“On Good Friday, 1933, the SS broke at night into my apartment, where I happened to be in the process of packing up my works of art. I managed to escape arrest by jumping from the balcony of my apartment, which was located on the ground floor. […] I emigrated by walking across the Sudenten Mountains to Czechoslovakia on Easter.”
Art Against Nazis becomes a death sentence in Germany in March 1933. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (The National Socialist Party) seize complete control of Germany’s Parliament (Der Reichstag). Hitler immediately outlaws everything that does not conform to Nazi orthodoxy. Any type of physical or mental freedom that not approved by Hitler is history. His law is enforced by the SS and the Gestapo.
In April 1933, Hitler’s SS attempts to assassinate the rebellious anti-fascist collage artist John Heartfield.
David King gives this chilling account of Heartfield’s narrow escape in his book, John Heartfield, Laughter Is A Devastating Weapon: “Berlin, April 14, 1933: They came for him in the night. The paramilitary SS burst into the apartment block and headed straight for the raised ground floor studio where John Heartfield was in the middle of packing up his artwork, knowing that his only chance left of survival was a life in exile; he was on their most wanted list. Hearing them dislocating his heavy wooden door, he dived through his french windows and leapt over the balcony into the darkness. He landed badly and sprained his ankle. The Nazis made a flashlight sweep search of the darkened courtyard below yet failed to focus on an old metal bin in the far corner on which were displayed some enamel signs, the sort that advertise motor oil, or soap, or an aperitif. Under its battered lid, one of Hitler’s greatest enemies, far from having vanished into the ether, crouched in torment, squashed in a box full of the local residents’ garbage. For the next seven hours he hid there, toughing it out as he heard the nightmare sounds of the barbarians ransacking his studio and destroying his work. When the raid was over, Heartfield quietly and unobtrusively opened the lid, climbed out of the bin, exited the courtyard and began his nerve-racking flight to Prague. Germany was now enemy territory, there was a high price on his head and he had nothing.”
In Prague, Heartfield remains a freedom fighter who uses art as a weapon. He produces some of his most powerful masterpieces of political art.
Heartfield’s anti-Nazi, anti-fascist, anti-war photomontages are displayed on the covers of the AIZ, Volksillustrierte Zeitung (People’s Illustrated Newspaper) in Prague.
Malik-Verlag publishing house also continues to distribute his art. Heartfield’s words and work places his entire family at risk. The Nazis also hunt his brother, Wieland Herzfelde, because of his partnership in Malik-Verlag.