Letter Signed by George Sylvester Viereck
T.L.S. on his personal letterhead. In part: “…Alfred Rau was a German-Jewish friend of mine…The man in custody was a Jewish friend of Mr. Rau whom I tried to redeem from a concentration camp. I think that eventually I succeeded… I had more respect for Mr. [Putzi] Hanstaegl [sic] as an art expert than as a writer or politician…”
George Sylvester Viereck (December 31, 1884 – March 18, 1962) was a German-American poet, writer, journalist and pro-German propagandist. He was born in Munich in the Kingdom of Bavaria on December 31, 1884, to a German father and American-born mother. The father, Louis, born out of wedlock to German actress Edwina Viereck, was reputed to be a son of Kaiser Wilhelm I. George Viereck began writing poetry when he was eleven. His heroes were Jesus Christ, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Oscar Wilde. In 1896, Louis Viereck emigrated to the United States; his U.S.-born wife Laura and their twelve-year-old son George followed in 1897.
While still in college, in 1904, George Sylvester Viereck, with the help of literary critic Ludwig Lewisohn, published his first collection of poems. 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. The Saturday Evening Post called Viereck “the most widely-discussed young literary man in the United States today”.
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. 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.
Viereck married Margaret “Gretchen” Edith Hein in 1915 and she bore him two sons, one of whom died in action at Anzio. Viereck would remain in prison until 1947.
His son, Peter Viereck, was a historian, political writer and poet. A 2005 The New Yorker article discusses how the younger Viereck both rejected and was shaped by the ideologies of his father.
During World War I he edited a German-sponsored weekly magazine, “The Fatherland” with a claimed circulation of 80,000. In August 1918, a lynch mob stormed Viereck’s house in Mount Vernon, forcing him to seek refuge in a New York City hotel.
In 1919, shortly after the Great War, he was expelled from the Poetry Society of America. In 1923, Viereck published a popular-science book entitled “Rejuvenation: How Steinach Makes People Young”, which drew the attention of Sigmund Freud, 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.
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.
Viereck became close friends with Nikola Tesla. 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.
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 National Socialism. 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 National Socialism without being anti-semites. His Jewish friends denounced him as “George Swastika Viereck”, but he continued to promote National Socialism.
In 1941, he 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.
He was convicted in 1942 for this failure to register with the U. S. Department of State as a National Socialist agent. He was imprisoned from 1942 to 1947. 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 back cover text focuses on the situational homosexuality and male rape described in the book (witnessed, not experienced, by Viereck). The book, while a memoir, is thus the first original title of 1950s gay pulp fiction, an emerging genre in that decade.
Viereck also published a vampire novel, “The House of the Vampire” (1907), which is one of the first psychic vampire stories where a vampire feeds off more than just blood. 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.