Self-portrait with Police Commissioner Zörgiebel, 1929
It was 1929. The bloody May Day demonstration was shown in the newsreels. Not everything was shown, but some… enough of the savage and brutal actions of Zörgiebel’s police, the deliberate and cold-blooded murder of the defenseless workers, to get the idea. Even the good bourgeois audience at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo acknowledged the filmstrip with jeers and whistles. There were also those present that applauded the actions of Zörgiebel’s police with demonstrative clapping, including a towering Hun, who was sitting not far from Heartfield. Heartfield jumped up from his seat as if stung by a tarantula and hissed to the broad-shouldered German, “You swine! You swine!” When the performance was over, the Hun, lying in wait for Heartfield, grabbed the small, frail man by the collar: “Now you take back your insult, quickly - what did you say, what am I?” Heartfield, in an iron clamp, defenseless, barely breathing: “You are a swine.” The man knocked him to the pavement and hit him repeatedly in the face, furiously demanding: “What am I, what am I?” Him, tight-lipped: “A swine, a swine, a swine” - until he was liberated by the now-swelling crowd of passersby, bloody, bruised, half fainting.
—Wolf Reiss (Janos Reismann), Internationale Literatur 1934, no. 5, quoted in Eckhard Siepmann, Montage: John Heartfield
Further evidence of the speed and reach of the police in service to the NSDAP was the attack on the house of Hildegard Scharp. She was an acquaintance of [Heartfield] and the Gestapo took her for his wife by mistake. The day of Heartfield’s flight [from Berlin], ten SA and Gestapo broke into her home, pistols in hand and interrogated her for an hour. Thus he learned that his wife and two children would be subjected to Sippenhaft.Michael Kresja, “Comment les nazis réagirent au travail de Heartfield. 1933-1939,” trans. into French by Claude Riehl, from John Heartfield: Photomontages politiques 1930-1938 (Musées de Strasbourg, 2006)
On December 6, 1938, [Heartfield] was able to fly to London via Strasbourg and Paris with only ten other emigrants. He thus came to escape the terrible threat of the Gestapo. That the danger was imminent is evidenced by a circular from the President of the Prague Police dated May 5, 1939. It appears that the Gestapo intervention group in Bohemia had been urgently searching since April 24, 1939 for thirty-one people, mostly emigrants. Heartfield appeared at number 5 on the list. Using such lists, the Gestapo, just four days after the entrance of the Wehrmacht into Prague, arrested approximately eight hundred German and Czech Communists.Michael Kresja, “Comment les nazis réagirent au travail de Heartfield. 1933-1939,” trans. into French by Claude Riehl, from John Heartfield: Photomontages politiques 1930-1938 (Musées de Strasbourg, 2006)
No one who has once seen and spoken to this untidily and shabbily dressed Jew will be surprised, however little much he knows about Jewish physiognomy, that a man with a face of such abysmal ugliness could only bring forth ugliness…
Jews per se were never creative, but could only produce works by copying and exploiting those of others, and this Jew Heartfield was the same. All of his posters, illustrations and so on are photographs; sometimes he also put them together very cunningly, and provided them with captions…
This poster is very effective in its simplicity, and its cleverly written caption adds to the effect. Militant energy is there too, made visible not only in the title but also in the attitude of the hand. Aside from its message, it is a good poster, and was certainly effective.
Victor Hugo, Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné / The Last Day of a Condemned Man / Die letzten Tage eines Verurteilten
Cover design (and possibly illustration) by John Heartfield, from the Kleine revolutionäre Bibliothek (Little Revolutionary Library) series published by Malik-Verlag, 1920-1923
It was in Berlin in 1933, several weeks after the beginning of the fascist darkness over Germany. The leadership of the Bund of revolutionary visual artists had called a small group of active members to an illegal meeting in the little Cafe Kühn at Spittelmarkt. We were about eight in number, including Max Keilson, Alex Keil (a Hungarian immigrant), John Heartfield and, if I’m not mistaken, the art critic [Alfred] Durus.
After undertaking a careful discussion, it may have been about 10:00 PM, we left the cafe and stood outside together for a moment to say goodbye. Immediately, we were besieged from the other side of the street, where a cop on patrol took notice of us in the course of his march and bellowed, “Break it up!”
And then something unexpected happened. John Heartfield, three heads shorter than the lanky policeman, stormed towards him with his head pushed forward, snatched his cap from his head and exclaimed in great agitation: “You, you listen here! — You have a shako on your head and I’ve just a cap! — But under this cap are more brains than under your helmet!” He gesticulated wildly as he uttered these words.
Spellbound, we stared at the two of them. How would this end? Anything was possible, because fascism had already shown its hand.
But nothing of what was to be expected, under the present circumstances, took place. Was it the shock-effect that Johnny’s unexpected attack had triggered? The cop, without saying a word, turned round on his heel as if electrified and walked away.
—Alfred Beier-Red, from “John Heartfield — Meister der Fotomontage,” 1961, quoted in Wieland Herzfelde, John Heartfield: Leben und Werk