Stefan George

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Stefan George, 1910; Photo: Jakob Hilsdorf

Stefan Anton George (12 July 1868 – 4 December 1933) was a German poet. He identified with an extreme conservatism in politics and was present at National Socialist celebrations of his sixty-fifth and final birthday held in Berlin in 1933.


George was born in Büdesheim (now part of Bingen) on the river Rhine, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse of the North German Confederation. He spent time in Paris, where he was among the writers and artists who attended the Tuesday soireés held by the poet Stéphane Mallarmé. He began to publish poetry during the 1890s. He initiated and edited a literary magazine named Blätter für die Kunst, and was the main person of the literary and academic group known as the George-Kreis ("George-Circle"), which included some of the major, young writers of the time, such as Ludwig Klages. Although some members of the George circle were sometimes anti-Semitic, it also included Jews. In addition to sharing cultural interests, the circle reflected mystical and political themes.

Different sources give varying descriptions of his life. After initially being influenced by French literature, after being told that this as never going to be acceptable, he shifted focus to Germany. Some parts of his poetry were nationalist and argued for a revitalized Germany and became very influential, especially during the Weimar Republic. He is described as seening himself as a messiah or leader of a new Germany and his inner circle to have resembled a cult. George was said to be homosexual, but is stated to have exhorted his young friends to have a celibate life like his own. He is sometimes described as supportive, sometimes as critical of National Socialism.


George was thought of by his contemporaries as a prophet and a priest, while he thought of himself as a messiah of a new kingdom that would be led by intellectual or artistic elites, bonded by their faithfulness to a strong leader. His poetry emphasized self-sacrifice, heroism and power, and he thus gained popularity in National Socialist circles. The group of writers and admirers that formed around him were known as the George-Kreis.

George's poetry was a major influence on the music of the Second Viennese School of composers, particularly during their Expressionist period. Arnold Schönberg set George's poetry in such works as his String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10 of 1908 and The Book of the Hanging Gardens Op. 15 of 1909, while his student Anton Webern made use of George's verse in his early choral work Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen Op. 2 as well as in two sets of songs, Opp. 3 and 4 of 1909, and in several posthumously published vocal works from the same period.

Das neue Reich

George's last complete book of poems, Das neue Reich ("The New Realm"), was published in 1928. It was banned in the occupied Germany after World War II, as the title sounded tainted. However, George is stated to have rejected all attempts to use it for mundane political purposes, including those of National Socialism. Furthermore, it is dedicated to Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who, with his brother Claus, took a leading role in the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Both brothers, who were executed after the plot failed, are stated to have considered themselves to be acting on the teachings of the George-Circle by trying to kill Hitler. See also Friedrich Hielscher.


On 25 July 1933 George travelled to Wasserburg on Lake Constance, where he remained for four weeks. On 24 August 1933, George took a ferry across the Lake to Heiden, Switzerland. In November 1933, the news spread that the Master's medical condition was very grave. Stefan George died at Minusio near Locarno (Switzerland) on 4 December 1933. On 5 December 1933, the German Consulate at Lugano contacted the city officials of Minusio and asked for the date and time of the funeral. Ernst von Weizsäcker, the German Minister at Bern, delivered a wreath to the grave on the day after the funeral. As the mourners left the railroad station at Locarno following the ceremony, some of the younger members of the George-Kreis were seen to give the Hitler salute.

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