Hans Tombrock was born in 1895 as one of 16 children of a miner's family near Dortmond, Germany.
Tombrock began to draw at anearly age, but earned his living as a laborer in mining and on ships. He also became politically active in the German left, and spent several years in prison around 1920, probably because of links to the German communist party. After doing time, Tombrock became one of the "Bruderschaft der Vagabunden" - a brotherhood of vagabond artists.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Tombrock fled Germany. After passing through different countries, including Switzerland and Spain, Tombrock eventually settled in Stockholm, Sweden. In Germany the Nazis categorized his work as "entartete Kunst." (degenerate art) and his German citizenship was revoked.
In 1938, Tombrock met Bertolt Brecht at an anti-fascist discussion and developed a long term friendship and working relationship with the famous German writer. He created a series of illustrations for the play "Das Leben des Galilei."
Brecht immigrated to the United States during the war, but Tombrock's application was turned down. In 1946 the artist returned to Germany and founded an art school in Dortmund. After several years he moved to East Germany (the DDR) to join Brecht who had also settled there after the war. But by 1953, Tombrock found the DDR too restrictive of artistic freedom and moved back to the west where he lived and worked until his death in 1966.