George Sylvester Viereck

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George Sylvester Viereck
Portrait of Viereck, by Underwood & Underwood, 1922
Portrait of Viereck, by Underwood & Underwood, 1922
BornGeorge Sylvester Viereck
(1884-12-31)December 31, 1884
Munich, German Empire
DiedMarch 18, 1962(1962-03-18) (aged 77)
Holyoke, Massachusetts, United States
Occupation
  • Journalist
  • novelist
  • essayist
  • Pro-German propagandist
GenrePoetry

George Sylvester Viereck (December 31, 1884 – March 18, 1962) was a German-American poet, writer, and pro-German propagandist, latterly on behalf of the German Nazi government.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Sylvester's father, Louis Viereck, was born in Berlin in 1851, to the unmarried actress Edwina Viereck. It was rumored that Louis was the son of Kaiser William I, but Louis was acknowledged as a son instead by Louis von Prillwitz, a son of Prince Augustus of Prussia. In 1870, Louis joined the Socialist Party, and was banished from Berlin eight years later under Otto von Bismarck's Anti-Socialist Laws. In 1881 he became editor of a socialist periodical in Munich. In 1884 he was elected to the Reichstag, but in 1886 was imprisoned for attending Socialist Party meetings. He left the Party upon his release from prison.[2]

Sylvester's mother, Laura Viereck, was born in San Francisco to William Viereck, a younger brother of Edwina Viereck. William was an unsuccessful revolutionary who had fled the German States like other Forty-Eighters and operated a German theatre in San Francisco. After William's death in 1865, his wife returned to Germany with their children. In 1881, Laura married her first cousin Louis. At her urging, Louis emigrated to the United States in 1896, and Laura followed with Sylvester some months later. Louis became an American citizen in 1901, but he returned to Germany in 1911.[3]

George Sylvester Viereck was born in Munich on 31 December 1884.[4] Sylvester began writing poetry when he was eleven. His heroes were Jesus Christ, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Oscar Wilde. While still in college, in 1904, George Sylvester Viereck, with the help of literary critic Ludwig Lewisohn, published his first collection of poems.[5] He graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1906. The next year his collection Nineveh and Other Poems (1907) won Viereck national fame. A number were written in the style of the Uranian male love poetry of the time.[6] The Saturday Evening Post called Viereck "the most widely-discussed young literary man in the United States today".[7]

Between 1907 and 1912, Viereck turned into a Germanophile. In 1908, he published the best-selling Confessions of a Barbarian. Viereck lectured at the University of Berlin on American poetry in 1911.[8] For his support of Germany and pacifism, Viereck was expelled from several social clubs and fraternal organizations, and had a falling out with a close friend, poet Blanche Shoemaker Wagstaff.[9][10][11]

During World War I he edited a German-sponsored weekly magazine, The Fatherland with a claimed circulation of 80,000.[12] In August 1918, a lynch mob stormed Viereck's house in Mount Vernon, forcing him to seek refuge in a New York City hotel.[13] In 1919, shortly after the Great War, he was expelled from the Poetry Society of America.[14]

International success[edit]

In 1923, Viereck published a popular-science book entitled Rejuvenation: How Steinach Makes People Young, which drew the attention of Sigmund Freud,[15] who wrote Viereck asking if he would write a similar book about psychoanalysis. Viereck traveled to Vienna to interview Freud, and then went to Munich to interview Adolf Hitler.[16] During the mid-1920s, Viereck went on several additional tours of Europe, interviewing Marshal Foch, Georges Clemenceau, George Bernard Shaw, Oswald Spengler, Benito Mussolini, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, Henry Ford, Albert Moll, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Albert Einstein.[17] Viereck became close friends with Nikola Tesla.[18] Tesla occasionally attended dinner parties held by Viereck and his wife. He dedicated his poem "Fragments of Olympian Gossip" to Viereck, a work in which Tesla ridiculed the scientific establishment of the day.

Support for Hitler[edit]

Viereck founded two publications, The International (of which the notorious poet and occultist Aleister Crowley was a contributing editor for a time) and The Fatherland, which argued the German cause during World War I. Viereck became a well-known supporter of Nazism. In 1933, Viereck again met with Hitler, now Germany's leader, in Berlin, and in 1934, he gave a speech to twenty thousand "Friends of the New Germany" at New York's Madison Square Garden, in which he compared Hitler to Franklin D. Roosevelt and told his audience to sympathize with Nazism without being antisemites. His Jewish friends denounced him as "George Swastika Viereck", but he continued to promote Nazism.[19]

In 1940, Viereck launched a scheme in which he "paid members of Congress to take propaganda from the Hitler government — he’d literally get it from the German embassy — and deliver it in Congress in floor speeches. Then he’d use their offices’ franking privileges to get thousands, in some cases millions, of reprints of this Nazi propaganda. He would mail it out, at taxpayer expense, all over the United States."[20] The key members of Congress working with Viereck in this scheme were Sen. Ernest Lundeen,[21] Rep. Hamilton Fish,[22] and Rep. Jacob Thorkelson.[23]

In 1941, Viereck was indicted in the U.S. for a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act when he set up his publishing house, Flanders Hall, in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.[24] In 1942, he was convicted of failing to register with the United States Department of State as a Nazi agent and sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison.[25] After unsuccessful appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court, he was imprisoned for 5 years on July 31st, 1943. Viereck spent 3 years and 10 months in prison, until May 17th, 1947, when he was discharged on the grounds that he was not compelled to report his activities “except as an agent of a foreign government.”.[26]

Postwar[edit]

Viereck's memoir of life in prison, Men Into Beasts, was published as a paperback original by Fawcett Publications in 1952. The book is a general memoir of discomfort, loss of dignity, and brutality in prison life. The front matter and backcover text focuses on the situational homosexuality and male rape described in the book (witnessed, not experienced, by Viereck).

Family[edit]

He had two sons, George and Peter. George was killed in action during the Second World War. His other son, Peter Viereck, was a historian, political writer and poet. A 2005 New Yorker article discusses how the younger Viereck both rejected and was shaped by the ideologies of his father.[27]

Reception[edit]

The poem "Slaves" published in the 1924 collection The Three Sphinxes and Other Poems inspired the title of the 1968 psychothriller Twisted Nerve, and is quoted several times in the film:

A twisted nerve, a ganglion gone awry,
Predestinates the sinner and the saint.

Bibliography[edit]

Articles[edit]

Miscellany[edit]

Foreign editions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Keller, Phyllis (1971). "George Sylvester Viereck: The Psychology of a German-American Militant", The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 59–108. doi:10.2307/202443. JSTOR 202443
  2. ^ Keller, Phyllis (Summer 1971). "George Sylvester Viereck: The Psychology of a German-American Militant". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 2 (1): 59–108. doi:10.2307/202443. JSTOR 202443.
  3. ^ Keller, Phyllis (Summer 1971). "George Sylvester Viereck: The Psychology of a German-American Militant". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 2 (1): 60-61.
  4. ^ Keller, Phyllis (Summer 1971). "George Sylvester Viereck: The Psychology of a German-American Militant". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 2 (1).
  5. ^ Keller, Phyllis (1979). States of Belonging: German-American Intellectuals and the First World War, Harvard University Press.
  6. ^ Mader, D. H. (2005). "The Greek Mirror: Uranians and their use of Greece", in Verstraete and Provencal, (ed.) Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity, Psychology Press, p. 384.
  7. ^ Reiss, Tom (2005). The Orientalist. Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life. New York: Random House, p. 285.
  8. ^ Gertz, Elmer (1978). The Odyssey of a Barbarian: The Biography of George Sylvester Viereck, Prometheus Books, p. 99.
  9. ^ "Viereck Expelled by Author's League", The New York Times, July 26, 1918.
  10. ^ "N.Y.A.C Expels Viereck", The New York Times, August 16, 1918.
  11. ^ "Blanche Shoemaker Wagstaff". ViereckProject. 2014. Archived from the original on March 13, 2014. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  12. ^ Jeffery, Keith (January 26, 2016). 1916: A Global History. 5736: Bloomsbury USA.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  13. ^ "George Viereck, propagandist for Germany in WW1 and WW2". American National Biography Online. Archived from the original on December 17, 2013.
  14. ^ Monroe, Harriet (1919). "The Viereck Incident", Poetry, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp. 265–267. JSTOR 20572006
  15. ^ Gertz (1978), p. 238.
  16. ^ Johnson, Niel M. (1972). George Sylvester Viereck: German-American Propagandist, University of Illinois Press.
  17. ^ Reiss (2005), pp. 286–287.
  18. ^ Cheney, Margaret & Robert Uth (2001). Tesla: Master of Lightning. Barnes & Noble Books, p. 137.
  19. ^ Reiss (2005), pp. 288–289.
  20. ^ "Nazis, Seditionists, and Gay Vampire Porn: Rachel Maddow Reveals Her New Podcast 'Ultra'". Rolling Stone. October 3, 2022. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  21. ^ "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra. Episode 4: A Bad Angle". MSNBC. October 24, 2022. Retrieved December 11, 2022.
  22. ^ "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra. Episode 5: Shut It Down". MSNBC. October 24, 2022. Retrieved December 11, 2022.
  23. ^ "Rachel Maddow Presents: Ultra. Episode 6: Bedlam". MSNBC. November 7, 2022. Retrieved November 13, 2022.
  24. ^ Johnson, Neil M. (1968). George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist Archived May 30, 2015, at the Wayback Machine in Books at Iowa, no. 9, pp. 22–36.
  25. ^ Carlson, John Roy (1943). Under Cover. Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company.
  26. ^ "George Viereck: Diplomat or Propagandist?". The University of Iowa. November 18, 2010. Archived from the original on December 7, 2022. Retrieved December 7, 2022.
  27. ^ Reiss, Tom (2005). "The First Conservative: How Peter Viereck Inspired – and Lost – a Movement", The New Yorker, October 24.
  28. ^ "Viereck, George S". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved November 13, 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]