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John Heartfield

By Tobbe Palmozovic, 1999

Helmut Herzfelde was born in München, June 19 1891. He changhed his name to John Heartfield during World War I as a response to the widespread "anglophobia" in Germany. He was the first artist to use photo-montage as a political weapon.

In 1917 John founded, with his brother, the publishing house "Malik Verlag", where he began illustrating books. Inspired by the October Revolution in Russia, he joined the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1918. As a member of KPD, he made numerous campaign posters in the 20's and 30's. In the early 30's, prior to Hitler winning the election, he shifted from making "anti-imperialist" and "vote Communist!" posters to ridiculing Nazism and it's leaders. AIZ, the Workers Illustarted Paper, regulary gave him whole pages to show his artwork.

In 1933 Heartfield was forced into exile as Hitler ceased power. He first lived in Praha, Czechoslovakia, but when Germany wanted him extradited, he fled to Britain. In Britain he kept making anti-Hitler propaganda and worked as a freelance for papers like The Picture Post and Reynolds News among others.

In 1950, he moved back to Germany and settled in East Berlin. Celebrated as a cultural leader, he kept busy doing stage design, posters and book jackets. He also took on such issues as atomic weapons and the Vietnam war. John Heartfield died in Berlin on April 26 1968.

Laibach has included at least two of John Heartfield's creations in their artwork. The cover of Laibach's first album shows a man laying on the NSK cross. That same man can be found on a Heartfield poster from 1934. Later Laibach used an axe-swastika on the album Opus Dei. The original was made by Heartfield in 1934 and consisted of four bloody axes lashed together to form a swastika. He called the work "Old motto in the 'new' reich - blood and iron".