Peter Robert Edwin Viereck was born in New York City on August 5, 1916. He achieved remarkable scholastic success in his college years and graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in 1937. After attending the University of Oxford on a fellowship, he returned to Harvard, where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in European history.
Parallel with Viereck’s rise in the academic world, a more dramatic story was taking place. Viereck’s father, George Sylvester Viereck, was a noted journalist and author whose circle of friends included Sigmund Freud, H. L. Mencken, and Kaiser Wilhelm II. He had temporarily lost popularity during World War I, since his sympathy for Germany put him at odds with the policy of the United States. The 1920’s, however, was characterized by disillusionment with American participation in the war, and Viereck was to a large extent restored to favor. Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in January, 1933, changed the picture once more. It soon became evident that Viereck was not prepared to abandon his sympathy for Germany. He became an apologist for Hitler (indeed a paid agent of the Reich), and almost all of his friends deserted him. During World War II, he was arrested and tried for sedition.
Peter Viereck broke with his father and rarely mentioned him in his writing. Perhaps as a reaction against the senior Viereck, much of his activity as a historian concentrated on analyzing the rise of the Nazis to power.
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