George Sylvester Viereck was born December 31, 1884, in Munich, Germany.1 His father, Louis, was reported to be the illegitimate son of Kaiser Wilhelm I, German Emperor & King of Prussia.2 Louis was an active member of Germany's Marxist movement, eventually serving the Die Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands in the Reichstag (1884-1887).3 Louis abandoned formal political life in 1889 and decided to immigrate to the United States of America in 1896.4
Sylvester followed his father to America in 1897, travelling aboard the Auguste Victoria and arriving in New York City around November 12.5 He was naturalized as a United States citizen on November 6, 1901.6
Poetry was George Sylvester Viereck's first true passion. Shortly after arriving in America, Viereck's poems began to appear in a few German language newspapers, a hefty accomplishment for a boy his age. His endeavors brought him some minor attention, not the least of which came from a Columbia University student by the name of Ludwig Lewisohn, a boarder at the Viereck home, and a man destined to become a highly influential American literary critic.7 In 1904, with great assistance from Lewisohn, Viereck published his first collection of poetry, Gedichte. The work established Viereck as a rising star, a momentum which would soon deliver him to considerable acclaim with the publication of A Game at Love and Other Plays in 1906 and both Nineveh and Other Poems and The House of the Vampire in 1907.
In 1907 Viereck also formalized his commitment to a new passion, one that would gain him as much notoriety as his career as a poet, if not more: Germanophilia. In 1907, George Sylvester Viereck began editorial duties on his father's journal Deutsche Vorkampfer.8 Soon after, he released his best-selling book Confessions of a Barbarian, an ideological travelogue of sorts which conveyed his impressions of both Germany and the United States. This growing fervor for all things German would become a pivotal aspect of his identity and efforts for decades to come.
In 1910, with the assistance of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, Viereck founded the journal Rundschau zweier Welten and began promoting cultural exchange between the United States and Germany.9 While Rundschau zweier Welten enjoyed little success, it did pave the way for the launch of Viereck's weekly magazine The Fatherland during the early months of World War I, a publication which would serve as a vital platform for Viereck's pro-German political convictions.
The Fatherland "took upon itself the task of exposing the malfeasance of the Allied countries, of revealing the prejudices and distortions of the American press, and of rallying German-Americans in their own defense."10 Its bias was strictly pro-German, and did much to advocate America's initial position of neutrality in the Great War. George Sylvester Viereck soon found himself romanced by German propagandists working in America, including Heinrich Albert himself. By 1915, however, U.S. secret service agents had compiled significant evidence of Germany's propaganda efforts in America, and Viereck found himself under investigation by the Justice Department.11 While no formal charges were laid, Viereck was ousted from several literary societies, and run out of town by the occasional mob of angry "patriot-vigilantes".12
For the next several years George Sylvester Viereck languished in obscurity. His reputation as a poet eclipsed by the fallout of his politics, Viereck found little work as poet or writer. This state of affairs may well have continued indefinitely had it not been for two important events which occurred in 1923 and served to guarantee his reemergence into the annals of popular culture. The first saw Viereck interview a foreboding and militant German socialist whose rise to power would transform human history forever: Adolf Hitler. This interview, republished in Liberty magazine in July 1932, would eventually be cited as one of the
"Great interviews of the 20th century" by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.13 The second was a chance encounter with Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.
You are like myself in one respect - every ready to turn the limelight on a deserving soul, provided you can find a way to get into the picture. I thought that was exclusively my own characteristic, but I must confess that you do it with a facility that exceeds my own. > Emanuel Haldeman-Julius14
George Sylvester Viereck was greatly interested in the Little Blue Books, if for no other reason than the potential platform it offered for distributing his own works. To this end, in 1924 Viereck submitted two volumes of poetry that Haldeman-Julius would publish as Little Blue Book #578 The Haunted House and Other Poems and #579 The Three Sphinxes and Other Poems. While these would be his only complete works to be published as Little Blue Books, Viereck would in time also come to edit, and craft introductions to several other titles including Oscar Wilde's The Harlot's House and Other Poems (Little Blue Book #787) and Lord Alfred Douglas' The City of the Soul, and Other Sonnets (Little Blue Book #789). Much of this material, it is said, was contributed to Haldeman-Julius without remuneration. 15
His written words were by no means the only fortuitous gifts George Sylvester Viereck would bequeath. Viereck would also introduce a number of soon-to-be Little Blue Book contributors and authors to Haldeman-Julius including Margaret Münsterberg, Ludwig Lewisohn,16 and most notably, Paul Eldridge.17
The relationship between Viereck and Haldeman-Julius soon soured, however. Viereck felt his labour and efforts were being exploited, and Haldeman-Julius had come to think of Viereck as nothing more than "a clever, second rate Oscar Wilde."18 Regardless, Viereck's brief flirtation with the Little Blue Book enterprise did much to restart his literary career, and the subsequent years would see him back in the public eye.
Far more interesting than his return to the role of acclaimed writer, however, was Viereck's parallel return to the role of German propagandist. Throughout the 1930's, Viereck was entrenched in the publicity and propaganda efforts of Nazi Germany in America. He edited pro-Nazi publications, served as an advisor to the German Foreign Office and German consul in New York City, and worked to solicit the favour of anti-British and isolationist members of Congress.19 While critical of certain aspects of Nazi doctrine (anti-Semitism in particular) he firmly supported the parties stance on The Treaty of Versailles, advocated German territorial expansion, and publicly proclaimed Hitler a genius who "for better or for worse, is sure to make history."20
In 1938, Viereck was forced to register himself with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.21 The rather scant details he provided to them would soon find him indicted on charges of knowingly concealing information during registration22. Viereck would spend a good part of the 1940's in prison.23
George Sylvester Viereck emerged from prison in 1947, his life in shambles. His wife of many years, Margret, had divorced him following the death of their youngest son at Anzio, Italy in 1944.24 His son, Peter, refused to speak to him, a silence that would last a total of 16 years.25 While his prison memoirs Men Into Beasts would enjoy considerable sales, Viereck would never again enjoy the limelight in an substantial way.
Viereck's health would degrade with some rapidity. He suffered recurrent strokes and heart trouble throughout the latter half of the 1950's, forcing him to move into the care of his estranged son, Pulitzer Prize-Winning poet and historian Peter R. Viereck. George Sylvester Viereck passed from a massive cerebral hemorrhage26 on March 18, 1962.27
For more information on Little Blue Book authors, and biographic data on specific writers/contributors, please see our article Torch Bearers in the War on Ignorance!.
|1,5,6||Ancestry.com. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2007. Original data: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906-March 31, 1925; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1490, 2740 rolls); General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59; National Archives, Washington, D.C.|
|2||Otis Notman, "VIERECK, HOHENZOLLERN ?; Is New York's Romantic Poet a Grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm the Great?", New York Times, June 29, 1907, Pg. BR413|
|3,4||Aus Wikipedia, der freien Enzyklopädie, Louis Viereck, (Accessed May 11, 2009) [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Viereck]|
|Niel M. Johnson, George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist (Accessed May 10, 2009) [http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/Bai/johnson2.htm]|
|10||Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, The Fatherland, (Accessed May 12, 2009) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fatherland]|
|13||Guardian News and Media Limited, No room for the alien, no use for the wastrel, (Accessed May 12, 2009) [http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/sep/17/greatinterviews1]|
|14,15,16,18||viereckproject, E. Haldeman Julius, (Accessed May 12, 2009) [http://viereckproject.wikispaces.com/E.+Haldeman+Julius]|
|17||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography (1949), Page 109-110, Haldeman-Julius Publications|
|25||Los Angeles Times, Peter R. Viereck, 89; Pulitzer-Winning Poet Spurned by Fellow Conservatives, (Accessed May 12, 2009) [http://articles.latimes.com/2006/may/20/local/me-viereck20]|
|27||Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, George Sylvester Viereck, (Accessed May 12, 2009) [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Sylvester_Viereck]|
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