create a coherent German colonial empire in Central Africa with the annexation of the Belgian Congo . By creating a German Central Africa , future peace should not be burdened by annexations in Europe. The implementation of the colonial war goal was never a priority. Instead, Bethmann Hollweg and Solf wanted to formulate a German war goal that was acceptable at home and abroad in the event of a peace in victory, in which the two politicians no longer believed in any case.

But when the Entente was not ready for such compromises, on January 7, 1917, Bethmann Hollweg demanded that the enemies give in immediately, otherwise Germany would react with unrestricted submarine warfare. The Chancellor's marginal comment on this petition, which was sent to Ambassador Bernstorff, again showed the hopeless situation: "Perhaps you still know one way of avoiding a break with America."

The next day the Chancellor traveled to Pless (Silesia) for the Privy Council meeting there, where the decision on the submarine war was to be made. After the OHL and the Reichstag had already given their approval, the final decision was now up to the Kaiser. As Bethmann Hollweg later wrote, he had already stepped back completely behind Ludendorff when the Chancellor arrived. He claimed that America had "no soldiers" and if it did, France and England had already been defeated by the submarine warfare when the US forces arrived . This argument made the emperor ask why Bethmann Hollweg "still has concerns".

On the one hand, it is hardly possible to say anything about Bethmann Hollweg's later statement that the submarine war was ultimately waged because a majority in the Reichstag, Supreme Army Command and the German people wanted it. On the other hand, he had fought for a compromise peace to the end and knew about the concerns of his political friends, especially Solfs and Bernstorffs. Wilhelm Solf was deeply disappointed by the news from Pless and took sick leave. He wrote: "You cannot hold an olive branch with one hand and shoot the pistol with the other."

These existential questions led the Chancellor to resign. But he stayed - what Ballin called "sticking to the office". He later told Walther Rathenau that he had stayed in order to preserve the chances of a mutual agreement despite the submarine war. To Riezler he said in 1919 that he had not wanted to vacate the "saber regiment of the Pan-Germans". According to his biographer Vietsch, he was guided by a deep sense of loyalty to the emperor, which he did not want to expose by his resignation. In Germany, Bethmann Hollweg has been a failed politician since that day.

Following the decision of Pless, Wilson read a message to the American Senate on January 22nd - a precursor to the 14-point program - in which he pleaded for peace without a winner and the right of peoples to self-determination . In March 1917, the Russian February Revolution shook the European power structure. On March 29th, Bethmann Hollweg appeared before the press and declared, contrary to the wishes of the conservatives, that the Reich would under no circumstances reinstate the Tsar's government. The internal affairs of Russia are a matter for the Russian people. In addition, due to the internal political turmoil, the chance of a separate peace with Russia seemed greater to him, which was also expressed in the support of the empire for Lenin's return trip .

Induced by the new situation, which also resulted from America's expected entry into the war on April 9, Wilhelm II invited to a discussion of the war aims at the headquarters in Bad Kreuznach . On April 23, 1917, the Kreuznach war target conference , to which Mustafa Kemal Pascha had also appeared, took place here in a tense atmosphere: First, Bethmann Hollweg considered renouncing all annexations. The OHL rejected this in principle. Instead, the military carried out their ideas unmolested. Valentini called the talks “childish”, as everyone involved noticed that the Chancellor only agreed to the OHL's war goals because he never believed they would be carried out. “I only signed the minutes because my departure over fantasies would be ridiculous. Besides, I am in no way bound by the Protocol. If peace opportunities arise anywhere, I will pursue them. "

His actual confinement is shown by statements made to his friend Weizsäcker: “It's easier to be in the trenches, because you can shoot a bullet through your head. In this terrible situation I can't do that. "

The question of the Prussian electoral reform

In these days the question of the long-postponed electoral reform in Prussia returned to the political agenda. In the spring of 1917, the Social Democrats called the treatment of this question a “scandal” and called for “courage to act liberally”. On February 27, 1917, Bethmann Hollweg appeared before the Reichstag and expressed his views on the reorientation in his speech, which he later called his “most important”. “As if it were up to us whether we want to reorient ourselves or not. No, a new era with a renewed people is here. The mighty war created them. ”Beyond all Western principles, the Chancellor called for“ the right political expression to be found for what this people is ”. He saw the typical German form of a liberal form of government in a monarchy based "on the broad shoulders of the free man". This is the true meaning of Prussian royalty. He tried again to commit the left to the existing form of government: a progressive, social “people's empire” appeared to him to be acceptable to both left and right and therefore the long-term solution to internal problems.

But this form of government was externally - especially with regard to the USA - without advertising power. Bethmann Hollweg's fateful intellectual limitation in German idealism made him fail to recognize the international impact. In the last months of his term of office, the Reich Chancellor pursued the goal of a parliamentary monarchy and thus also pushed the question of universal suffrage. On March 9, the Conservatives moved even further from the center and now rejected the “whole liberal and parliamentary idea”. In order to avoid a break with the conservatives, the Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister once again refrained from general constitutional theory in his remarks in the Prussian manor house. But he gave the persistence on the three-class suffrage a clear refusal and confessed that he would like the reform of the electoral law as soon as possible. Nevertheless, he pointed out that hectic rush could have a "deadly" effect on this question and called out the far-reaching words:

"Woe to the statesman who does not recognize the signs of the times, woe to the statesman who believes that after a catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen, we can simply build on what was before."

Although Bethmann Hollweg had wanted to avoid the break through imprecise formulations, the right understood the speech as an expression of anti-state sentiments. The reactionary wing of the conservatives insulted the Chancellor as a “follower of the Jews and Social Democrats”. The progressive Conrad Haußmann, on the other hand, spoke of a " historic event " because the Chancellor had openly taken the left side.

How much Bethmann Hollweg, despite his sometimes consoling statements, was still ready to put his ideas of freedom into practice, is illustrated by his remarks to Oettingen: If he felt stronger, he would “put himself at the head of the Social Democrats” and introduce the same right to vote immediately and without further ado. But he is weak and the conservatives are his fiercest enemies, much stronger than it seems.

On March 31, 1917, Bethmann Hollweg appointed a commission to work out an imperial embassy that was to expressly state the same right to vote. The tired and worn-out Chancellor gathered all his remaining resolve and traveled to Bad Homburg to see Wilhelm II. Interior Minister von Loebell, the greatest political opponent of the reorientation, had just fallen ill, which briefly improved Bethmann Hollweg's situation. Although the emperor spoke out in favor of the reorientation, he refused, taking into account the conservative circles, direct reference to equal voting rights. Bethmann Hollweg showed the emperor with emotion that it was impossible for him to represent a proposal according to which a “worker decorated with the Iron Cross 1st class next to a well-to-do slacker from the same village” had to vote with unequal voting rights. Ultimately, Wilhelm II agreed to the wording of the Easter message and thus to the democratization of Prussia. Ludendorff described the Easter message of April 7th, which promised the abolition of the three-class suffrage, as “ kowtowing before the revolution”.

Pope Benedict XV - last hope for a mutual agreement

At the end of June Scheidemann and Eduard David sent the Chancellor a report on the International Socialist Congress in Stockholm , in which they assessed the chances of a separate Russian peace as very slim. Bethmann Hollweg, interested in the explanations of the Social Democrats, requested and received a corresponding memorandum. The SPD demanded from the German government a clear commitment to peace without annexations. During this time the hope fell on the peace initiative of the Pope, Benedict XV. He had offered to mediate between the warring parties. Chancellor and Wilhelm II agreed to the Pope's efforts and were ready to release Belgium and separate Alsace-Lorraine. The highly satisfied nuncio in Munich, Eugenio Pacelli , later said confidentially that the prospects for peace would have been good without Bethmann Hollweg's departure.

In this situation, the center member Matthias Erzberger found a hearing at the main parliamentary committee with his initiative of a peace effort by the Reichstag. Bethmann Hollweg was astonished by the efforts, which were also directed against the Chancellor in their radicalism, since the position of the broad majority of the Reichstag had always been his.

Resignation and retirement

Ludendorff now saw the opportunity to have the parliamentarians take care of his goal of removing the Chancellor. In the foreground of his considerations stood Gustav Stresemann, who, regardless of his own annexionist positions, declared the Chancellor unsuitable for a negotiated peace: “There is no raped Reich Chancellor. A Chancellor must be able to assert himself, if he cannot, he must draw the conclusions. "

In his answer, Bethmann Hollweg spoke of the “overwhelming achievements of the people in this war”. He was firmly convinced that the same right to vote would bring "no impairment, but extraordinary strengthening and consolidation of the monarchical idea". Impressed by these words, Kaiser Wilhelm II said to his head of cabinet von Valentini:

"And I should fire the man who towers above all others by a head!"

Two days after the chancellor's speech, the emperor published his “July message” in which he promised that “the next elections can take place under the new, equal suffrage”. Wilhelm Solf later called this a “complete victory for the idea of ​​social empire”. In response, Colonel Max Bauer, OHL representative, spread the news that Ludendorff considered the war to be lost if the Chancellor stayed. Crown Prince Wilhelm suggested to his father to question representatives of the parliamentary groups about the whereabouts of the Chancellor. The MPs Kuno von Westarp , Gustav Stresemann and Erich Mertin spoke out in favor of the dismissal of the Chancellor, only Friedrich von Payer and Eduard David in favor of remaining in office.

Bethmann Hollweg did not seem acceptable to the majority parties in the Reichstag in their efforts to reach a mutual agreement as a negotiator with the war opponents, as he had been in this position for too long and, in their opinion, appeared too weakly in relation to the Supreme Army Command. He was too willing to compromise with the Supreme Army Command, since he had promised internal reforms.

Hohenfinow manor (1906, demolished in the 1950s) - Bethmann Hollweg's retreat

In a telex to the Kaiser on July 12, 1917, Ludendorff actually threatened to resign as Chief of Staff of the Supreme Army Command:

“During the most serious crisis that has hit Germany and Prussia, Your Majesty has decided to keep the head of this policy, the Reich Chancellor, in his office. [...] The fatherland has to suffer from this lack of trusting cooperation. Your Majesty Balancing Order cannot prevent this. I can no longer serve your majesty in my position, and I humbly ask your majesty to allow me to leave. "

His boss Hindenburg followed this ultimatum. In order to spare the emperor and the embarrassment of a dismissal, Bethmann Hollweg submitted his resignation. The Kaiser gave in to pressure from the military leadership and approved the request. On July 13, 1917, Bethmann Hollweg resigned.

The reactions to the resignation of the Reich Chancellor were just as varied as the assessments of his work during his term of office. The German Crown Prince spoke of the "most beautiful day of his life". In contrast, his supporters Solf and Max von Baden were disappointed at the news of his resignation. Georg von Hertling spoke in retrospect about this event that he had found "only confusion, perplexity and lack of direction" in Berlin. There was only one thought in unity: "Bethmann had to go, whoever comes after is irrelevant."

The Chancellor himself wrote to Eisendecher that he could leave his place without bitterness, but with pain at the spectacle that Germany was presenting to the "listening enemy". His successor Michaelis, named by the OHL, prevented by withdrawing the concessions, u. a. the restoration of Belgium, the further flourishing of the papal peace initiative. Michaelis was followed by Count Hertling, a conservative South German whom Bethmann Hollweg had wanted to be his successor from the start. Nevertheless, Hertling confessed that he ran counter to the "very far left-facing views of Bethmann".

After Valentini's moderate head of cabinet had also been ousted from office in January 1918, the Chancellor wrote that “reactionary chauvinism was becoming more and more trump card” in Berlin. Regarding the peace negotiations in Brest-Litowsk , Bethmann Hollweg said that the “soldierly justified will to victory” must find its limitation in the “insight into what can be achieved”. At the same time he doubted the meaning of his remarks: “It's in the wind after all. A stripped-down statesman who has become superfluous is best to shut up. "

Former Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg retired on his Hohenfinow estate and devoted himself to agriculture. He received his remaining political friends, such as Adolf von Harnack , Hans Delbrück, Friedrich Meinecke , Wilhelm Solf, Walter Goetz and Ernst Troeltsch . He described his way of life as “a bit poor”, and the political talks did not give him any mental boost either.

In November 1918 the revolution shook the empire. The coup, which the former chancellor rated as "désastre", changed the political situation and brought new insights for Bethmann Hollweg as well. The result of the world war should have been a real League of Nations, but now only a "pseudo-union built on imperialist orgies" will result. Before the revolution, he advised Wilhelm Solf, who had risen to head German foreign policy, not to answer too vigorously to Wilson's note, which veiledly demanded the removal of the Hohenzollerns, so that diplomatic threads would not break. Because whether you like it or not, you are "on the threshold of a new era, namely the democratic one."

Bethmann Hollweg grave site in Hohenfinow , inscription: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Matthew 5, 6 "

In 1919 Wilhelm II was to be interrogated before an Entente tribunal . Bethmann Hollweg showed the emperor a final proof of loyalty and offered to be questioned instead of the emperor. After all, he was the politically responsible person. In May 1919, the first part of his reflections on the world war appeared , in which Bethmann Hollweg described the prehistory of the war. In retrospect, Bethmann Hollweg viewed Germany's share in the start of the war as follows:

“We were heavily burdened by 70/71 and our geographical central location. Since the emperor came into power we have often done the opposite of what we could have done to make the burden bearable. Of course, world imperialism would have prevailed even without our intervention, and it remains very questionable whether we could have prevented the natural French, Russian and British oppositions against us even if we had acted sensibly. We have put guilt on ourselves, but only mutual and common guilt has caused the world catastrophe. "

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg died of acute pneumonia on New Year's Day 1921 and was unable to complete the second part of his considerations. His considerations therefore had to remain unfinished. On the tombstone of the Chancellor, who had struggled with the problems of his country like no other, the self-chosen Bible verse still stands today: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice."


Political Legacy and Historical Assessment Before 1945

Soon after the death of Chancellor formed around Hans von Se hatched , Walter Si mons and William So lf the SeSiSo Club . Until 1936 he used to meet on Bethmann Hollweg's birthday for so-called Bethmann meals in the Hotel Kaiserhof in order to preserve the memory of the Chancellor through talks and lectures. The participants in the Bethmann evenings initially consisted of Bethmann Hollweg's former employees. At their head were Wilhelm Solf, now head of German foreign policy, the former head of the Reich Chancellery, Arnold Wahnschaffe , and Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, who had supported Bethmann Hollweg's peace policy as ambassador in Washington. There were also some Bethmann relatives, such as Gerhard von Mutius. Irregular but interested participants may have been a. Max Cohen , Paul Rohrbach , Harry Graf Kessler , Ernst von Harnack , Bernhard Lichtenberg , August von Trott zu Solz and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord . Another participant in a Bethmann evening was Richard Nikolaus Graf von Coudenhove-Kalergi , the founder of the Paneuropean movement .

This small group of friends of the person and politics of Reich Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg formed the only group that took a clear stand against the polemical treatises of the Pan-Germans, such as that of Hans von Liebig. After the death of the Reich Chancellor, the exchange of blows between the Bethmann-friendly and hostile camps continued, as they did during his lifetime. The truce, which was finally broken after the end of the war, was pushed into the background by the situation of the Weimar Republic. A political center could not form among the ever-widening gaps. In this way, none of the Bethmann Hollweg circle of friends gained greater influence. The only politician whose worldview was related to that of Bethmann Hollweg seemed to be Stresemann. But it was precisely this who, as a national liberal member of parliament, railed against Bethmann Hollweg. Matthias Erzberger and Walther Rathenau, however, soon fell victim to the assassinations of right-wing perpetrators.

The scientific perspective on Bethmann Hollweg was also shaped by condemnation from left and right. Nevertheless, many who were critical of him during his tenure had to give him recognition in retrospect.

Adolf Hitler paid hostile attention to the personality of the Reich Chancellor in his book Mein Kampf . Hitler lamented the "miserable demeanor and weakness of this philosophizing weakling". He called his speeches in the Reichstag a "helpless stammering". In connection with Bethmann Hollweg's equalization policy, Tirpitz condemned the “inclination of our intellectuals towards Western culture”.

The ideas of resistance against National Socialism were largely close to Bethmann Hollweg's ideas of renewal and “reorientation”. Members of the SeSiSo Club, such as Albrecht Graf von Bernstorff , Arthur Zarden and Wilhelm Staehle , took part in meetings of the Solf Circle , which had formed around Wilhelm Solf's wife, Hanna Solf . Some were privy to the plans around July 20, 1944 . The Kreisau circle around Helmuth James Graf von Moltke referred to Bethmann Hollweg in their visions.

Some of the world is still suffering from the consequences of the First World War, which Bethmann Hollweg was unable to prevent. ( see also: Urkatastrophe der 20. Century ) The failure of the Prussian electoral reform was also not without consequences. A historian in the Weimar Republic wrote: “It is not enough to have wanted the best. [...] In politics it is enough to have done the best. And that is precisely what Bethmann Hollweg owes the German people. When he wanted to start too late, he fell. "

Nevertheless, Bethmann Hollweg's tenure continued to have an effect. His influence on social groups during the Weimar Republic and the resistance movement of National Socialism show that he must have been more than just a "failed politician".

Bethmann Hollweg's dealings with social democracy influenced the course of the history of the SPD. Thanks to the truce, the SPD became “eligible” for large parts of the bourgeoisie and, as a people's party, was able to exert great influence on the constitution of the Weimar Republic and that of the Federal Republic of Germany . According to historian Eberhard von Vietsch, without the initiative of the Chancellor to integrate the SPD into the political system, the development of the SPD towards a bourgeois people's party to the left of the center would have been more difficult.

Bethmann Hollweg's domestic political opponents accused him of being a “fluff maker” who wanted to cheat the “people of the fruits of victory” with a “lazy peace”. National parties in the Weimar Republic preserved this assessment until it finally became official with the victory of the NSDAP. Later, after 1945, Bethmann Hollweg was seen as a “chancellor without qualities”, as “an indecisive, self-doubting Hamlet”.

Historical assessment after 1945

The political legacy of Bethmann Hollweg fell into oblivion in the course of the Second World War , which also resulted in the destruction of most of the Bethmann estate, and the history of the GDR . It was only the Fischer controversy that brought Bethmann Hollweg back into the public eye. The old conflict over the Chancellor was also carried out in science. The Bethmann Hollweg biographer von Vietsch sees analogies in the world views of Bethmann Hollweg and John F. Kennedy with regard to the political legacy of the Chancellor . Both would have advocated the "ideal of justice", the "unification of freedom and order".

In the assessment of Bethmann Hollweg as a person through German historiography, according to Imanuel Geiss, the German view of history changed over time. "The good, strong OHL under Ludendorff and the bad, weak Bethmann Hollweg became the good-natured philosopher von Hohenfinow and the bad Ludendorff". Bethmann Hollweg and the majority parties of the peace resolution were redesigned by conservative historians "as representatives of a better Germany, while Ludendorff and the Pan-Germans were now dismissed as a small, irresponsible clique of nationalist megalomaniacs".

"To fundamentally reject war aims for himself in his capacity as Chancellor," said Fritz Fischer, "would have been as much as asking the Pope to convert to Protestantism". Bethmann Hollweg was not fundamentally against war aims, as the September program shows; only conditionally his more realistic assessment of the military situation and the far greater economic and military potential of the opponents also more realistic demands for war goals. For him, as he emphasized in a letter to Hindenburg, politics always remained the “art of the attainable” (January 4, 1917).

Egmont Zechlin denies the Bethmann Hollweg government the pursuit of actual war goals because, in his opinion, there was no purposeful planning, political activity, initiative, seriousness and finality for the discussion of war goals. There is no doubt in historical studies that Bethmann Hollweg's war aims were more moderate than the Pan-Germans. Nevertheless, according to Geiss, they too “established a German hegemony on the continent that was absolutely unbearable for Europe and the world. They were just a less flashy variation on the same theme ”.

Because of his “Russophobia”, Bethmann Hollweg sought the most broadly defined goals in the east with his border state policy. On August 11, 1915, he wrote to the Kaiser:

“If the development of military events and the processes in Russia itself were to enable the Muscovite Empire to be pushed back to the east by splitting off its western parts of the country, then the liberation from this alp in the east would certainly be a worthwhile goal, which would cost us victims and extraordinary Efforts of this war would be worth. "

In the separate peace negotiations with Russia, however, like Jagow, he put his Russophobia in the background.

The Bethmann-Hollweg biographer Eberhard von Vietsch also admits that “the insight into the problems of annexations of any size was certainly related to the deteriorating military situation in Germany”. If Germany had been strong enough, he would have had nothing against great goals; but their premature proclamation would not increase the strength of the empire. The wild demands of the annexationists would even bear part of the responsibility for prolonging the war.

His relative moderation, with non-binding formulations for all demands for war goals, is also related to his civil peace policy with the Social Democrats. Bethmann Hollweg, caught between the Wilhelmine elite and the latent pacifism of the masses, had to find a “middle ground” and maintain the “fiction of self-defense”. Under the sign of the inner truce, he believed he had to "draw a diagonal between the craziest demands of the Pan-Germans and the most sensible of the Social Democrats". But this “diagonal” (for himself a middle way between “annexationism” and “ defeatism ”), which wanted to reconcile the irreconcilable, was not possible in reality, and so he wavered without clearly defining himself.

Even if, as is often claimed, Bethmann Hollweg had not allowed a peace to fail because of the war aims, it would hardly have prevailed domestically. "With his decision to conceal the seriousness of the situation from the people and rather to suggest new optimism, the Chancellor deprived himself of the means to effectively dampen war expectations and purposefully lead the country towards a modest peace".

For Bethmann Hollweg, a “lean peace” could only be achieved internally “if the military declared this to be right and necessary” because they consider a decisive victory to be impossible and therefore advise not to continue the fight. The general assessment was that Hindenburg had to agree to peace: "The people would believe him if he said: this and no more could be achieved" ( Hugo Lerchenfeld ); - "The peace had to be made by the Hindenburg-Ludendorff company" ( Wilhelm Groener ). According to Janssen's thesis, Bethmann Hollweg sought to enforce the appointment of Hindenburg as Commander-in-Chief, because he needed him as a protective shield for a peace of understanding and thus the emperor and government were protected from the demands of the Pan-Germans. In doing so, he paid no attention to the fact that Ludendorff was behind Hindenburg. The latter had soon announced that "the field marshal will not put in his word for a lazy peace".

Fritz Fischer registered that in Bethmann Hollweg's “Politics of the Diagonal” the “resultant in Bethmann's parallelogram of forces always had to lean towards the stronger side,” the error was, so to speak, inherent in the system. Bethmann Hollweg was, as it were, the executor of the internal structures of the empire. He recognized the military's mistakes, but ultimately had to give in to their pressures despite his own progressive opinion.

Fischer portrayed him as someone who might perhaps attain moderate insights himself, but was nevertheless forced to adopt a politics of strength in order to maintain himself politically. Because an excessively far-reaching cut from the war aims would have led to the overthrow of the chancellor at any time, given the dependence on the emperor, on the war target majority in the Reichstag until mid-1917, on the military and the navy and public opinion. Fischer was not interested in Bethmann Hollweg's subjective state of mind, he was “interested in the objective finding of the politics of a politician who was under systemic pressure. But the system undertook to take hold of world power ”.

Bethmann Hollweg, on the other hand, received positive appreciation from Gerhard Ritter , who was regarded as Fritz Fischer's great opponent in assessing the question of German war guilt. Especially in the last two volumes of his four-volume late work “Staatskunst und Kriegshandwerk” (published 1954–1968), Ritter describes Bethmann Hollweg as a politician whose “good statecraft” allegedly stood in opposition to Ludendorff's “evil warfare”.

Other awards

In Hohenfinow today only the weathered and partially destroyed grave of the Chancellor reminds of the son of the village (see picture above). He is the only Chancellor of the German Empire after whom no street was named.

Works (selection)


  • England's guilt for the world war. Speech by the German Chancellor on August 19, 1915 and the subsequent dispute with Sir Edward Gray, compiled in official files (=  Volksschrift zum Große Krieg. Vol. 54/55, ZDB -ID 342905-2 ). Verlag des Evangelischen Bund, Berlin 1915.
  • Italy's breach of faith. Reichstag speech by the German Chancellor about Italy's declaration of war on Austria-Hungary. Rieck, Delmenhorst 1915.
  • Speech - delivered in the Reichstag on Dec. 2nd, 1914 (= War tracts, No. 6). German-American Business Association, Berlin 1915.
  • Ten years of Entente politics. On the prehistory of the war. Speech of the German Chancellor of August 19, 1915. Stilke, Berlin 1915 (In French: Dix Années de politique d'entente. Ibid . 1915; In English: The Triple Entente. Ten Years of its Policy. Preuss, Berlin 1915, digitized Edition of the University and State Library Düsseldorf).
  • Germany's peace offer. Imperial order to army u. Fleet and speech by the German Chancellor in the German Reichstag on December 12, 1916. Reimar Hobbing , Berlin 1916.
  • Who is to blame for the war? Speech by the German Chancellor in the main committee of the German Reichstag on November 9, 1916. Hobbing, Berlin 1916 (In French: Les Origines de la Guerre et l'avenir de l'Europe. Frankfurter, Lausanne 1917).
  • The Chancellor's speech on February 27, 1917. Elsner, Berlin 1917.
  • Reflections on World Wars. 2 volumes, Hobbing, Berlin 1919–1921.
  • Peace offer and submarine war. Wording of the statement of the former Chancellor in the investigation committee. Hobbing, Berlin 1919. ( digitized version )


  • The Reichstag speeches of the Chancellor and the Treasury Secretary on the World War: To the German people. 7 speeches. Heymann, Berlin 1915.
  • Reichstag speeches. (a) Chancellor Dr. v. Bethmann-Hollweg on the political and military situation, (b) State Secretary of the Reich Treasury Dr. Helfferich on the financial situation, (c) State Secretary of the Reich Office of the Interior Dr. Delbrück on the economic situation. August 1915. Kriegs-Zeitung, Laon 1915.
  • Seven War Speeches by the German Chanceller 1914–1916. Orell Füssli, Zurich 1916.
  • Six war speeches by the Chancellor. Hobbing, Berlin 1916.
  • Bethmann Hollweg's war speeches. Edited and introduced by Friedrich Thimme . Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart a. a. 1919. ( digitized version )

Movie and TV


  • Hermann Friedrich Macco : The descent of the 5th German Chancellor, His Excellency theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg from Aachen patrician families of the 15th century. Aachener Allgemeine Zeitung, Aachen 1909.
  • Gottlob Egelhaaf : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the fifth Reich Chancellor (=  upright men, No. 6). Evangelical Society, Stuttgart 1916 (Reprint, edited by Björn Bedey, transferring Fraktur into Antiqua. (=  German Reich - Writings and Discourses. Vol. 5, 1: Reich Chancellor. ). Severus-Verlag, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3- 86347-081-4 ).
  • Franz Sontag: German Reich Policy since July 14, 1909. sn, sl 1916 (later as: Junius Alter (d. I .: Franz Sontag): The German Reich on the way to a historical episode. A study of Bethmann's policy in sketches and outlines. Several Pads).
  • Hermann Kötschke: Our Chancellor. His life and work. Augustin, Berlin 1916.
  • Hans Frhr. von Liebig : The politics of Bethmann Hollweg. A study. 3 volumes. Lehmann, Munich 1919;
    • Vol. 1. The B system before the war.
    • Vol. 2. The B system in war.
    • Vol. 3. The B-System as the winner.
  • M. Erzberger : Experiences in the World War. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart a. a. 1920.



  • Karl Heinz Abshagen : Guilt and Doom. A quarter of a century of German history in eyewitness accounts. Union Verlag, Stuttgart 1961.
  • Luigi Albertini : The origins of the war of 1914. 3 volumes. Oxford University Press, London a. a. 1952-1957 (Reprinted. Greenwood Press, Westport CT 1980), ISBN 0-313-22401-3 ;
    • Vol. 1. European relations from the Congress of Berlin to the eve of the Sarajewo murder.
    • Vol. 2. The crisis of July 1914. From the Sarajevo outrage to the Austro-Hungarian general mobilization.
    • Vol. 3. The epilogue of the crisis of July 1914. The declarations of war and of neutrality.
  • Dieter Engelmann, Horst Naumann: Hugo Haase. Life path and political legacy of a militant socialist. Edition New Paths, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-88348-216-1 .
  • Imanuel Geiss : July crisis and outbreak of war 1914. A collection of documents. 2 volumes. Publishing house for literature and current affairs, Hanover 1963–1964.
  • Walter Görlitz (Ed.): Did the Kaiser rule? War diaries, records and letters from the chief of the naval cabinet, Admiral Georg Alexander von Müller 1914–1918. Musterschmidt, Göttingen a. a. 1959.
  • Hansjoachim Henning: Germany's relationship to England in Bethmann Hollweg's foreign policy 1909–1914. Cologne 1962 (Cologne, Univ., Dissertation of August 7, 1963).
  • Theodor Heuss : Profiles. Replicas from history (= rororo 843). Unabridged edition. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 1966.
  • Karl-Heinz Janßen : The Chancellor and the General. The leadership crisis around Bethmann Hollweg and Falkenhayn. (1914-1916). Musterschmidt, Göttingen a. a. 1967.
  • Konrad H. Jarausch : The Enigmatic Chancellor. Bethmann Hollweg and the hubris of imperial Germany. Yale University Press, New Haven CT et al. a. 1973, ISBN 0-300-01295-0 .
  • Reinhard Patemann: The struggle for the Prussian electoral reform in the First World War (=  contributions to the history of parliamentarism and political parties. Vol. 26, ISSN  0522-6643 ). Droste, Düsseldorf 1964 (at the same time: dissertation, University of Marburg, 1962).
  • Walther Rathenau : Diary 1907–1922. Edited and commented by Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann. Droste, Düsseldorf 1967.
  • André Scherer u. a .: L'Allemagne et lesproblemèmes de la paix pendant la première guerre mondiale. Documents extraits des archives de l'Office allemand des Affaires étrangères. 4 volumes. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
    • Vol. 1. Des origines à la déclaration de la guerre sous-marine à outrance (août 1914 - 31 janvier 1917) (=  Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Paris-Sorbonne. Series: Textes. Vol. 3, ZDB -ID 1173771-2 ). 1962.
    • Vol. 2. De la guerre sous-marine à outrance à la révolution soviétique ( February 1, 1917 - November 7, 1917) . (=  Publications de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Paris-Sorbonne. Series: Textes. Vol. 14 = Travaux de l'Institut d'Histoire des Relations Internationales. Vol. 4). 1966.
    • Vol. 3. De la révolution soviétique à la paix de Brest-Litovsk. (November 9, 1917 - March 3, 1918) (=  Publications de la Sorbonne. Series: Documents. Vol. 26). 1976, ISBN 2-85944-002-X .
    • Vol. 4. De la paix de Brest-Litovsk à la demande d'armistice. (4 mars - 4 oct. 1918). (=  Publications de la Sorbonne. Series: Documents. Vol. 27). 1978, ISBN 2-85944-010-0 .
  • Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos (=  writings of the Federal Archives. Vol. 18, ISSN  0435-706X ). Boldt, Boppard 1969.
  • Eberhard von Vietsch: Wilhelm Solf. Ambassadors between the ages. Wunderlich, Tübingen 1961.
  • Günter Wollstein : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg. Last legacy of Bismarck, first victim of the stab in the back legend (=  personality and history. Vol. 146/147). Muster-Schmidt, Göttingen a. a. 1995, ISBN 3-7881-0145-8 .
  • Hans G. Zmarzlik: Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor, 1909–1914. Studies on the possibilities and limits of his internal political position of power (=  contributions to the history of parliamentarism and political parties. Vol. 11, ISSN  0522-6643 ). Droste, Düsseldorf 1957.


  • Ernst Deuerlein : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg. In: Ernst Deuerlein: German Chancellor. From Bismarck to Hitler. List, Munich 1968, pp. 141-173.
  • Karl Dietrich Erdmann : To evaluate Bethmann Hollweg (with excerpts from Kurt Riezler's diary). In: History in Science and Education. Jg. 15, 1964, ISSN  0016-9056 , pp. 525-540.
  • Fritz Fischer : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (1856–1921). In: Wilhelm von Sternburg (Ed.): The German Chancellors. From Bismarck to Schmidt (=  AtV 8032). Aufbau-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-7466-8032-8 , pp. 87-114.
  • Werner FrauendienstBethmann Hollweg, Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 2, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1955, ISBN 3-428-00183-4 , pp. 188-193 ( digitized version ).
  • Willibald Gutsche: Bethmann Hollweg and the politics of reorientation. On the domestic political strategy and tactics of the German Reich government during the First World War. In: Journal of History. Vol. 13, H. 2, 1965, ISSN  0044-2828 , pp. 209-254.
  • Wolfgang J. Mommsen : German public opinion and the collapse of the Bethmann Hollweg government system in July 1917. In: History in science and teaching. Vol. 19, 1968, pp. 422-440.
  • Alberto Monticone: Bethmann Hollweg e il problema italiano nell'aprile 1915. In: Dialoghi del XX edito da Il Sagiatore. Anno 1, No. 3, September 1967.
  • Kurt Riezler : Obituary for Bethmann Hollweg. In: The German Nation. Volume 3, 1921, ZDB -ID 217417-0 .
  • Egmont Zechlin : Bethmann Hollweg, War Risk and SPD 1914. In: The month. Book 208, 1966, p. 21.

Web links

Commons : Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 302 ff.
  2. Kötschke: Our Chancellor. 1916, p. 19.
  3. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 35.
  4. Gerhard von Mutius : Completed times. Krafft, Hermannstadt 1925, pp. 185 ff.
  5. ^ Karl Ludwig Hampe : War diary 1914-1919. Edited by Folker Reichert , Eike Wolgast . Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-56756-X , p. 1008.
  6. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 52 ff.
  7. Ch. Prince of Hohenlohe: Memories. Volume II, p. 264.
  8. ^ Bogdan Graf von Hutten-Czapski : Sixty years of politics and society. Volume 1. Mittler, Berlin 1936, p. 316 f.
  9. See: Joachim von Winterfeldt-Menkin : Seasons of Life. The book of my memories. Propylaen-Verlag, Berlin 1942, p. 114.
  10. Rathenau: Diary 1907–1922. 1967, p. 140.
  11. Hildegard von Spitzemberg : The diary of the Baroness Spitzemberg, born. Freiin v. Varnbuler. Records from the court society of the Hohenzollern Empire (=  German historical sources of the 19th and 20th centuries. Vol. 43, ISSN  0344-1687 ). Selected and edited by Rudolf Vierhaus . Vandenhoeck u. Ruprecht, Göttingen 1960, p. 446.
  12. ^ Westarp : Conservative politics in the last decade of the empire. Volume 1: From 1908 to 1914. Deutsche Verlags-Gesellschaft, Berlin 1935, p. 374.
  13. Fritz Stern: Bethmann Hollweg and the war. The limits of responsibility . Tübingen 1968, p. 10.
  14. Epistulae morales , Ep. 95, v. 53; German translation after Franz Mehring : Karl Marx - History of his life, quoted from Franz Mehring - Collected writings , Volume 3, Berlin / GDR 1960, p. 296.
  15. ^ Stenographic reports of the German Reichstag and the Prussian House of Representatives. 1905, I. Session 1904/1905. Volume 8, p. 1253 ff.
  16. ^ Stenographic reports of the German Reichstag and the Prussian House of Representatives. 1906, I. Session, p. 3975 ff.
  17. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 71 f.
  18. ^ Rudolf Korth: The Prussian school policy and the Polish school strikes. A contribution to the Prussian Poland policy of the Bülow era (=  Marburger Ostforschungen, Vol. 23, ZDB -ID 503620-3 ). Holzner, Würzburg 1963, p. 145 (at the same time: Göttingen, Univ., Diss., 1956/57).
  19. Kötschke: Our Chancellor. 1916, p. 32.
  20. ^ Zmarzlik: Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor. 1957, p. 11 ff.
  21. Quoted from: Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 78 f.
  22. ^ Negotiations of the Reichstag. Stenographic reports. Vol. 229, ZDB -ID 210114-2 , pp. 1956 ff.
  23. ^ Karl Erich Born: State and social policy since Bismarck's fall. A contribution to the history of the domestic political development of the German Empire 1890-1914 (=  historical research, vol. 1, ISSN  0440-9558 ). Steiner, Wiesbaden 1957, p. 211 f. (At the same time: Cologne, Univ., Habil.-Schr., 1957).
  24. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 84.
  25. ^ Theodor Heuss : Friedrich Naumann. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart a. a. 1937, p. 280.
  26. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 99.
  27. ^ Egelhaaf: Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg. 1916, p. 123.
  28. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 101.
  29. ^ Adolf Wermuth: An official life. Memories. Scherl, Berlin, 1922, p. 306 f.
  30. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 103.
  31. ^ Zmarzlik: Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor. 1957, p. 95 ff. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 112 f.
  32. ^ War Ministry, Geheime Kriegs-Kanzlei (Ed.): Ranking list of the Royal Prussian Army and the XIII (Royal Württemberg Army Corps) for 1913 as of May 6, 1913. Berlin 1913, p. 37.
  33. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 117 ff.
  34. Schulthess' European history calendar. NF 26. Jg., 1910, ZDB -ID 216905-8 , p. 162.
  35. Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the German Trading Day. Heidelberg May 13, 1911. Liebheit & Thiesen, Berlin 1911, p. 74.
  36. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 122.
  37. Hansjoachim Henning: Germany's relationship to England in Bethmann Hollweg's foreign policy 1909-1914. Cologne 1962 (Cologne, dissertation from August 7, 1963).
  38. Схимонахиня Николая: Царский архиерей. Духовному отку слово любви. Слово истины. Русский Вестник, Москва 2004, ISBN 5-85346-055-2 , p. 58.
  39. Rathenau: Diary 1907–1922. 1967, p. 67.
  40. ^ Vietsch: Wilhelm Solf. 1961.
  41. Harcourt papers LHG 14, quoted in: PHS Hatton: Britain and Germany 1914. The July Crisis and War Aims. In: Past & Present. No. 36, April 1976, ISSN  0031-2746 , pp. 138-143, here p. 140.
  42. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 142.
  43. ^ Egelhaaf: Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg. 1916, p. 89.
  44. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg 1969, p. 143.
  45. Rathenau: Diary 1907–1922. 1967, p. 162.
  46. ^ Zmarzlik: Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor. 1957, p. 133.
  47. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 169.
  48. ^ Zmarzlik: Bethmann Hollweg as Reich Chancellor. 1957, p. 81.
  49. Hans-Peter Ullmann : The German Empire. 1871–1918 (=  Modern German History, Vol. 7 = Edition Suhrkamp 1546, NF Vol. 546 New Historical Library ). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-518-11546-4 , p. 216.
  50. Engelmann, Naumann: Hugo Haase. Berlin 1999, p. 17 f.
  51. Engelmann, Naumann: Hugo Haase. 1999, p. 21.
  52. ^ Hugo Hantsch: Leopold Graf Berchtold. Grand master and statesman. Volume 2. Verlag Styria, Graz u. a. 1963, p. 506.
  53. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 175.
  54. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 178.
  55. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 180.
  56. Geiss: July Crisis. Vol. 1, p. 93, No. 27.
  57. Geiss: July Crisis. Vol. 1, pp. 290-291, No. 213, July 22, 1914.
  58. Kurt Riezler : Diaries, Articles, Documents (= German historical sources of the 19th and 20th centuries, vol. 48). Published by Karl Dietrich Erdmann . Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1972, ISBN 3-525-35817-2 .
  59. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 186 ff.
  60. Imanuel Geiss: The Outbreak of the First World War and German War Aims. In: The Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 1, No. 3, 1966, ISSN  0022-0094 , pp. 75-91, here: p. 81.
  61. Geiss: July Crisis. Vol. 2, p. 378, No. 789; and Ludwig Bittner , Hans Uebersberger (ed.): Austria-Hungary's foreign policy from the Bosnian crisis in 1908 to the outbreak of war in 1914. Diplomatic files from the Austro-Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Volume 8: May 1 to August 1, 1914 (=  publications of the Commission for Modern History of Austria, Vol. 26, Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Vienna a.o. 1930, p. 910, no. 11026).
  62. Geiss: July Crisis. Vol. 2, p. 264, No. 660.
  63. ^ Wilhelm II. To Georg Alexander von Müller . In: Geiss: July crisis. Vol. 2, pp. 274-275, No. 675.
  64. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg 1969, p. 190.
  65. ^ Harry Graf Kessler: Diary , June 24, 1919.
  66. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 191.
  67. ^ Tirpitz: Memories . P. 242.
  68. ^ According to Tirpitz, Geiss: Julikrise. Vol. 2, pp. 574-575, No. 1019.
  69. a b c Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg 1969, p. 192.
  70. Geiss: July Crisis. Vol. 2, pp. 664-665, No. 1118.
  71. Bethmann Hollweg to Oettingen. Oettingen: Diaries. Entry from December 16, 1917.
  72. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 193.
  73. considerations. Volume 1, p. 180.
  74. ^ Egmont Zechlin : Germany between cabinet war and economic war. Politics and warfare in the first months of the World War 1914. In: Historische Zeitschrift . Vol. 199, 1964, pp. 347-458, here p. 405 ff.
  75. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 265.
  76. Erdmann: On the assessment of Bethmann Hollweg. 1964, p. 538.
  77. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 201.
  78. ^ Oettingen: Diaries. Entry from August 1914.
  79. ^ Karl Helfferich: The world war. Volume 2: From the outbreak of war to unrestricted submarine warfare. Ullstein, Berlin 1919, p. 291.
  80. Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. 1969, p. 202 ff.
  81. A. v. Tirpitz : German policy of impotence in the world wars (= Political Documents, Vol. 2). Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, Hamburg a. a. 1926, p. 65.
  82. ^ In Fritz Fischer (1959), quoted from: Egmont Zechlin: Germany between cabinet war and economic war. Politics and warfare in the first months of the World War 1914. In: Historische Zeitschrift. Vol. 199, 1964, pp. 347-458, here p. 405 ff.
  83. Thimme Estate, No. 63.
  84. Federal Archives, Delbrück Estate, No. 77.
  85. See e.g. B. Ritter, Volume III, p. 47.
  86. Erdmann: On the assessment of Bethmann Hollweg. 1964, p. 529 f.
  87. Stenographer. Report of the 15th Committee of Inquiry I. pp. 234 f., Meeting on November 4, 1919.
  88. Hans von Liebig: Bethmann Hollweg's policy. Volume I, p. 280. ( online )
  89. ^ Admiral Bachmann: Diary . P. 92.
  90. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 210 ff.
  91. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 212.
  92. Considerations, Volume II, p. 31.
  93. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 213.
  94. Pogge von Strandmann, p. 40.
  95. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 215.
  96. For What fought Liebknecht and why he was sentenced to prison? Leaflet of the Spartakusbund, October 1916: While traveling to Sweden and Italy in August and September 1914, Albert Südekum tried to win over the socialists of these countries to the politics of the German government. He had also traveled to Vienna on behalf of the government in September 1914 and to Romania in October 1914 and January 1915.
  97. R. Pate Man: The battle for the Prussian electoral reform. P. 19.
  98. Weizsäcker estate, cf. Ritter, Volume II, p. 32 ff.
  99. ^ A b Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 218.
  100. A. v. Thaer: General staff service in the front and at home. P. 65.
  101. ^ A. Wahnschaffe: The Reich Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg and the Prussian electoral reform . P. 196.
  102. ^ Philipp Scheidemann : Memoirs of a Social Democrat. Volume I, Dresden 1929. p. 279.
  103. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 221.
  104. Cf. A. Monticone: Bethmann Hollweg e il problema italiano nell'aprite 1915
  105. ^ E. Zechlin: The Silesian Offer and the Italian Danger of War 1915 . P. 533 ff.
  106. ^ KE Birnbaum: Peace moves and U-Boat warfare . P. 32 ff.
  107. Tirpitz, p. 151 ff.
  108. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 225.
  109. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 227.
  110. ^ Gerhard Hirschfeld (Ed.): Encyclopedia First World War. Verlag Schöningh, Paderborn 2003, ISBN 3-506-73913-1 , p. 343.
  111. Considerations, Volume II, pp. 260 ff.
  112. Von Müller: Did the Kaiser rule? P. 147.
  113. ^ A b Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 230.
  114. ^ On March 15, 1916, KH Janssen: The Chancellor and the General . P. 190 ff.
  115. Huldermann: Albert Ballin . P. 345.
  116. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 286.
  117. Engelmann, Naumann: Hugo Haase. 1999, p. 36 f.
  118. James W. Gerard : My four years in Germany. 1917. Text at Project Gutenberg Available
  119. Ritter, Volume III, pp. 185 f.
  120. ^ Willibald Gutsche, Fritz Klein, Kurt Pätzold: The First World War. Causes and course. Cologne 1985, p. 154 ff. (Original: Berlin / GDR 1985)
  121. See H. Delbrück: Ludendorff, Tirpitz, Falkenhayn .
  122. W.Conze: Polish nation .
  123. Considerations, Volume II, p. 90.
  124. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 238.
  125. ^ To Hans Delbrück, December 1916, Federal Archives Nachlass Delbrück, quoted by Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 239.
  126. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 240.
  127. Considerations, Volume II, p. 91.
  128. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 241.
  129. In: German Nation. January 1922. p. 13.
  130. Ritter, Volume III, p. 423 f.
  131. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 244.
  132. War speeches, p. 163 ff.
  133. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 245.
  134. considerations. Volume II, p. 128.
  135. v. Müller: Did the emperor rule? Pp. 2-4.
  136. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 346 ff.
  137. ^ Wilhelm II. To Bethmann Hollweg, Reflections, Volume II, p. 152 f.
  138. See Vietsch: Wilhelm Solf and Fritz Fischer: War of Illusions. German politics from 1911 to 1914 . 1969.
  139. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 252.
  140. ^ Friedrich von der Ropp: Between yesterday and tomorrow . P. 101 f.
  141. v. Müller: Did the emperor rule? P. 249.
  142. Considerations, Volume II, p. 36.
  143. ^ Vietsch: Wilhelm Solf , p. 371.
  144. Riezler to F. Meinecke, cf. Meinecke: Erlebtes . P. 309 f.
  145. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 255.
  146. ^ W. Hahlweg: Lenin's return to Russia 1917 . P. 25.
  147. Westarp, Volume II, pp. 86 ff.
  148. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 260.
  149. War speeches, pp. 208 ff.
  150. War speeches, p. 215 ff.
  151. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 496.
  152. Highlights. P. 91.
  153. ^ Oettingen: Diaries. Entry from March 30, 1917.
  154. R. Pate Man: The battle for the Prussian electoral reform in the First World War. P. 58 ff.
  155. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 547.
  156. ^ W. Steglich: The Peace Policy of the Central Powers 1917/1918. Volume I, p. 124 ff.
  157. ^ Duchess Viktoria Luise: A life as the Emperor's daughter . P. 159.
  158. ^ K. Epstein: Erzberger. P. 215.
  159. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 566.
  160. Valentini: The Emperor in the People's State . P. 161 f.
  161. ^ Ritter, Volume III, p. 576.
  162. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 275.
  163. ^ G. von Hertling: One year in the Reich Chancellery. P. 12.
  164. Hertling, p. 4.
  165. ^ Oettingen, entry from January 3, 1918.
  166. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 281.
  167. Epstein, p. 303.
  168. ^ Fritz Stern, p. 46.
  169. ^ Bethmann Hollweg dies near Berlin . In: The New York Times . January 3, 1921
  170. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 295 ff.
  171. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 298.
  172. ^ Tirpitz: Memories. P. 150.
  173. ^ H. Mommsen, in: German resistance. P. 161.
  174. Joh. Fischart: The old and new system . 1919.
  175. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 302 ff.
  176. Fritz Stern: Bethmann Hollweg and the war. The limits of responsibility . Tübingen 1968, p. 5.
  177. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boldt-Verlag, Boppard 1969, p. 314.
  178. Imanuel Geiss: Kurt Riezler and the First World War. In: Imanuel Geiss, Bernd Jürgen Wendt: Germany in the world politics of the 19th and 20th centuries . Düsseldorf 1973, p. 398–418, here: p. 414 and Imanuel Geiss: The German Reich and the First World War . Munich / Vienna 1978, pp. 105, 117–118.
  179. ^ Fritz Fischer: World power or decline. Germany in the First World War . Frankfurt am Main 1965, p. 92.
  180. Herbert Michaelis, Ernst Schraepler (Ed.): Causes and consequences. From the German collapse in 1918 and 1945 to the state reorganization of Germany in the present. A collection of certificates and documents on contemporary history . Volume 2: The turning point of the First World War and the beginning of domestic political change in 1916/1917 . Berlin 1958, p. 370 (No. 196).
  181. ^ Egmont Zechlin: Problems of the war calculation and the end of the war in the First World War . In: Egmont Zechlin: War and War Risk. On German politics in the First World War . Essays, Düsseldorf 1979, pp. 32–50, here: p. 48.
  182. Imanuel Geiss: On the assessment of the German Reich policy in the First World War. Critical remarks on the interpretation of the Riezler diary . In: Hartmut Pogge-v. Standmann, Imanuel Geiss: The necessity of the impossible. Germany on the eve of the First World War . Frankfurt am Main 1965, pp. 46–82, here: p. 73.
  183. Willibald Gutsche: Rise and Fall of an Imperial Chancellor. Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg 1856–1921. A political picture of life . Berlin / GDR 1973, pp. 176–177.
  184. Erwin Hölzle: The self-disempowerment of Europe. The experiment of peace before and during the First World War . Göttingen / Frankfurt am Main / Zurich 1975, ISBN 3-7881-1681-1 , p. 437.
  185. Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boppard am Rhein 1969, p. 207.
  186. ^ Konrad H. Jarausch: The Enigmatic Chancellor. Bethmann Hollweg and the Hubris of Imperial Germany . New Haven / London 1973, pp. 217, 229.
  187. ^ Fritz Fischer: World power or decline. Germany in the First World War . Frankfurt am Main 1965, pp. 92, 187.
  188. Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg: Reflections on the World Wars . Part 2: During the war . Berlin 1921, p. 29, and Eberhard von Vietsch: Bethmann Hollweg. Statesman between power and ethos. Boppard am Rhein 1969, p. 209.
  189. Golo Mann: The Reach for World Power . In: Wilhelm Graf Lynar (ed.): German war targets 1914–1918. A discussion . Frankfurt am Main / Berlin 1964, pp. 183–193 (first published in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , April 28, 1962), here: p. 190.
  190. ^ Wilhelm Ernst Winterhager: Mission for Peace. European power politics and Danish peace mediation in the First World War - from August 1914 to the Italian entry into the war in May 1915 . Stuttgart 1984, ISBN 3-515-03835-3 , p. 537.
  191. ^ Karl-Heinz Janssen: The Chancellor and the General. The leadership crisis surrounding Bethmann Hollweg and Falkenhayn (1914–1916) . Göttingen 1967, p. 93.
  192. ^ Karl-Heinz Janssen: The Chancellor and the General. The leadership crisis surrounding Bethmann Hollweg and Falkenhayn (1914–1916) . Göttingen 1967, pp. 173, 235, 243.
  193. ^ Klaus Hildebrand: Bethmann Hollweg. The chancellor without qualities? Judgments of historiography. A critical bibliography . Düsseldorf 1970, p. 52.
  194. ^ Fritz T. Epstein: New literature on the history of Ostpolitik in the First World War . In: Yearbooks for the History of Eastern Europe. New series Volume 14, 1966, pp. 63-94, p. 76.
  195. ^ Klaus Hildebrand: Bethmann Hollweg. The chancellor without qualities? Judgments of historiography. A critical bibliography . Düsseldorf 1970, p. 52, and Fritz Fischer: World politics, world power striving and German war aims . In: Historical magazine (HZ). Volume 199, 1964, pp. 265-346, here: pp. 273-274.
  196. Cornelißen: Gerhard Ritter. History and Politics in the 20th Century. Düsseldorf 2001, especially pp. 598–618.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 14, 2008 .