Hellmuth Weissenborn

Hellmuth Weissenborn

Leipzig – London
1898 – 1982
Origin: Germany

Hellmuth’s Early Life

Hellmuth grew up in Leipzig with his mother, father and two sisters, Marianne and Lotte. The family lineage included many respected musicians, but Hellmuth preferred printmaking. After serving at Arras in Serbia during the First World War, he studied and eventually taught at Leipzig Academy.

In 1932, Hellmuth married a Jewish woman and had a son. Following Hitler’s rise to power, he could no longer work in Germany. He later described the Nazi flag being raised in Leipzig: “I stood next to my Jewish wife, and everybody had to lift their arms and I refused until my…wife told me, ‘You’d better put your arm up otherwise you may come into trouble’.”

Weissenborn knew his military papers would be served on him soon so made the decision to try and leave. He escaped to London, arriving in 1938.

“My intention to seek a new existence in exile became a certainty.”

Hellmuth’s Internment

Tribunal

Listen to Hellmuth talk about his tribunal and the people who vouched for his character. © IWM, no. 3771

At his first tribunal, on 15 November 1939, Hellmuth was declared exempt from internment. However, a change in government policy meant he was arrested and interned the following year.

Conditions at Warth Mills

Listen to Hellmuth talk about the circumstances of his arrest and his impressions of Warth Mills. © IWM, no. 3771

While interned in Bury, Hellmuth created a linocut print depicting the camp yard and the smoking chimneys from surrounding mills. Not much inside the mill had been modified to anticipate the arrival of hundreds of men, but a high, barbed wire fence had been erected. Major Braybrook, commandant of the camp, read a little too much into the image and Hellmuth had to apologise for the misunderstanding.

Print

Listen to Hellmuth talk about how Major Braybrook misinterpreted the print he created at Warth Mills. © IWM, no. 3771

Like most internees fleeing Nazi persecution, Hellmuth was transferred to the Isle of Man for the remainder of his period in internment. He met several notable artists, including Kurt Schwitters and Paul Hamann.

Life After the War

Hellmuth was released from internment six months after his arrest. He remained in Britain where he met Lesley Macdonald. They married in 1946 and he made his life as an artist, printer and teacher in London. He and Lesley revived The Acorn Press, a traditional printing press, and produced children’s books. Hellmuth’s sisters stayed in Germany, but letters show the siblings remained close.

Hellmuth died in London in 1982, aged 84.

To listen to Hellmuth Weissenborn’s full oral history, go to the Imperial War Museum website / catalogue number 3771.

Monica Bohm-Duchen presents her talk, ‘Creativity Against the Odds: Art and Internment During World War Two’, at Manchester Art Gallery on Sunday 15 July, 2018. For more information, visit the Events page.

Next Internee

Cesare Bianchi

Lake Como — London

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