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American National Biography Online Viereck, George Sylvester (31 Dec. 1884-18 Mar. 1962), poet, writer, and propagandist, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Louis Viereck, a Social Democratic politician, and Laura Viereck. His parents were first cousins. Late in 1896 Viereck moved to New York City, where his father was a journalist. In 1906 he received his B.A. from the College of the City of New York. In September 1915 Viereck married Margaret "Gretchen" Edith Hein; they had two children, one of whom--Peter Viereck--also became a famous poet. Immediately after graduation, Viereck entered the world of publishing. He joined the staff of the monthly Current Literature (which became Current Opinion in 1913). He also served on his father's monthly German-language magazine Der deutsche Vorkampfer (The German pioneer), which in January 1911 he transformed into Rundschau Zweier Welten (Review of two worlds). In August 1912 he merged the Rundschau with the English-language monthly International: A Review of Two Worlds, an avant-garde literary journal. During this time, Viereck was achieving prominence as a poet. His Nineveh and Other Poems (1907) portrayed experiences of sin and salvation in sexual terms. In The Candle and the Flame: Poems (1912), he celebrated the three "gifts" of life--"the belly and the phallus and the grave." Consciously imitating the "romantic decadent" style of Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde, he subsequently remarked, "I worked long and hard to acquire a bad reputation." For a brief time, he was quite famous, and his friend and literary critic Ludwig Lewisohn later wrote, "Today no one is likely seriously to deny that Viereck was the most conspicuous American poet between 1907 and 1914." Yet because of his overt eroticism, reviews were decidedly mixed. When World War I broke out, Viereck adamantly favored the German cause. In August 1914 he founded the Fatherland, an English-language weekly whose circulation reached 75,000. His poetry also took a sharply pro-German turn. In one work, "William II, Prince of Peace," which was written in September 1914, Viereck addressed the kaiser in the following manner: "Now fight for God's peace with thy sword, / For if thou fail, a world shall fall." Other pro-German activities led to bitter opposition. When in April 1915 the German embassy placed an advertisement in the New York Times warning Americans against traveling on passenger ships belonging to the Allies, Viereck claimed it did so at his suggestion. Indeed, Viereck publicly predicted that the Lusitania would be sunk by a German U-boat. A month later the British liner was sunk; Viereck defended the action on the grounds that it was carrying ammunition, and he was mistakenly assumed to have had prior knowledge of the sinking. On 15 August 1915 the New York World identified Viereck as the recipient of secret German subsidies to carry on propaganda work. Although Viereck had in fact received such funds and was accused of improper ties with a foreign government, the Department of Justice lacked either the evidence or the jurisdiction to prosecute him. Such activities resulted in his expulsion from the Authors League and the Poetry Society of America. Viereck had been a founding member of the Poetry Society, and poets such as Conrad Aiken, Edgar Lee Masters, Harriet Monroe, and Edwin Markham protested against the dismissal. When in April 1917 the United States entered the war, Viereck publicized war bond drives and endorsed a Wilsonian peace, but he only mildly censured the Central Powers. In August 1918 a lynch mob stormed Viereck's house in Mount Vernon, New York, forcing him to seek sanctuary in a New York City hotel. Until 1927 Viereck continued publishing the Fatherland under various titles and formats: February 1917, New World and Viereck's: The American Weekly; August 1918, Viereck's American Monthly; October 1920, American Monthly. Despite the frequent change in title, the German bias remained strong. After the war, he continued his journalistic career. In addition to continuing his own periodical, he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, the Hearst press (as special foreign correspondent), and Liberty magazine (where he also served as adviser). His book Spreading Germs of Hate (1930), a study of the propaganda of the major belligerents in World War I, became regarded as a classic on the topic, even receiving the praise of propaganda expert Harold Lasswell. In a subsequent work, The Strangest Friendship in History: Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (1932), Viereck abandoned his long-standing hatred of Woodrow Wilson, finding him a genuine man of peace. His reading of Wilson's letters to Edward Mandell House, he said privately, had "completely revolutionized" his attitude. Another book, The Kaiser on Trial (1937), defended the leadership of William II, whom he visited annually for many years. Viereck was particularly adept at interviews, some of which were with personal friends such as Kaiser William II and George Bernard Shaw. During the 1920s he helped popularize the views of his intimate friend Sigmund Freud. Viereck remained active in the world of politics, opposing U.S. membership in the League of Nations in 1919, organizing German Americans on behalf of Warren G. Harding's presidential candidacy in 1920, and promoting the extreme revisionism on the causes of World War I popularized by historian Harry Elmer Barnes. Still fascinated by the erotic, Viereck joined novelist Paul Eldridge in a fictionalized trilogy that used the theme of the "Wandering Jew" to chronicle sagas of frustrated love: My First Two Thousand Years: The Autobiography of the Wandering Jew (1929); Salome, The Wandering Jewess: My First Two Thousand Years of Love; (1930) and Invincible Adam (1932). All three books were Judeophile, not anti-Semitic, and all received mixed reviews, in part because of the fixation on eroticism. In his My Flesh and Blood: A Lyric Autobiography, with Indiscreet Annotations (1931), he fused commentary to his poems with sexual autobiography. Beginning in 1933 Viereck resumed his propaganda activities, this time for a Germany under Nazi rule. In 1933-1934 he gave editorial assistance to the German-American Economic Bulletin. In 1939 he helped launch the bimonthly Today's Challenge, published by the American Fellowship Forum. The forum was controlled by German nationals, received funds from the German embassy, and sought to stress common ties between the United States and Germany in the hopes of avoiding U.S. intervention. From 1939 to 1941 he edited the weekly propaganda newsletter Facts in Review, published by the German Library of Information. Secret activities included the anonymous writing of pamphlets for Flanders Hall, a publisher whose establishment Viereck helped engineer in 1939; bankrolling the arch-isolationist Make Europe Pay War Debts Committee with German funds; and disseminating the views of several isolationist members of Congress. Among the policies Viereck defended were Nazi hostility toward Czechoslovakia and the conquest of Poland. Though he called the Kristallnacht attack on the Jews of 10 November 1938 "inhuman vengeance," he was not above defending Nazi anti-Semitism. In October 1941 Viereck was arrested for failing to comply fully with the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. Convicted in March 1942 and sentenced to prison, Viereck experienced a temporary reprieve when, a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction on the grounds that the jury had been improperly charged. But in July 1943 he was again convicted, and this time he remained in jail until 1947. In April 1944 Viereck was also indicted for violating the Smith Act of 1940, the charge centering on conspiracy to disseminate publications that helped cause insubordination in the armed forces. That fall, however, a mistrial was declared. In his declining years, Viereck wrote several novels and a prison memoir, Men into Beasts (1952), in which he claimed that penitentiary life brutalized inmates. Today Viereck remains known because of his intensive pro-German and pro-Nazi activities. He is seen as the propagandist par excellence, a Machiavellian in the manipulation of mass opinion. Yet he undoubtedly would have greatly preferred to have been remembered first of all as a poet and novelist, one who pioneered in the promotion of sexual liberty, Freudianism, and the "beauty" of decadence. Nonetheless, his politics will unquestionably be recalled when all his literary efforts are forgotten. Viereck died in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Bibliography The largest collection of Viereck papers is found in the University of Iowa library, but one should also consult the Elmer Gertz Manuscripts in the Library of Congress. In addition to the books already mentioned, Viereck wrote many other works. Books of poetry include Gedichte (1904), The Candle and the Flame (1912), Songs of Armageddon and Other Poems (1916), The Three Sphinxes, and Other Poems (1924), The Haunted House, and Other Poems (1924), and The Bankrupt (1955). Among his novels are The House of the Vampire (1907), Prince Pax (with Paul Eldridge, 1933), All Things Human (1949; first under pseudonym Stuart Benton), Gloria: A Novel (1952), and The Nude in the Mirror (1953). Viereck wrote one book of drama: A Game at Love and Other Plays (1907). His Confessions of a Barbarian (1910) shows his early intense pro-German leanings. Roosevelt: A Study in Ambivalence (1919) indicates Viereck's ambiguity over Theodore Roosevelt, a man he once worshiped. Books of interviews, memoirs, and history include As They Saw Us: Foch, Ludendorff and Other Leaders Write Our War History (1929), Glimpses of the Great (1930), Two Battles of the Marne (1927), and An Empress in Exile (1928). The Temptation of Jonathan (1938) warns American youth to avoid totalitarian panaceas. For an ambivalent attack on dissenters ranging from Galileo to Einstein, see The Seven against Man (1941). There are two full-scale biographies of Viereck, Niel M. Johnson, George Sylvester Viereck, German-American Propagandist (1972), and Elmer Gertz, Odyssey of a Barbarian (1978). Phyllis Keller, States of Belonging: German-American Intellectuals and the First World War (1979), devotes a third of her book to Viereck's life. For his obituary, see the New York Times, 20 Mar. 1962. Justus D. Doenecke Back to the top Citation: Justus D. Doenecke. "Viereck, George Sylvester"; http://www.anb.org/articles/06/06-00673.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.