Herta Leab and Leo Leab Collection
Scope and Content Note
This collection is comprised of the papers of Herta and Leo Leab, and consists of correspondence, notes and notebooks, official papers, reports, clippings, and photographs. Popular topics among the papers are the cosmetics industry in Germany and the United States, the Leabs' immigration experiences, and the Liebeskind and Marcus families. Other subject of interest include the former East Prussian town of Gilgenburg where Herta Leab's family resided and World War I. Researchers should note that Herta Leab's name is often spelled Hertha in the papers of the collection, even among her family members; to avoid confusion, this finding aid uses the spelling given on her official documents.
The most prominent subject of this collection is the cosmetics industry, primarily composed of the material in Series V. From 1922 until emigrating in 1938, Herta Leab worked for the Firma Scherk, a cosmetics producer in Germany. Papers related to this firm make up the first subseries of Series V, and include cosmetic formulas, production reports, and advertising pamphlets for the firm's products. Material on Herta Leab's own business, Hedda Maar Cosmetics, will be found in Subseries 2 of Series V; included are extensive correspondence with customers, retailers, and suppliers as well as advertising and other general papers related to the business. In addition, Herta Leab's correspondence with Helena Rubenstein in Series II provides her opinions of trends in American cosmetics during the 1940s and 1950s, and she frequently wrote to Helena Rubenstein with suggestions for new products or services.
The Leabs' immigration experience and restitution for their emigration and related losses is detailed in several areas of the collection. One area particularly strong in this area is Series IV: Restitution, which contains descriptions of the family losses, including not only the loss of family property in the former East Prussia, but also mentions the deaths of family members and the difficulties of the Leabs' early years in the United States and Herta Leab's health conditions that derived from these experiences. Documentation on Herta and Leo Leab's immigration experience can also be found in Subseries 1 of Series I containing official papers, inventories of property, and some correspondence. In addition, some of Herta Leab's aforementioned letters to Helena Rubenstein in Series II discuss some of the family's difficulties after their immigration. Attempts to bring family members to the United States, especially Herta Leab's sisters Erna Sgaller and Else Tichauer, is evidenced in the correspondence related to the emigration of family members in Subseries 1 of Series II. It also includes a few letters written by Leo and Herta Leab to government officials, including President Roosevelt, about the difficulty of bringing their relatives to the United States. Herta and Leo Leab's correspondence with their families is located in Series II, Subseries 1 and with their son Daniel in Series VI, Subseries 1; papers of family members comprise Series III and Series VI, Subseries 2.
Some information on the former East Prussia, especially the town of Gilgenburg, may be found in several places in the collection. Postwar correspondence between Herta Leab and individuals she knew in Gilgenburg is located in Subseries 1 of Series II, and some correspondence with Gustav Lattoch in Series IV also discusses the changes in Gilgenburg after it became part of Poland. Material on World War I includes some military papers of Leo Leab in Series I, Subseries 1 containing official papers on his military service. In addition, Subseries 1 of Series II holds a folder of letters between Herta Leab and friends who fought in World War I.
Subseries 3 of Series VI includes some additional documentation added to the collection. Included are two books about the early life of Herta and Leo Leab's son Daniel, along with draft pages of a memoir by Herta Leab regarding the family's departure from Germany and brief remniscences about her life there. Some family photographs, including of family members and of family graves, are also included, as is documentation on the Scherk family. Other family documents in this subseries include German passports for family members, a wedding song for Herta and Leo Leab, and documents from the ship S.S. Statendam that took the Leab family to New York, among various other papers.
- Majority of material found within 1938-1975
- Leab, Herta, 1901-1981 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is primarily in German and English, with a small amount of Hebrew.
Open to researchers.
Collection has been digitized. Please follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.
Collection is microfilmed (MF 933).
Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
Herta Marcus was born in 1901 in the East Prussian town of Gilgenburg (now Dabrowno, Poland), where her father Joseph Marcus owned a general store. She attended the Lyceum in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) where she later obtained her Abitur and began the study of medicine at the University of Berlin. In 1922, she broke off her studies and went to work for the Scherk cosmetics firm, owned by one of her mother's brothers. She became one of the company's leading executives, continuing to work there until 1938.
In 1924, Herta Marcus met her future husband Leo Liebeskind, a cosmetics salesman who represented the firm. Leo Liebeskind was born in Berlin in 1897, where he attended Gymnasium. He was drafted in 1916 and was taken prisoner in fighting in northern France the following year. Following his release in 1920, he took up a commercial career. After a lengthy courtship, he and Herta were married in 1929. In 1936 they had a son, Daniel.
The Nazi seizure of power led the couple to plan their emigration to Palestine. They transferred some of their assets via the complicated Haavara transfer agreements, but gave up their plans and emigrated in early 1938 to the United States. Most of their relatives were unable to leave Germany and fell victim to the Nazis, including both of Herta Leab's sisters and their husbands as well as her mother.
In the United States, they changed their name to Leab. The Leabs experienced difficulties in adapting to the new environment, having problems with the English language, a burden to anyone interested in a commercial career. In the late 1930s Herta Leab began her own cosmetics company, Hedda Maar Cosmetics, which produced skin creams, perfume, and lipstick. Although she created her products at home the business became successful enough that her cosmetics were not only sold directly to individual customers but also carried nationally at health and natural foods stores, beauty parlors, and some department stores including Bloomingdale's; her products gained recognition when they were reviewed in several New York newspapers as well as popular magazines such as Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Glamour. However, Herta Leab's poor health and a lack of capital kept the business on a small scale until it was sold in 1972. Granting of the Leabs' restitution claims provided them with a financially secure retirement. Leo Leab died in New York City in 1979, Herta Leab died in 1981.
7.5 Linear Feet (+ 1 OS folder)
This collection details the lives and immigration experiences of Herta and Leo Leab. Given Herta Leab's experience as an executive in the Scherk cosmetics company and as the owner of her own company, Hedda Maar Cosmetics, it includes significant material on the cosmetics industry in Germany and the United States. Losses suffered by the Marcus, Liebeskind, and Scherk families in Nazi Germany and the Leabs' efforts to receive restitution are also well documented, along with some material on the town of Gilgenburg (now Dabrowno, Poland) and World War I. The collection is comprised of extensive personal and business correspondence, family and official papers, notebooks, clippings, and a few photographs.
The collection is comprised of five series and an addenda:
- Series I: Personal, 1893-1979
- Subseries 1: Documents, 1893-1979
- Subseries 2: Visual Material, 1912-1975
- Series II: Correspondence, 1904-1981
- Subseries 1: Personal, 1904-1981
- Subseries 2: General Correspondence, 1952-1978
- Series III: Family Papers, 1858-1975
- Series IV: Restitution, 1929-1978
- Series V: Cosmetics Companies, 1928-1977
- Subseries 1: Firma Scherk, 1928-1936
- Subseries 2: Hedda Maar Cosmetics, 1938-1977
- Series VI: Addenda, 1870-2010
- Subseries 1: Correspondence, 1944-1980
- Subseries 2: Personal Papers, 1909-1949
- Subseries 3: Additional Papers, 1870-2010
The collection is on seventeen reels of microfilm (MF 933):
- Reel 1: 1/1 - 1/14
- Reel 2: 1/15 - 1/24
- Reel 3: 1/25 - 2/10
- Reel 4: 2/11 - 2/28
- Reel 5: 2/29 - 3/4
- Reel 6: 3/5 - 3/27
- Reel 7: 3/28 - 3/42
- Reel 8: 3/43 - 4/3
- Reel 9: 4/4 - 4/12
- Reel 10: 4/13 - 4/26
- Reel 11: 4/27 - 4/33
- Reel 12: 5/1 - 5/6
- Reel 13: 5/7 - 5/18
- Reel 14: 5/19 - 5/29
- Reel 15: 5/30 - 6/6
- Reel 16: 6/7 - 7/2
- Reel 17: 7/3
Most photographs have been removed to the LBI Photograph Collection, including several photographs of the Scherk Cosmetics Factory.
Objects found in the collection, including memorabilia for the Berlin rowing club "Welle Poseidon" and some small toys, have been removed to the LBI Art and Objects Collection.
A hanger from the Scherk family's store from Series VI: Addenda, Subseries 3 has also been removed to the LBI Art and Objects Collection.
A former inventory existed for the collection, with some arrangement of topics or formats by box. In preparation of the EAD finding aid, the previous inventory was reviewed and analyzed to identify existing series. These series were maintained in the new finding aid with the exception of photographs, which were removed to the LBI Photograph Collection at an earlier date.
In October 2013 the first two subseries of additional materials were added to Series VI: Addenda. In September 2018 a further subseries of material was added to Series VI.
- Account books
- Baby books
- Cosmetics industry
- Dąbrówno (Województwo Warmińsko-Mazurskie, Poland)
- Emigration and immigration
- Genealogical tables
- Jewish families
- Jews -- Persecutions -- Germany
- Jews, German
- Leab, Daniel J.
- Leab, Herta, 1901-1981
- Leab, Leo, 1897-1979
- Liebeskind, Herta, 1901-1981
- Liebeskind, Leo, 1897-1979
- Manuscripts (documents)
- Official documents
- Publications (documents)
- Sales personnel
- Women -- Employment
- World War, 1914-1918
- Guide to the Papers of Herta (1901-1981) and Leo (1897-1979) Leab 1858-2010 AR 7205 / MF 933
- Processed by LBI Staff and Dianne Ritchey
- © 2007
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Edition statement
- This version was derived from HertaLeoLeab.xml
- 2010-10-12 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
- September 2010:: Links to digital objects added in Container List.
- January 2009:: Microfilm inventory added.
- October 16, 2013:: Series VI: Addenda, Subseries 1 and 2 added.
- September 13, 2018:: Series VI: Addenda, Subseries 3 added.
- January 2019:: Links to digital objects added to addenda in Container List.
Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States