He was born on February 24, 1883 in the town of Neuguth (today’s Nowe Dobra, Chełmno district), in what was then West Prussia. He came from a family with teaching and forestry traditions. His father, Benno Heym, was the chancellor of the school in Wąbrzeźno and also the author of the monograph of this region. He instilled in his son an interest in prehistory and folk studies. He began his education at the municipal school in Heiligenbeil (now Mamonovo in the Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). In the years 1899–1902 he attended the gymnasium in Strasbourg Westpr. (Brodnica), then he studied theology in Königsberg and ancient languages in Marburg, Germany. As a licensed teacher, he completed teaching internships in Iława, Chełmża, Brodnica and Malbork. In 1913, he took the position of assessor and scientific counselor at the Royal Classical Gymnasium in Kwidzyn, where he taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In the years 1916-1918 Heym fought on both fronts of World War I. After the end of the war, he returned to Kwidzyn.
In 1919, he married a teacher from Lubawa, Margarethe Günther (1894-1983), had five children: four daughters named Eva, Brigitte, Ursel and Gudrun, and a son named Hartmuth. To this day (2020), only the youngest of the daughters, Gudrun Martin, is still alive. Heym’s life passion was collecting material traces of the past of the Kwidzyn region, where he often traveled. Most of his collections, combined with the exhibits donated by the local Historical Society, (Historischer Verein für den Regierungsbezirk Marienwerder) based in Kwidzyn and with the donations of the regionalist, educator and school director – Erich Wernicke, became the basis for the collections of the future museum. The museum was established on April 2, 1926. Its full name was – Heimatmuseum Westpreussen in Marienwerder (Regional Museum of West Prussia in Kwidzyn). Heym became the first director of the museum and – as it turned out later – the only one until 1945.
The establishment of the museum was connected with the beginning of Heym’s active archaeological activity. As an amateur archaeologist, he turned out to be an excellent field researcher, distinguished, among others, by in saving damaged archaeological sites. In less than 20 years, he examined at least 98 sites dating from the Neolithic to the late Middle Ages (3500 BC – 1500 AD). He began his first excavations in 1926 in Unterberg. Other archaeological works followed soon, incl. in the towns: Bystrzec in the pow. Kwidzyński, Stary Zameczek in Kwidzyn or Tynwałd in the district of Iława. His field archaeological works provided the basis for more extensive research on prehistoric settlements and those related to the funeral rite. The head of the museum combined archaeological and ethnographic research. Based on the analysis of archaeological sources, he looked for confirmation of the continuity of tradition in the culture of the indigenous peoples. During his travels, he collected valuable exhibits (including painted furniture, tiled stoves, everyday utensils, folk handicrafts). He paid special attention to the Mennonites, who were an important culture-forming element in the Kwidzyn Valley and in Żuławy Wiślane. With time, he became a specialist in prehistoric ceramics, which he was particularly interested in. He also wanted to document contemporary folk pottery. To this end, he created collections of contemporary pottery as well as tools and equipment related to craftsmanship. In addition, he created museum collections of everyday objects, weapons (including medieval Teutonic swords), archival documents, artistic products, etc. On their basis, an ethnographic exhibition was created. According to the preserved inventory book filled in by Heym, the museum had 4,022 exhibits (the last entry was dated January 1, 1945).
Heym was also the author of a number of scientific and popular science studies. His extensive bibliography includes over 80 items, including extensive works in the field of archeology. He devoted many articles to field discoveries. He also published works related to the settlement of the Lower Vistula area, defense construction, as well as reports on the activities of the museum. In addition to the above activities, Heym is also credited with the authorship of the vast majority of documentary photographs, which constitute a collection of about 2,000 negatives. They mainly concern archaeological excavations, rural and urban architecture from the Kwidzyn region, as well as museum collections. These photos represent a high scientific value. A fragment of the collection was made available at the Museum in Kwidzyn at the exhibition devoted to Heym in 2015−2017. In 1939, in recognition of his achievements in the field of archeology, he was appointed the field custodian for the area of West Prussia, based in Gdańsk. Then he quit his job in education, but still managed the Kwidzyn museum. During World War II, the area of his research interests was expanded to include the areas annexed to Poland (Chełmno, Lipno, Rypin and Wąbrzeski poviats), neighboring Prussia. Towards the end of the war, in the face of the approaching front, he supervised the evacuation of museum collections from the regional museum. Some of them were taken to nearby rural schools, and some to central Germany (Thuringia). Those that remained on the site and those found in the area after the war became the basis of the collections of today’s museum, which was reopened in 1950 in a medieval castle.
At the end of January 1945 as a German citizen Heym had to leave Kwidzyn. Initially, he stayed with one of his sisters in Weissenfels, Saxony. He worked there as a teacher for several years. In 1950, he was nominated the national monument custodian for the Lower German region of Saxony-Anhalt. At the end of the 1950s, he moved to Olderup (Husum County). Then, in 1960 he moved to Celle (Lower Saxony), where he spent the last years of his life. Despite his distance from Kwidzyn, he still wrote a lot about his recently lost homeland. He died on January 9, 1967 in Celle, where he was buried.
(ed. J. Jezierska, Ł. Rzepczyński)
Photograph from the archival collection of the Kwidzyn Castle.