The start of a Heckscher family portrait

Our hunt for information on the life of our protagonist, CIA officer Henry Hecksher, again takes us to his brother, acclaimed art historian William Heckscher.

In a journal article entitled “The Life and Work of William H. Heckscher”, fellow art historian Elizabeth Sears mentioned Henry only once.

But we learn some details of the background of the two brothers (who spelled their surnames differently).

The Heckschers were Lutherans who had long lived in Hamburg.

According to Sears, William described Hamburg as “a Freie und Hansestadt which, even though its leading citizens tended to mistrust the Muses, stood nevertheless uniquely open to the intellectual currents radiating from the British Isles and from across the Atlantic.”

The brothers’ mother was Hulda Wilhelmine Foerster Heckscher, who was born in 1876 and died in 1958. She was a “gifted linguist” who had taught English, French and Italian.

Her father was Wilhelm Julius Foerster, an astronomer who had been director of the Berlin Observatory and founder of the German branch of the Society for Ethical Culture, an organization that advocated for pacifism and social reform, among other things.

But he was not the only family member with pacifist leanings, and Sears wrote that these connections led the William and his mother to be “taken in” by the Gestapo in 1934 or 1935.

Unlike her sons, Hulda remained in Hamburg during World War II, “after the Gestapo had confiscated her passport because of her involvement in a trial of communists.”

The brothers’ father was Siegfried Heckscher, who was born in 1870 and died in 1929.


Sears, Elizabeth. “The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher.” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 53, no. 1 (1990): 107-33. Accessed July 17, 2021. doi:10.2307/1482507.

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