1891 1899 1905 1908 1912 1913

About Heartfield Childhood
“My brother, who was five years older,
experienced the full impact of the loss
(of his parents). For four days and nights
he was alone with younger siblings in the
isolated hut. The eight-year-old never thought
of going down into the village. Frightened and
helpless, despairing more completely with each
passing hour and day, he ran into the woods
again and again to call just one word: ‘mother.’”
Wieland Herzfelde
Wieland Herzfelde

Heartfield Childhood. He Learned About Injustice & Unconditional Love In 1899.

Their disturbed parents abandoned John Heartfield (b. Helmut Herzfeld) and his siblings in the woods in 1899. Heartfield was eight-years old. Their father disappeared one night. Heartfield’s mother left the children alone soon afterwards and never returned. Heartfield wandered the woods for days, calling for his mother, and hoping she would return.

After waiting for days, Helmut led his brother, Wieland (future writer, publisher, and director of Malik-Verlag Publishing [Malik Publishing Company]) and his sisters, Charlotte (Lotte) and Hertha, to “Uncle Ignaz” (Varnschein), the Protestant mayor of Aigen, near Salzberg.

Ignaz gave the children shelter. He had them baptized in the Protestant church. However, the young John Heartfield (b. Helmut Herzfeld) was a rebellious child. Ignaz tried to keep the children together. However, he couldn’t deal with all of them. 

Uncle Ignaz sent Helmut to a Catholic home for children. Catholic nuns beat him for his bad behavior. Before helping with mass every morning, Helmut prayed in secret to his Protestant God to forgive him for accepting his role in a Catholic service.

heartfield childhood helmut herzfeld parents

Varnschein Family with Herzfeld foster Children (l. to r.) Ignaz Varnschein, unidentified, Wieland, unidentified, Charlotte, Klara Varnschein, Hertha, unidentified. Loc. Aigen near Salzburg, ca. 1901


Professor John J Heartfield is John Heartfield’s paternal grandson. He gives live interactive presentations around the world that focus on his grandfather’s life and work and modern political art. Please write to him to request his presence at your event or ask any question. He is always pleased to hear from exhibition visitors.

Dada Political Artist John Heartfield grandson, John J Heartfield, writes about John Heartfield childhood