Hilda Liebman

Corrupt SS operations chief Fritz Engelke

The Der Spiegel article mentions SD chief Colonel Engelke as a regular at the Madame Kleinknect's salon. He doesn't rate a Wikipedia entry, but there is a fascinating discussion thread about him on Axis History Forum, described as an apolitical forum for discussions on the Axis nations, as well as the First and Second World Wars. From information on the thread from three researchers, we can piece together a biography.

Friedrich Engelke, known as Fritz, was born in Hannover in 1900. He prospered as a merchant and textile trader. During the 1930s he joins the administrative division of the SS, or Schutzstaffel, the paramilitary organization run by Heinrich Himmler. In November 1940, Engelke is identified as an SS-Ustof, or second lieutenant, with the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, SS-WVHA, the organization responsible for managing finances, supply systems and business projects for the SS, according to Wikipedia. In June 1944, he has the higher rank of SS-Stubaf, or brigade leader.

He was stationed in Paris and placed in charge of the Buying and Distributing Office of Stocks and Commodities--sort of like the chief purchasing agent. One commenter notes that "it seems that he was corrupt and managed to loot a considerable amount of French property!"

A person by the same name was held as a prisoner in Dachau by the SS in April 1945. It is uncertain if it is the same one. However, there is also a suggestion that another SS officer who may have been his brother, Johann Engelke, was investigated for an unspecified relationship and was subsequently transferred to a military unit and reported missing in action.

After the war, Friedrich Engelke was convicted and sentenced in absentia for War crimes by the French on June 13, 1951. It was reported by another poster that he was still alive and residing in Hannover as of 1975.

Notorious guests at the Neuilly house

The Der Spiegel article lists several names among the guests of Walter and Laure Kleinknecht at the Neuilly villa. The two French names, Pierre Laval and Marcel Déat, were leading politicians in the Vichy government. From Wikipedia:

Pierre Laval

Pierre Laval (French pronunciation: [pjɛʁ laval]; 28 June 1883 – 15 October 1945) was a French politician. He was four times President of the council of ministers of the Third Republic, twice consecutively.

Following France's surrender and Armistice with Germany in 1940, he served twice in the Vichy Regime as head of government. He signed orders permitting the deportation of foreign Jews from French soil to the Nazi death camps.

After Liberation (1945), Laval was arrested by the French government under General Charles de Gaulle, found guilty of high treason, andexecuted by firing squad. The controversy surrounding his political activities has generated a dozen biographies.

Marcel Deat

Marcel Déat (7 March 1894, Guérigny, France – 5 January 1955, near Turin, Italy) was a French Socialist until 1933, when he initiated a spin-off from the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) along with other right-wing 'Neosocialists'. He then founded the collaborationist National Popular Rally (RNP) during the Vichy regime. In 1944, he became "Minister of Labor and National Solidarity" in Pierre Laval's government, before escaping to Sigmaringen along with Vichy officials after the Allied landings in Normandy. Condemned in absentia for collaborationism, he died while still in hiding in Italy. 

There is no Wikipedia entry for the German name mentioned, Colonel Engelke, but I have found some other interesting information, described in the following post.

Many Liebman/Clerc developments

There is much to add and not much time. I will compress quite a bit here.

About a week ago, Joanne asked me for the address for our great-aunt Hilda's former villa in a Paris suburb. If you read the previous item, you know that I found the address on a blog item written about a year ago by French jewelry blogger and historian Jean-Jacques Richard. His article included rich details on the early history of the Clerc jewelry store and brand, including how our uncle Joe came to gain control of the company in 1932 and how was able to flee from the Nazis eight years later with some small part of his fortune carried on his person.

Because M. Richard, who is a retired jewelry designer in Rochefort du Gard, France, knew so much of the prewar history of the company, Walter and I were surprised he was less well informed about the postwar chronolgy. While he referenced several official actions that Joe took in 1946 and 1961 to gain restitution for his losses, he didn't have the details. Moreover, he was unaware of the existence of Arnaud Clerc, who we knew had assumed control of the jewelry business after Joe's death in 1968.

He did know of Gerald Clerc, purveyor of a line of luxury Swiss watches under the Clerc brand, but he questioned the authenticity of Gerald's claim on the brand. I had only heard of Gerald in the briefest way, via a six-year-old posting on this blog.

Take a look at who made a comment on that post and you will see that our friend M. Richard was interested in the subject since way back then. You will also see that there was confusion about how the Clerc name related to our known Liebman family members.

Keep that in mind as we go on in the next post to Joanne's visit to the house on the Rue de la Saussaye.

31 rue de la Saussaye

Joanne is in Paris visiting her friend Carrie, who is ill. She emailed Walter and I overnight asking did we have Hilda's old address in Neuilly. She said she would be in Neuilly today visiting her high-school exchange student pal Sylviane.

Walter replied that he and Joanne had looked for the house once before, in 2007 when their paths crossed in Paris, but that they had not found it. As for me, my only memories of that grand maison go back to early childhood.

So I googled "Joseph Liebman Clerc Neuilly". That is the name of Aunt Hilda's husband, the French jewelry business he owned for a time, and the Parisian suburb where they resided. Up pops a juicy page from a French jewelry history blog chock full of information, including the address of a house in Neuilly that was listed as a Clerc business asset in some Nazi-era litigation in 1944.

The page is a trove of information that explains how Joe came to control this important jewelry brand and store, how he fled Nazi occupation with some of the assets, and how he appealed for restoration after the war. The original of the page is in French and I am working from a Google Translate translation, which is fairly rough.

Obviously there is much more than just the address of the house in Neuilly that we can find here, but it is going to take some time. Walter says he will read it carefully this evening and possibly post further thoughts.

I don't know yet if Jo got the information in time for her visit. If so, I'll ask her to post, too. 

For now, here is the link to the English translation and the original French.


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