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Hans Heller Collection

Identifier: AR 25858

Scope and Contents

The Hans Heller Collection comprises the papers of the businessman and author John (Hans) Heller. Although central focuses of this collection are on his writing and on his candy company, the collection also contains some personal documents and correspondence and papers of other family members. John Heller, born Hans Heller, is called both John and Hans throughout the papers of this collection. This finding aid will refer to him as John Heller, as this was the latest form of his name.

Biographical information about John Heller is located in the first two subseries of this collection. Series I holds his personal papers and personal correspondence. Documentation in this series includes his obituaries, an overview of his life from a ninetieth birthday celebration with photographs, and photographs of his art. Many details of his life will also be found in his correspondence with his friend, art historian Ernst von Garger. This series also includes information on his estate and restitution efforts for losses under the Nazis. Series II contains John Heller's extensive writing, including his memoirs, novels, short stories, children's stories, and articles and reports. In addition to information on the publication of a memoir published in 1983, this series includes drafts of a second memoir about his later years, with many reminiscences and reflections on the events of his life and on the reality of growing older. One folder in this series holds some official and personal documents of his. Creative writing in this series, especially his novels and short stories, may include biographical details in their settings. The third subseries in Series II, which holds opinion pieces, articles, and reports, provide his perspective on the future after World War II as well as some details of Austria's experiences during and following the war.

Material relating to the Heller family is also located in Series I. This includes a folder of family photographs and papers of other family members especially John's wife, sculptor Helen Heller. Series I also includes a handwritten narrative by John Heller's father, Gustav Heller, about the family history, with some information on the family candy factory founded by Gustav and Wilhelm Heller. One folder holds genealogical notes and sketches of portions of the family tree.

Documentation on the Heller Candy Company comprises Series III, including documentation related to the original factory in Vienna and the later factories in the United States founded by John Heller. The first subseries of this series contains general information on the companies Much of this documentation focuses on the company factory in Vienna. This includes pre-war advertising photographs of the company mascot, a portfolio of photographs of the candy company in Vienna, and financial records. Several folders pertain to the time the company under Nazi control. Material on the companies in New York primarily consist of photocopies of lists of products of the company. The second subseries of Series III comprises more recent files of financial, taxation, and legal documents related to the family members' ownership of property in Vienna that formerly housed the candy factory.


  • 1907-2010
  • Majority of material found within 1930-2007


Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers. Some financial files in Series III, Subseries 2 are restricted.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection.

Biographical Note

Hans Heller was born in Vienna on August 3, 1896, to Gustav Heller and his wife Mathilde (née Kreidl). He had two sisters: Margarete (after marriage Margarete Rutter) and Marianne (after marriage Marianne Wolf). In 1891 Gustav Heller and his brother Wilhelm founded a candy factory in Vienna, Gustav & Wilhelm Heller.

While studying in Gymnasium (high school) Hans first encountered the works of Sigmund Freud, which would continue to be of interest to him. After graduation he was enlisted as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army of World War I, where he was part of an artillery unit and was stationed on the Italian front. In 1919 he married Margarete (Gretl) Steiner, whom he had known for several years prior to the war. He then attended the University of Vienna, where he studied economics and political theory; he received a degree in economics. In 1920 Hans and Gretl's son Peter was born. Hans became a junior partner in the family candy business; he would later become co-owner with his father. In 1934 Hans and Gretl divorced, although they remained friends.

During this time, Hans Heller's interest in writing grew, and he had some short pieces published. It was during this time that he wrote his unpublished work "Die sieben mageren Jahre" (The Seven Meager Years). He also became close friends with the art historian Ernst von Garger, with whom he traveled in Italy. Later Hans wrote Ein Mann sucht seine Heimat, about a half-Jewish art historian who fought against the Nazis; this book was published in Switzerland in 1936 under the pseudonym Martin Haller. While writing this book, Hans married his second wife, Inge.

By the later 1930s Hans Heller became co-editor of the newspaper Die Wiener Weltbühne with his friend, journalist Willy Schlamm. Hans Heller would escape city life for the country at his hunting lodge in Klausen, Italy, and at a summer home in the Alpine village of Grundlsee, Styria.

Following the Austrian Anschluss in 1938 Hans made a deal with his "Aryan" brother-in-law and another relative regarding selling the candy factory. With the help of a friend in England Hans was able to send some funds there as well as his son Peter. Hans traveled to England via Switzerland in 1938, leaving behind his elder sister Margarete Rutter, who would spend the war hiding in the cellar of her home; his younger sister Marianne Wolf eventually died of multiple sclerosis. His wife Inge later followed him to England.. In England, Hans contacted an English candy company in Liverpool, Barker & Dobson, where he proposed to start a new Heller candy factory on its premises and run it in partnership with a cousin. After his son Peter was interned as an enemy alien and sent to Canada – a fate of which Hans was exempt by being involved in the export trade – he considered emigrating to the United States, which he did in 1940 while on a business trip for Barker & Dobson.

At first Hans struggled to find partners with whom to establish a candy business in New York. When he finally found enough investors, he established a small business called Heller Candy Company, Inc. in a rented loft in Harlem. It would later move to 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. During the early years of the Second World War, Hans and Inge separated; he later met his third wife, the artist Helen Ek. They married in 1946 and had a son, Marc. They first lived on New York's Upper West Side but later the family moved to the town of Hartsdale, New York. At some point Hans Heller Americanized his given name to John, although he also continued to use his German name, Hans. At some later point he established a candy factory in Paterson, New Jersey.

After the war, John Heller returned to Austria in 1947. He was particularly worried about his good friend Ernst von Garger, with whom he had reestablished contact and who was in poor health. Upon his return to the United States John Heller had an article published in the New York Herald Tribune "Hungry Austria Reverts to the Past," related to the starvation present in the country at the time and its political situation. It took more than a year to sort out legal ownership of the family factory in Vienna.

Over the next few years, his wife Helen Heller began to gain more prominence as a sculptor. John Heller, who enjoyed hunting, took trips to the Adirondack Mountains and Newfoundland. He also visited Austria several times to seek the return of family property and to re-establish connections with his sister and her family there. John Heller and his family often traveled and eventually moved to the town of Scarborough, New York, along the Hudson River. At some point during the 1960s John took a memorable hunting trip to Africa. Meanwhile, the Heller Candy Company he had established in the United States flourished. It sold hard and filled candies in bags, jars, and holiday tins. When the Vietnam War broke out John realized that since his candies could withstand high heat, they would be ideal for the deployed soldiers, and the armed forces became a large client of the company. This helped to make the candy even more well-known and eventually extended to exports to Asia and South America. John Heller also became involved in painting landscapes. In 1974 he and Helen had a joint exhibition of their work at a gallery in New York's Soho neighborhood. Helen, who had fought cancer for years, died shortly before the opening of their exhibition.

John Heller had a difficult time adjusting to life without Helen. After some time, he married the anesthesiologist Edith Kepes. He remained president of Heller Candy Company until his retirement in 1981. They spent much of their old age traveling together, including to Vienna, where John Heller had an exhibition of his paintings. In 1983, Abaris Press published John Heller's memoirs, Memoirs of a Reluctant Capitalist. He also wrote another, unpublished, memoir, "Old, Old Age," about the experiences of life in extreme old age. In 1985 his autobiography in German was published by Ovilava-Libri Press, Zwischen zwei Welten: Erinnerungen, Dokumente, Prosa, Bilder. John Heller died in 1987.


3 Linear Feet

1 Folders (1 shared oversized folder)


The Hans Heller Collection contains papers of the businessman and author John (Hans) Heller, originally from Vienna. The collection focuses on his creative writing, such as novels, poems, plays, essays, and his memoirs, as well as on files related to the Heller Candy companies in Austria, England, and in the United States, including the original company’s finances and property in Austria. The collection also includes personal documents, personal correspondence, some papers of his wife, artist Helen Heller, family photographs, and other materials.


The collection is arranged in three series:

  1. Series I: Personal Papers 1919, 1936-1988, 2006-2010
  2. Series II: Writing, 1907-1991
  3. Series III: Heller Candy Company, 1938-1964, 1975, 1988-2007

Related Materials

John Heller's 1985 biography, Zwischen zwei Welten: Erinnerungen, Dokumente, Prosa, Bilder, is included in the LBI Library (call number PT 2617 E45 A18). This book was published using his German name, Hans.

The LBI Arts and Objects Collection includes several sculptures by John Heller's wife, Helen Heller.

Separated Materials

John Heller's 1983 autobiography, Memoirs of a Reluctant Capitalist, has been removed to the LBI Library. This book was published using his American name, John. It includes a first chapter written in the first person about his father, Gustav Heller.

Processing Information

During the processing of the archival collection, series and subseries were established based on the observed original order, dominant topics, and genres of the collection. Folders within series and subseries were rearranged alphabetically for ease of use. One book was removed for the LBI Library, with photocopies retained in the collection of the book's bibliographic information. Some larger folders were further subdivided during processing due to their size. Photographs were placed into photo envelopes. Sensitive financial information was redacted, with the original documents placed in restricted files of the respective subseries.

Guide to the Papers of Hans Heller
Dianne Ritchey
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States