On the Kaiser’s Generosity

Ulya and his friends wanted to travel from Switzerland to Russia, desperately. World War 1 was raging, and they deeply desired to go home and work to make their nation better, to solve the issues of the war, and fight–and die, if necessary–for their fellow Russians. And, so, the group of friends boarded a train in Zurich in April of 1917 and headed east.

Now, Ulya is short for Ulyanov, the man’s last name, and it’s what his pals called him. Some friends called him Nicky, but that was a nickname that had nothing to do with his real name and more to do with his larger-than-life personality that came across as a leader like Machiavelli wrote about or like an emperor, a czar–like Russia’s Nicholas II was. Born to an upper middle class family in a large city a few hundred miles east of Moscow, Ulya gave the impression that he felt he was somewhat better than others. His classmates in school agreed with this assessment, as had received the normal private education for a boy from a well-to-do family.

Before the war started, however, Ulya had been studying and writing in London and Munich and other places around Europe. He was, in fact, in Eastern Europe when the war broke out, and circumstances prohibited him from making his way back to Russia to offer his help in the war. He ended up finding a safe haven in neutral Switzerland; it was a place from which he could study and work in relative comfort and also plan to make his way back to Russia.

That was the trick, right? How could he cross the territories of Russia’s enemies, Germany and Austria Hungary, and reach Mother Russia? Even trying to reach water to attempt to reach his homeland by sea would require Ulya to attempt to traverse enemy-controlled land. So, for the first almost three years of the war, Ulya was unable to find a way to Russia.

Then, a miracle happened.

In what seemed like an incredible act of generosity and largesse, the Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II, a man who was a cousin of Czar Nicholas, offered to provide a train that would take all Russians who wished to go home back to Russia. That meant that Ulya and several of his fellow Russian citizens and friends could safely cross the enemy territory and return to Russia. A naturally suspicious man, Ulya and some of his buddies talked about the offer. Was this a trap? Could they trust the Kaiser to keep his word?

The desire to reach home finally proved stronger than any possible fear of being captured or imprisoned. And the Kaiser proved to be true to his word. The train was sent to Zurich, and Ulya and his fellow Russians boarded; they couldn’t believe their good fortune and the Kaiser’s miraculous provision. The route proved to be long and arduous, having to travel north into Scandinavia and come into Russia by the north, but it was worth it, Ulya believed. And, before you think that the Kaiser did this out the kindness of his heart, well, think again.

You see, the Kaiser had an ulterior motive. Within a few weeks, Ulya–Vladimir Ulyanov, known to the world as Lenin–and his fellow communists helped to overthrow the Czar and take Russia out of World War 1.


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