Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Liebmans were on famous refugee ship rescued by Mrs. Roosevelt

French blogger Jean-Jacques Richard checked in overnight with important new information that I had overlooked. I wrote recently about the Liebman family's passage to American in August 1940 aboard the S.S. Quanza. What I didn't put together was that they didn't get off the ship in New York.

In fact, over the next three weeks the Quanza would sail into history as many of its passengers were refused entry into Mexico at a planned stop in Vera Cruz, and then left to wait offshore at Norfolk, Va., while the U.S. State Department refused them entry. After four days, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt intervened and the passengers were able to enter the U.S.

We don't know yet if the four Liebmans were able to disembark in Mexico, as some of the passengers did, or if they were among the 86 that went to Norfolk. These close ups of immigration authority notations on the New York passenger list shows that they were definitely on board when the Quanza left New York for Mexico on August 23.

Notations on Quanza passenger list read "No Visa." "shore leave denied," and "Aug 23/40 All above (25 aliens) on board at sailing.."
I will post more information about the history of the Quanza soon. But I wanted to get this important information up without delay. Merci once more, JJR!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are these the Clerc women?

The long-legged young woman with Hilda and Elly could be Arnaud's second wife, who we see later at the glamorous literary dinner.

Also I'm not sure about his one. The photo is taken at the Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas.

Joe's Clerc and Mack descendants

I don't know the year but the Mack family is visiting in Paris. Helene and her husband are at center. Arnaud and his first wife are at right. Joe is surrounded by his four grandchildren.

The Liebman-Clerc-Macks out on the town.

Arnaud's family on the promenade in Nice with Hilda and Joe.

The Wohlgemuth women in Joe Liebman's life

Hilda was quite the looker in 1947.

That's our parents Stan and Helga Ruby next to Joe on the right. Across the table from back to front is Elly Ringel, Hilda Liebman, and possibly Helene Liebman. The photo is taken at Berkowitz's Roumanian restaurant on the lower east side of New York City in 1947. 

Here are the sisters Wohlgemuth, Elly and Hilda, flanking Joe in the dining room at Neuilly. 

Living the good life

Joe and Hilda were frequently to be found at fine restaurants and Parisian nightclubs. 
Street scene outside the Clerc store at the Place de l'Opera in 1965.
The image Joanne remembers of the chauffeured car in the driveway at Neuilly.
Here is the house as we remember it from 1961.
A day at the racetrack in Cagny. 

More treasures from our own collection

All during these last days that I have been working on the Liebman-Clerc story, I have known that I would be able to find more documentation right here in my own house. Family photos. For example, I could picture in my mind the photos of my parents' wedding in June 1947 with Joe Liebman and Hilda in attendance. I was wondering would I find Arnaud in the pictures from the wedding. 

In addition, I knew there was a box of photos of that had come to me from my grandmother Elly Ringel through my mother Helga Ruby. Elly was Hilda's older sister. I knew there would be some great shots of Hilda and Joe, and maybe I would even find some with Arnaud, now that I know what he looked like.

I am chagrined to say that the photo collection is completely disorganized, not in albums or frames for the most part, just packets of snapshots from one European trip or another that my grandmother took. I could not lay my hands on the wedding photos at all--I think the originals must be at Joanne's house. Some years back, I had made a photo DVD with all the best images of my parents, but today I couldn't find my copy of the DVD either.

Never mind, though because look at the treasures that I did find!

These next few batches of photos are just the tip of the iceberg of what I have. I must apologize, however, for the considerable blurriness in some of the photos. My flatbed scanner is not working, so I used my iPad camera to photograph the photographs. The quality leaves something to be desired, but I felt people would like to see them even if they are blurry.

I will replace these images with better versions when I get my scanner repaired or replaced. In the meantime, enjoy the following photographic tour through the later years of the life of Joseph Liebman.

Dan's fantastic work on on the Liebmans and Clercs


Thank you so much for your magnificent job on the Liebman-Clerc saga and for bringing back so many incredible childhood, adolescent and early adult memories for me. It is wonderful that thanks to your skullduggery Joanne was able to locate the correct house; when Jo, Tanya and I were there in 2007, walking up and down Rue de La Saussaye, we couldnt determine the correct house, but that is probably because recent owners altered the circular dirveway and put in a veranda, which of course threw us off. Now we have an amazing reconnection with departed family members we knew 40 years ago, or are only getting to know now, so many years later and much deeper appreciation of their lives.

I am especially grateful to you for determining that Arnaud's daughter who I met during a visit to Aunt Hilda in Monte Carlo in 1976 was named Alexandra. I would be fascinated to find out what happened to her. There are plenty of loose tangents still; how was it that Arnaud was named Clerc when he was clearly a Liebman and the two families had a complex relationship to say the least during the 1930's and 1940's? I am looking forward to my own visit to Paris in September with Tanya and hope to have the chance to meet the intrepid jewelry blogger Jean-Jacques Richard and perhaps even some Liebman-Clerc's at that time.


When Hilda Peiser became Madame Liebman

One of the things I have been unclear about is the date of Hilda's and Joe's wedding. Jo, did mom have stories about it? Here are two documents that help narrow it down.

First is for a New York shipping arrival from Cherbourg, France, in January 1947. Hilda is traveling as Hilda Peiser, using her first husband's name. In a second manifest, for an arrival from Le Havre on October 21, 1948, she is now Hilda Liebman. So the marriage date is in that range.

Reflections on living relatives of blog subjects

I waited for a few days after making discoveries about the Liebman/Clerc family to begin posting my information to this site. As a result of previous interactions with family members of people I have written about on this blog, I have become more sensitive to privacy considerations of living relatives of my blog subjects.

I want to make it clear that at this point I have not had any personal interaction with Gerald Clerc or any other living Liebman grand- or great-grandchildren. But they are certainly out there and they will sooner or later stumble on what I've written here. Arnaud's wife is quite likely still living. Some of my information may be new and surprising to them. Some of it they might prefer I had left under the rug.

On reflection, I decided to publish the information. Hilda Liebman was our close blood relative, and her story deserves to be told. Arnaud Clerc led a very public life and left behind a colorful trail of documents. To take the time to assemble those documents, and to fill in the outlines of his life story, seems like a worthwhile enterprise, even at the possible risk of some discomfort among his living relatives.

My email address is in the sidebar. Let me know if you would like to share more information or correct anything I have written.

More on Michel Clerc

If you look closely at the top left image in the l'Officiel article (previous item), you'll see several copies of the Michel Clerc book Bakchich on the tabletop. Here is the cover of the 1976 French edition and of several of Clerc's later novels.

There is not a great deal of biographical or even critical material available about Clerc, even though he actively published novels throughout the 1980s and '90s. One thing I did find is a Paris Match magazine article written by him in 1960 about the novelist Georges Simenon, the creator of Inspector Maigret mysteries and other works.

There is wonderful photography with the article—here is one image. The text is mostly about Simenon's writing process, and you can sense the envy the author has for his subject's considerable success. Michel may even model his later career as a novelist on his admiration and/or jealousy for Simenon. Make sure you read the hilarious note at the bottom of the page that suggests what Simenon thought of Clerc.

Georges Simenon in his study. Credit: Izis, Paris Match, 1960

Arnaud's glamorous wife is featured in l'Officiel article

This one is almost too delicious. As I said in an earlier post today, sometimes these things just fall in your lap. This is from an online archive of the French fashion magazine l'Officiel.

I will explain. This is at a dinner held at the Neuilly house in 1977 to award a literary prize, the Diamond Pen, which Arnaud Clerc himself had established and endowed. Arnaud's wife, identified only as Mme. Arnaud Clerc, is the hostess and member of the prize jury, which is shown at top left. 

Somewhat oddly, the winner of the prize for his novel Bakchich is the author Michel Clerc. As far as I can tell, there is no connection between the two Clercs, and the surprising coincidence goes unmentioned in the article.

In the middle left photo, that is Michel Clerc seated and Arnaud Clerc standing behind him. They could be brothers. The photo below that shows Michel Clerc with the ever-present Mme. I haven't tracked down all the other individuals, but that is the former prime minister of Laos at upper right.

I did look into Michel Clerc a bit and found one amusing item that I will share in the next post.

Joseph Liebman's death in Monte Carlo

This very thorough report of Joe's death on March 3, 1968 in Monte Carlo by the U.S. State Dept. consul in Nice was sent both to Hilda Liebman and Arnaud Clerc. I somehow overlooked it on earlier Ancestry searches, but found it there on Monday morning when going back to collect the documents. 

Since it is hard to read I will summarize: He died at 11 pm on March 3, 1968 of myocardial infarction (heart attack) at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco. He was 76 years old, retired, a naturalized American citizen. His remains have been air-shipped to Paris for interment in the Pantin Parisian Cemetery. His effects are in the custody of his widow Hilda Liebman, and she is responsible for the custody and accounting of those effects. Copies of the report sent to Hilda Liebman at the Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo, and Arnaud Clerc, 37 Av. Victor Hugo, Paris.

Jean-Jacques checks his sources

I have been keeping our French blogger, Jean-Jacques Richard, up to date on my latest findings. At some point he decided to check out my information with a Swiss journalist of his acquaintance, Gregory Pons of Geneva. Pons probably knows Gerald Clerc personally.

Here is the email from Gregory Pons to Jean-Jacques Richard, with a Google translation below.

Effectivement, Gérald est le fils d'Arnaud et le petit-fils de Joseph. Il est Clerc à l'état-civil : changement de nom apparemment légal. Sans être génétique, sa légitimité par rapport à la maison Clerc de 1874 est donc plus ou moins réelle et justifiée. La maison de Neuilly est bien celle-là.
@ +

Gregory PONS
Mediafacture d'informations horlogères depuis 2004
10, rue Chausse-Coq Ch-1204 GENÈVE (Suisse)
• E-mail:
• Youtube : Business Montres Vision
• Facebook : Grégory Pons
• Twitter : Grégory Pons
• Skype : gregpons1

Hello, Indeed, Gerald is the son of Arnold and grandson son of Joseph. Clerc is the vital statistics: apparently legal name change. Although not genetic, its legitimacy from the house of Clerc 1874 is more or less real and justified. The Neuilly house is this one. @ + GP

The surprises keep on coming

It is now Saturday evening and I go to bed early feeling proud of myself for all the new discoveries. I have shown that Arnaud Clerc is definitely the son of Joe Liebman, and also that Gerald Clerc is definitely the son of Arnaud.

But I wake up overnight feeling uneasy about those other names, Sophie and Helene. I searched for them in Ancestry, without finding anything promising. Then it occurred to me to try a search in the NY Times archive, which has frequently been helpful in our Ruby research in the past. Sure enough, here is a NYT death notice published August 20, 1968.

Here is what I wrote to Walter and Joanne on Sunday morning:

Van der Lyn? Mack? Montgomery, Ala.? What unexpected names and places! But also Arnaud L. Clerc and two other Clerc names.

What this says is that Arnaud's mother, Joe's first wife Sophie, lived until 1968 under the name Sandra Van der Lyn. So Joe was not a widower but a divorcee when he married Hilda! Sandra has a sister also named Van der Lyn, so that could have been her family name in Antwerp where she met Joe. Is it possible she was not Jewish?

Joe's daughter Helene married a man named Victor Mack (some of this I have gotten elsewhere and will summarize). They raised a family in Montgomery, Ala., of all places. Helene and her children Leslie and Darrell Mack attended the memorial service for Sandra Vanderlyn in Hempstead, Long Island. (From another source, I believe that Sandra died and is buried in Alabama, where likely she had moved to be near her daughter.)

Also attending the service is Helene's brother, Arnaud Clerc, and two children Alexandra and Stephane Clerc. Ah, so Alexandra could be the young woman Walter met in Monte Carlo! What year was that? Am I right that Stephane is a male name, so the second Clerc child is a son?

Note that this is in August 1968, the very month Arnaud has married in Palm Beach and a year before the birth of Gerald.

All this tells us that Arnaud had a first marriage and wife. Since I haven't found a first marriage record in the U.S. for Arnaud, I am thinking his wife was French and that he returned to Paris by 1953 to work in the Clerc business and to raise his French-American family. At some point, Arnaud either divorced or his first wife died. We don't know yet.

As for Joe Liebman, I don't know about you, but I always thought he was widowed when he met Hilda at Grossinger's. This paints a different picture. Aside from knowing something about Arnaud, did we ever hear from mom about Helene and the various Liebman grandchildren? Or about Sandra?

I have done some quick searches for them and there is one piece of solid information. Helene Mack died at age 63 in Boca Raton, Fla., in October 1980. There are Florida and U.S. death records matching Helene's birth date to prove it. As for the grandchildren, there are a number of Leslie and Darrell Macks and Alexandra and Stephane Clercs that come up under Google searches. I haven't narrowed down the possibilities. We know how to contact Gerald and can do so when we wish.

I'll leave you with a last document to view. It is the INS visa information sheet for Helene Mack on her arrival by air in New York on May 29, 1947. You will see that it references Arnaud's West End Ave. address, Joe's Hampshire House address, and the name of her husband Victor Mack at an address in Paris.


Joe Liebman comes to America

In the midst making of all my discoveries on Google, the New York Times and elsewhere, I got an email prompt from to check out some of it latest hints. There are quite a lot of those lately with the recent availability of the 1940 census data.

The hints concerned other sides of my family, but I ran some manual searches on Joseph and Hilda Liebman. Sometimes in genealogy you knock your head against a wall trying to find things out, but at other times it is amazing the things that pop right out. Here was one of those times.

This record is the ship manifest for a refugee ship arriving in New York from Lisbon on August 19, 1940. On board is Joseph Liebman, listed as a 49-year-old jeweler, French-speaking, born in Kiev, a stateless person of Hebrew race. He is traveling with what must be his family, a wife Sophie, 46, born in Antwerp, and two children Helene, a student, 23, born in London and a British citizen, and Arnow (sic), student, 19, born in Brussels, stateless.

Arnow? You mean, that Arnaud? Why, yes, that could make sense. Plus, there is a Helene and a Sophie. We have not heard about them.

More searches for Joe turned up a number of interesting hits, which I will mention here but not necessarily post the images of: a 1942 U.S. draft registration, three late 1940 ship arrivals in New York from Le Havre and Cherbourg, some accompanied by Hilda Liebman, and a March 1968 U.S. social security death record.

For Arnaud Liebman, I don't find anything, but when I tried Arnaud Clerc there is a goldmine.

First, he appears in seven New York City telephone directories between 1942 and 1953, living the entire time at 465 West End Ave. in Manhattan. His phone number was TRafalgar 7-7378.

He enlisted in the U.S. army as a not-yet-naturalized citizen on Sept. 7, 1945. The enlistment is for the duration of the war plus six months.

On March 4, 1946, he was admitted as a U.S. citizen.

He appears on two passenger lists, arriving in New York from Cherbourg in Nov. 1948 and by air on TWA in Sept. 1955.

He appears in a marriage index for August 1968 in Palm Beach, Florida, though the name of the wife is not given.

Finally, there is a social security death record for an A. Clerc, died April 15, 1989. I'm not sure this is the right one though, as Walter Ruby recalls meeting him in 1991. Walter could be wrong about the date, I suppose.

The obvious conclusion is that Arnaud is, as we always thought, Joe's son, but that he began using the name Clerc on his arrival in America at age 19. If that is him in the Florida marriage index, then he married at age 47. If he and his wife had a child born within a year or two after the marriage, say a son, he would be in his early 40s today. That could be Gerald Clerc.

And then I did one more search, not for Joe or Arnaud, but for Gerald Clerc. This result I will post the image for, since it seems to tie the whole story together, at least for now. This item ran in the birth announcement section of the Washington Post on October 19, 1969.

Arnaud's photo gallery

Arnaud Clerc was a celebrity hound. The wonderful photos in the animated banner of Gerald Clerc's web site document some of his interactions with the rich and famous. Here he is with Prince Charles, Salvador Dali and the designer Paco Rabanne.

From a separate source (more information to be added later), we have these photos of him with President Charles de Gaulle (center) among others. 

I remember my Aunt Hilda would always talk about this prince and that Hollywood actress. She was very impressed with royalty and celebrity. It seems that Arnaud had similar interests.

Also, look at that face. One of the peace talk articles described him as looking like the actor Edward G. Robinson. By that, the reporter may have meant he was short in stature but also that he was pugnacious and forceful. All words that could also be used to describe his business benefactor, our uncle Joe Liebman.

And now the stage is set for the surprises in store when I next turn my attention to

So who exactly is Arnaud? And Gerald?

All these news citations were leaving me more confused than ever about the man named Arnaud Clerc. In our family, we knew that there was an Arnaud who was our aunt's rival for Joe's inheritance. I had sort have thought that he might have been Joe's son by a previous marriage, but wouldn't his name have been Liebman in that case?

Now, with new biographical information about the Clerc family from the Jean Jacques Richard blog, I am wondering if Arnaud might have been related to one of the original Clercs. I wrote an email to Walter and copied Jean Jacques speculating that Joe's return to the Clerc business after the war could have happened with the cooperation of a Clerc family member in the person of Arnaud Clerc.

I was also trying to figure out Gerald, the younger Clerc figure that had earlier appeared in our blog. Now I discovered a recent video of Gerald Clerc promoting his high-tech luxury Swiss watches at an Arabian jewerly convention in 2009. And I had found that Gerald had registered trademarks protecting the Clerc name and logo image in a number of countries in 1997.

From the 1997 U.S. trademark registration

I should say that Jean Jacques wrote back to quite firmly reject my theory about Arnaud as an original Clerc, as he was familiar with the original family's genealogy. He was also uncertain of the legitimacy of Gerald Clerc's current usage of the Clerc brand on his website, for which he sent along the link.

That site, overlooked by me till now, turned out to be a trove of photographic information that advances our story, along with another surprising source of photos of Arnaud Clerc. More on these in the next post.

Surprise! Henry Kissinger was here

I forwarded Joanne's mail to M. Richard, who was rather astonished and unsure if what I was saying was actually right. Was this the same house he had mentioned? I don't know, I wrote, but it was the same house my family had visited in 1961.

I headed back to Google to do more searches on Liebman, Clerc, Neuilly, Arnaud, Gerald, and related terms. Suddenly I was seeing things about Henry Kissinger and the Paris peace talks. Several sites have news archives related to the Vietnam peace negotiations that took place in Paris in 1972 and '73. Clicking through to these articles, we find out that the Liebman/Clerc home in Neuilly was one the places where Kissinger and Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho secretly met.

By the time the house was used for a third meeting, its location was hardly a secret and was well staked out by the international press corps. Arnaud was widely interviewed as the homeowner. Here is an example.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Joanne and Sylviane in Neuilly

From Joanne via email June 21. 2012:
[It was an incredible day: Neuilly and Ile d'Adam where Sylviane's horse is. Here are the horse photos attached. ]
So we got to 31 rue de Saussaye, and as I peeked through the openings of the very assuming gate, Sylviane rang the buzzer. She explained to a woman who I was, and that I was hoping to take a photo of the house. Quite quickly the woman said she was quite sorry but for security, she could not do that. Then Sylviane, continued, and mentioned my connection to M. Joseph Liebmann. Sylviane said later, she detected a certain pause. However, she again, apologized, and said she could not open the gate for a photo.
So with disappointment, we started climbing benches to see if we could get my camera to reach over the gate, and to our surprise, a woman came out. She smiled kindly, and said, if we would like to take a photo of the garden and house, it would be okay. She is the owner. They bought 20 years ago, she did not know Joe Liebmann, but knows of him and the connection of the house to Clerc.
She said they were the ones who did the big remodel on the front of the house. I asked if there hadn't been a circle drive (I remember being amazed by the chauffeur always there) and she said yes, they replaced it with the veranda/ terrace and garden.
She thought my connection to the house was wonderful (I described my fascination with the gigantic walk-in closet in Hilda's room with all the thousands of shoes in every color of the rainbow), and she enjoyed hearing about Sylviane and I reuniting right there in Neuilly. She didn't want me to take her photo or share her name.
We thanked her profusely. So thanks to the spunk and chutzpah of my French girlfriend from 1971, we now have this documented.

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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

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.