“Gott Stafe England! (May God Punish England!)”
1916 was the year Helmut Herzfeld became John Heartfield. Changing his German birth name to an English name foretold his life choices of dangerous political protest. Helmut Herzfeld, as a protest against the rampant anti-British and nationalistic sentiment in Berlin, wanted all of Berlin’s citizen to know he does not agree with their war fervor. Helmut changes his name to a sort of English translation – John Heartfield. Of course, this English version of his name is the one by which he is remembered.
The change is a symbolic political statement, not a legal action. During WWI, the German military propaganda has crowds in the streets shouting, “God Punish England [Gott stafe England]” It is also a popular patriotic song. The artists who would later publicly stand against Adolf Hitler’s brand of out-of-control nationalism is disgusted. If the crowd wants English blood, then he’ll provide his own.
It is not until 1964 that Helmut Herzfeld legally becomes John Heartfield.