Leo Libowski, Soap Dealer (BHR A 59300/ 98027)

The merchant Leo Libowski, born in Schirwindt in 1893, moved his Cologne-based business to the migration metropolis of Berlin in 1921.[1] The Berlin address book for 1922 noted Libowski to be a tobacconist.[2] At first, the business was located in the Friedrichshain district, in Grüner Weg (Green Lane) – a street that would later be renamed Brauner Weg (Brown Lane, as a nod to the colours of the Nazi party).

Cover Sheet of Leo Libwoskis File in the Commercial Register in Berlin, State Archive Berlin A Rep 342-02

Over the next few years, the East Prussian merchant conducted his business in Berlin with success and even extended the nature of his stock. By the end of the 1920s he was trading not only “tobacco and foodstuffs,” but also soap products.[3] In the middle of the economic crisis, Libowski relocated his business closer to the centre of town, to Elisabethstraße 36 – close to Weberstraße.[4] Whether or not his soap shop was blockaded or attacked by the SA on the 1st of April 1933 is impossible to ascertain from the sparse historical evidence. Libowski was able to maintain his business, however, and then became engaged to his future wife, Jenny Teckel, in October 1937.

It can be assumed that the soap business did not go unscathed during the days of the November Pogrom in 1938. In the wake of the SA followed a shockingly high number of the Berlin population, eager to participate in the looting of their Jewish neighbours.[5] If the soap shop was spared then it would surely only be by chance. However, Libowski succeeded in continuing to run the wholesale part of his company; as wholesalers were not included in the sweeping anti-Semitic prohibitions that were brought in on the 12th of November 1938, on Libowski’s 45th birthday. Despite the situation, the revenue office valued the soap company’s inventory at 10,100 RM in 1940.[6] The business was also still to be found in the city address book of 1941.[7] However, one year later, and for unknown reasons, Leo Libowski would be arrested and taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.[8]
His wife was made to carry out forced labour as a seamstress at the Kurt Seidel military equipment company, located at Bülowstraße 66. On the 27th of October 1942, the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry informed the district court that the Leo Libowski soap company had ceased operation.[9] Consequently, the bureaucrats working within the commercial register department made the usual enquiries into the place of residence of the business owner.[10] In response to a letter sent to the ascertained address, Libowski’s wife Jenny informed the officials on the 19th of November 1942 that her husband was being held in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and that she had not heard from him in several weeks.[11]

When after two months she had still received no reply to her letter, she engaged the services of her lawyer, Dr Kurt Sachs. A few days later, on the 25th of January 1943, the deletion order which had been sent by the district court for the imprisoned Libowski to fill in and sign was sent back uncompleted by the commandant of Sachsenhausen, along with the explanation that Libowski had been “transferred to  Auschwitz concentration camp, near Kattowitz” on the 22nd of October 1942.[12] If we believe the information by the camp administration to be true, Libowski died just a few days after his arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, on the 5th of November 1942.[13] However, it was only after Sachs wrote yet again to the commandant of Sachsenhausen to request information on Libowski’s whereabouts that he was told of the transfer to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The fact that Leo Libowski had been dead for some time was not mentioned![14] Instead, they sent an ordinance for the ex officio deletion of the company, unless an objection was posed within three months. Considering the district court was aware that Libowski, even had he still been alive, would hardly have been in a position to object to the decision, this act was in reality a meaningless formality.

What happened to the soap business’s stock is a mystery. Perhaps it was sold off to the W. Strauch soap shop which had been located at Elisabethstraße 66 since 1936 and had shared an address with Libowski’s soap business since 1940.[15] Unlike Libowski, W. Strauch’s business would continue to exist after the war – at least until 1947.[16]
On the 28th of February 1943, Jenny Libowski was forced to fill out a declaration of the property in her forced house (Judenhaus) in Alte Schönhauser shortly before her deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Notably, the unknowing widow explicitly mentioned that her “husband is in Auschwitz camp.”[17] She evidently remained unaware of her husband’s death, and perhaps hoped she would be reunited with him upon her arrival. This hope was tragically never to be realised, and Jenny Libowski, like her husband a few months earlier, was murdered.

The Aktive Museum Faschismus und Widerstand is currently researching the so called Judenhäuser in Berlin. The Alte Schönhauser 4 will be one of the houses featured in the online exhibition, due to be released in Oktober 2023.
 

[1] Commercial register supplement to the Reichs- und Preußischen Staatsanzeiger, 8th of October 1921, p. 11, URL: https://digi.bib.uni-mannheim.de/viewer/reichsanzeiger/film/020-8980/0510.jp2 [Accessed: 15.5.2022].
[2] Berlin address book (BAB), 1922, part I, p. 1889, URL: https://digital.zlb.de/viewer/image/34115495_1922/1945/ [Accessed: 15.5.2022]. On migration metropolis: Anne-Christin Saß, Berliner Luftmenschen. Osteuropäisch-jüdische Migranten in der Weimarer Republik, Göttingen 2012; Stiftung jüdisches Museum Berlin/Gertrud Pickhan (Ed.), Berlin Transit. Jüdische Migranten aus Osteuropa in den 1920er Jahren, Göttingen 2012.
[3] BAB, 1931, p. 655, URL: https://digital.zlb.de/viewer/image/34115495_1931/5512/ [Accessed: 15.5.2022]; Berlin commercial register, 1931, p. 255.
[4] BAB, 1932, part IV, p. 197, part II, p. 531, URL: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:kobv:109-1-4111925 [Accessed: 15.5.2022]; Histomap, http://histomapberlin.de/histomap/de/index.html [Accessed: 7.3.2021].
[5] Christoph Kreutzmüller, Theresa Polley, “Geplündert und gelistet, Eine Fallstudie zum Novemberpogrom in Berlin“, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 11/2018, pp. 931–946.
[6] Letter from revenue office Rosenthaler Tor to the chief finance president, 17th of September 1943, Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Potsdam (BLHA), Rep. 36 A II, 23144.
[7] BAB, 1941, part IV, p. 193, URL: https://digital.zlb.de/viewer/image/34115495_1941/4680/ [Accessed: 15.5.2022].
[8] Letter from Jenny Libowski to the district court of Berlin, 3rd of December 1942, Amtsgericht Charlottenburg (AGC), HR A 91, 98027, 1943 (Leo Libowski).
[9] Letter from the chamber of commerce and industry to the registry court, 23rd of October 1942, AGC, HR A 91, 98027, 1943.
[10] Letter from the registry court to the registry office, 2nd of November 1942, Ibid.
[11] Letter from Jenny Libowski to the Berlin registry court, 19th of November 1942, Ibid.
[12] Letter from Sachsenhausen concentration camp to the district court, 25th of January 1943, AGC, HR A 91, 98027, 1943.
[13] Letter from Auschwitz camp to the district court, 18th of January 1943, AGC, HR A 91, 98027, 1943.
[14] Order on the letter from Dr Kurt Sachs to the Berlin district court, 26th of January 1943, Ibid.
[15]BAB, 1936, part IV, p. 197; BAB, 1931, part IV, p. 195.
[16] BAB 1946/47, p. 831.
[17] Declaration of property of Jenny Libowski, 28th of February 1943, BLHA, Rep. 36 A II, 23144.



Cite this blog post
Christoph Kreutzmüller (2023, May 12). Leo Libowski, Soap Dealer (BHR A 59300/ 98027). Database of Jewish-Owned Businesses in Nazi Berlin. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/nh88

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