Hanns Eisler in California and in East Berlin – Photos by Gerda Goedhart

Photographer Gerda Goedhart, who was born in Magdeburg (née Weimann, 1906-1993) spent more than three years in an internment camp in Japan towards the end of the Second World War before she was allowed to leave the country for California in 1946. There she met German emigrants Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler again, among others, whom she had previously met in exile in London. In California, she created a first series of photographs of Hanns Eisler, who at the time was going through a serious crisis as he was being investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC): Goedhart’s pictures show the composer pensive and weary outside the wooden house in Malibu on the Pacific coast where Hanns and Lou Eisler lived from 1945 to 1948. 

In the 1950s, Gerda Goedhart, who was by then living in the Netherlands, regularly visited East Berlin, where she took some of her now iconic portrait photographs of Brecht (with and without a cigar), as well as other characteristic photographs of Eisler. Whereas Suhrkamp Verlag now hold the rights to her Brecht photographs, the photographer transferred the usage rights for all of her Eisler photographs to the Akademie der Künste in 1979.


born on 6 July 1898 Leipzig – died on 6 September 1962 in Berlin

Grew up in Vienna, 1916–1918 soldier in the First World War, 1919–1923 student of Arnold Schönberg; 1925 resettled in Berlin, 1929 met Ernst Busch and began collaborating with Bertolt Brecht; 1933–1948 in exile, from 1938 in the US, from 1942 in California; 1948 deported from the US; 1949 national anthem of the GDR, from 1950 Professor of Composition at the State University of Music in East Berlin and director of a master class at the Akademie der Künste.

History of the holdings

After Eisler passed away, the Akademie der Künste in East Berlin founded the Hanns Eisler Archive in 1963. In addition to the composer’s bequest, the archive now includes partial bequests from his second and third wives, Louise Eisler-Fischer and Stephanie Eisler. Over the years, an extensive collection was also added to the Hanns Eisler Archive, including the photographs of Eisler by Gerda Goedhart.