|George Sylvester Viereck's magazine, The Fatherland (1914)|
Imagine the scene outside his father-in-law’s home, about 20 people milling around in the warm August night, shouting that he should leave the suburb of Mt. Vernon, N.Y. and never return.
Did George Sylvester Viereck push aside the drapes to peer out the parlor window? Apparently the presence of two policemen guarding the front door did not reassure him of his own safety.
And so as the dog days waned in the summer of 1918, George left his wife and two sons with her father and returned to Manhattan. From there he would continue to edit his two magazines, The International and The Fatherland. In their pages he strongly supported Germany throughout the Great War, which the U. S. had entered in April 1917.
Later, his work would be labeled propaganda.
The child of a German actress and – purportedly – one of Kaiser Wilhelm II's unacknowledged sons, George immigrated to the U. S. at the age of 13. Known as Sylvester or “G.S.V.,” he graduated from City College of New York with literary aspirations, having published a small volume of verse in 1904 while he was still a student. In 1907, George published a second collection of poems which won national attention.
|George Sylvester Viereck as a young man|
After college, George traveled frequently to his native land. He developed a particular interest in foreign affairs and became a German nationalist.
In 1915, agitated by the debate over U. S. involvement in the war, George helped found a nationwide antiwar group called Friends of Peace. The group immediately demanded that the U. S. stop supplying ammunition to England and that England lift its blockade of German ships.
Friends of Peace wasn’t really a pacifist organization. Rather, it intended to prevent an alliance between the U. S. and England. Its members were largely Americans of German and Irish descent who had a natural – understandable – antipathy toward England. They included scholars, clergy, publishers, and business executives.
The group held rallies in Chicago, New York, and other cities. Meanwhile, President Wilson campaigned for a second term on the slogan, “He Kept Us out of War.” Friends of Peace did not trust Wilson and endorsed the Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes (later appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).
George led a busy life. A prolific writer – novels and memoirs in addition to poetry and international affairs – he also lectured widely. Over time he developed a reputation for being anti-American – hence the angry neighbors outside his father-in-law’s home – but that did not seem to bother him.
|The Fatherland became The American Weekly (1918)|
After the war, Congress
investigated how Germany had used propaganda in the U. S., and George was named
as a saboteur. American agents showed
evidence that he had advance knowledge of Germany’s plans to sink the Lusitania. But there were no consequences, and George resumed
writing, turning his anger toward Wilson, the League of Nations, and reparations.
In the early 1920s, George made his first visit to Europe since before the war. He stayed for eight months, scoring interviews with Hitler, Mussolini, and the Kaiser, who was now in exile in the Netherlands.
His 1923 interview with Hitler occurred just a few months before the Beer Hall Putsch, an attempted Nazi coup in Munich. But the putsch failed and Hitler was imprisoned for nine months, passing the time writing Mein Kampf.
In the course of the interview, which did not see the light of day until 1932 when it was published in Liberty Magazine (another pro-German magazine), Hitler railed against Bolshevism and Marxism.
“In my scheme of the German state, there will be no room for the alien, no use for the wastrel, for the usurer or the speculator, or anyone incapable of productive work,” he told George.
Back in the U. S., George emerged as an unabashed supporter of Hitler and registered as a foreign agent. He established a publishing house that issued isolationist, Anglophobic and pro-German books. But things caught up with him. In 1941, just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor, a grand jury indicted George for deliberately hiding the extent of his work as a propagandist.
He would serve about five years in prison, during which time his life fell apart. His younger son was killed in the Battle of Anzio, and his wife left him after liquidating all of his assets and donating the money to Catholic and Jewish charities. He died in the Berkshires in 1962.*
In his study hung portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, and Goebbels alongside those of Freud and Einstein. “All these people I have known and admired,” he liked to tell visitors. “The psychoanalyst, the scientist, and the dynamic force – all have been my friends.”
|After World War II|
*He lived out his years with his son, Peter, a professor at Mt. Holyoke College.