H.I.R.M. Wilhelm II, German Emperor, King of Prussia, (1859-1941; r 1888-1918), in Prussian military uniform.
The 9th of November is a day freighted with plenty of significance in modern German history. Since Germany is a great power in the center of Europe, this has consequences for everyone else, particularly when Germany produces more history that it can consume locally.
On this day in 1918, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, Wilhelm II, abdicated his throne. The Kaiser abdicated because insurrection had broken out all over Germany once it became clear that the First World War was lost.
This war, the Mother of All the Catastrophes of the 20th Century, doomed what was left of Old Europe, made a political madhouse of the Continent; empowered cranks, fanatics and maniacs everyplace; and replaced the old order with chaos and all the political and economic "isms" that afflict and plague us to this day. In Berlin, on the same day the Kaiser abdicated, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed.
As on other subjects, I'm a contrarian on the Kaiser, the German Empire, and the causes of the First World War, and I take a generally dim view of the German Revolution of 1918 that uprooted almost 1000 years of monarchical German history. The Second Reich's replacement: the weak Weimar Republic, used and abused by everyone, hated by Left and Right -- that is, by everybody but the lawyers and professors and some cloud-cuckoo-land politicians -- proved a bad bargain, ultimately leading to a real catastrophe. . .
On this night in 1938, the Nazi successors of the Weimar Republic organized the Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom. Throughout Germany, in a night of deliberately planned terror, the homes, shops and places of worship of Germany's Jewish population were vandalized -- the occupants and owners often murdered. At least 30,000 people were taken off to concentration camps; over 1,600 synagogues were ransacked or set on fire. The pogrom takes its name from all the broken glass left in the streets.
The pogrom was organized by the various Nazi organizations -- the Party itself, the SA, the SS, but at least part of the civil population also participated. Thousands of ordinary people involved themselves in dastardly, barbaric crimes unthinkable in a supposedly Christian country, even thirty years previously; before the general coarsening of morals produced by war, economic depression and exposure to crank ideologies. The police either stood-by and watched, or further disgraced themselves by participating.
As the London Times rightly said in its 11 November 1938 edition: ". . .no foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday." When Germany woke up on the morning of the 11th, the Nazis found themselves troubled by the question of who would pay for the preceeding night and a day of legalized mayhem ? Among others, the insurance companies were quite concerned. Naturally, the Nazis came up with a solution: fining the Jewish population and confiscating the insurance settlements.
Worse awaited -- exterminations and a war that killed millions. Later, after the Holocaust; and, after the insane war that Hitler and his minions unleashed came home to Germany, the country was torn in two; Germany's capital city Berlin itself sundered by the Wall.
The Berlin Wall and the division of Germany were the paramount geopolitical facts of the 1945-1989 world. Over time, the cruel, farcical, pseudo-state known as the "German Democratic Republic" -- neither democratic, nor a republic, and more correctly called "East Germany," actually began to seem real. Then, on this day in 1989, a miracle happened, and the terrible Wall came down at last, without a war. Soon enough East Germany disappeared too, and the terrible 20th Century in Europe at last drew to a close.