Category Archives: History

Oy vey, in memoriam Max Hakkert

izak meyer
‘Izak Meyer’s Wiegelied’ by James Cohen van Elburg, published by Ph. Hakkert (Rotterdam, s.d.) and illustrated by Hardy.

Izak Meyer’s Wiegelied is an endearing Jewish lullaby sung by an orange seller to his newborn son hoping he will do better in life than himself. The cover illustration by Hardy might suggest that the song is a racist Jewish stereotype. However, it was composed by James Cohen van Elburg and published by Philip Hakkert1. Both were Jewish and with the song’s comical-sounding Yiddish words they were probably mocking themselves. We still can enjoy it, sung by Max Tailleur in his typical thick Yiddish accent.

In 1880 Philip Hakkert (1859-1925), an avid amateur musician and conductor, founded a music business in Rotterdam. Initially his shop sold musical instruments and sheet music, later phonographs, music automata and records too. In 1914 Hakkert also began the production of catgut, a strong cord made of the intestines of animals, especially sheep. It was used for string instruments, tennis racquets, and surgical material.

Around 1916 Philip Hakkert started to publish his own sheet music. Some in our collection are ingeniously illustrated by a young illustrator and poster designer, Carel (‘Carlo’) Jung from Rotterdam.

hakkerts partituren
Hakkert’s sheet music illustrated by Carlo Jung (1917-1919).

Philip Hakkert’s two sons, Jacques Wolfgang (born in 1891) and Mozes (Max) Richard (born in 1894) helped in the business. Their second names reflect the musical interests of their father: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and, ironically, Richard Wagner.

Jacques specialised in making violins and cello’s.

Jacques Hakkert in his string instrument workshop, 1915 (foto: Cornelis Johan Hofker). source: wikimedia

His brother Max on the other hand, played among others a prominent role in the pre-war cabaret and jazz scene. He liked to go dancing in the Pschorr, an enormous dance hall with a sensationally illuminated glass dance floor, an impressive glass ceiling, and gigs by famous orchestra’s. Pschorr was the place to be (…seen) in Rotterdam.

Interior of Pschorr, a dance hall in Rotterdam.

There Max Hakkert could make contacts and prepare deals with showbiz people and musicians, including Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong for whom he arranged concerts in The Netherlands.

‘Louisette’ by Sim. Velt, published by Ph. Hakkert (Rotterdam, s.d.), illustrator unknown.

After Philip’s death in 1925, Jacques continued the violin workplace and the catgut manufacture while Max took on the music shop and the wind instruments workplace.

familie hakkert
Left: Mozes Richard (Max) Hakkert in 1940. Middle: Flora Hakkert-Sanders. (photos by courtesy of Albert Rottier, source: joods erfgoed rotterdam) Right: Ans and Flip Hakkert, ca. 1925 (Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam).

Max had married Flora Sanders, a piano teacher in 1916. They had met in his shop which Flora regularly visited to buy sheet music. Together they got two children, Anna (Ans) was born in 1918 and Philip (Flip) in 1920. Max adored his family. He was a football fan and a keen supporter of Sparta Rotterdam, still an elite sports club at that time. He also enjoyed his business trips to London in a small Fokker aeroplane. Politically, Max Hakkert was rather secular, liberal and certainly broad-minded.

1 Hakkert
Left: Max Hakkert with a pouting Flip. Right: Max before his music shop (private collection).

From 1940 until 1942 Max kept a diary which he rewrote during his exile in France. Through this moving journal we witness the difficult life in wartime Rotterdam, the city he thoroughly loved.

On the early morning of May 10th 1940, Max awoke to the sound of air planes roaring in the sky. Germany had attacked the Netherlands without a declaration of war. While he was busy securing his shop, a car from the blood centre came to fetch him so he could donate blood. He left, not knowing that it was the last time he had set foot in his shop.

nederlandse leeuw
‘De Nederlandse Leeuw’ by Bart Verhallen, published by Ph. Hakkert (Rotterdam, 1919) and illustrated by Carlo Jung.

In the evening Max and his family took refuge in a bank with a large bomb shelter in the basement. The father of the best friend of Flip (Max’s son), was concierge in that bank and he welcomed the family without a second thought. They stayed there during the four days of the Battle of Rotterdam. At some point the family even suggested a possible escape to England. Alas this did not work out. Max heard the ticking and crackling of the fierce battle to conquer the bridges across the river Maas. But the efforts of the Dutch Marines, nicknamed De Zwarte Duivels (The Black Devils), to regain control failed.

zwarte duivels
‘Dat zijn de Zwarte Duivels’ by Ferry (Cor van Delden), published by Van Zuylen (Amsterdam, s.d.)

In the sunny afternoon of May 14th, heavy rumbling sounds filled the sky. Max anxiously listened to a sharp whistling followed by a heavy thump. This was repeated again and again. The people in the shelter were in agony. When Max left the shelter two hours later, he saw an apocalyptic cityscape. The entire historic centre of his home town was in flames or destroyed. The places where Max had spent his youth, the cosy streets, the warehouses where he used to smell exotic spices or coffee, the elegant patrician houses, were all gone. The air raid by the Luftwaffe killed hundreds of people and made 85.000 people homeless, including Max and his family whose apartment was destroyed. The music shop also burned down. Apart from some walls nothing was left of it. With great sorrow, Max saw the German soldiers enter Rotterdam. They did not seem tired at all, marching in an endless parade, appearing invincible.

Shocked by the Rotterdam Blitz, the Dutch forces capitulated the next day. That day Max and his family left Rotterdam to go living with his mother in Scheveningen. At once Max started to focus on the future. A few days after the bombing he already made plans, together with his staff and his daughter Ans, to rebuild the business in his brother Jacques’ unharmed premises. Although Max lost the largest part of his assets, he reopened his music shop after just six weeks. In August the family moved back to Rotterdam to a makeshift apartment behind the shop. Germans frequently visited his shop to cheer themselves up with music and singing.

flip and ans copy
Flip and Ans Hakkert with a friend, on the right. (source: Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam)

As Rotterdam kept being sporadically bombed (albeit now by the allies) the family decided to move again, this time to Voorburg, a village near Den Haag where they rented rooms above a hairdresser.

Remarkably, in his diary Max never wrote down the word Jew, instead he euphemistically referred to ‘a certain minority’. Also, he only mentioned occasionally and very covertly the anti-Jewish measures which became more and more grim. In October 1940 he had to register his business. In the summer of 1941 Jews were banned from public life. They were prohibited from entering hotels, restaurants, (movie) theatres, public libraries, museums, public swimming pools and parks. Their radios were confiscated. They were even forbidden from owning pigeons. Jewish children would have to attend their own separate schools. Max had to terminate his membership of the Sparta sports club.

‘Sparta-Stadion-Marsch’ by Jac. Blazer, published by Ph. Hakkert (Rotterdam, 1916) and illustrated by D. Coene.

The aryanisation of Max’s business began. In December 1941 the authorities forced him to retire from it. Flip, who was needed as a repairman of wind instruments, could continue his work. Max still kept in contact with his business through the manager and his son. By March 1942 the business was forcefully placed under a German Verwalter (administrator) and Max had lost it for next to nothing… (see our story on Heinrich Strecker vs Franz Sobotka for a similar Nazi persecution of a Jewish music publisher).

viool hakkert
Still life by Max Hakkert, 1942 (source: Muziek Hakkert, ENSEC en Hakkert Vioolbouw)

Max now passed his days in Voorburg by making long walks, playing his cello and drawing or painting. He had studied at an art school and in the early days had drawn at least one sheet-music cover himself.

‘Holland’ by Sim. Velt, published by Ph. Hakkert Jr. (Rotterdam s.d.) and illustrated by Max Hakkert.

Max’s son Flip and his intended future son in law, Dries Davids (or Broer as he liked to be called) continued working in the shop. Also being a Jew, Broer had lost his earlier job. The cheerful youngster lived with the family in Voorburg and Max loved him like a son. But as Jews were subjected to night curfew and to increasing travel restrictions, Flip and Broer had to stay in Rotterdam for their work from May 1942 on.

ans en dries copy
Ans and her fiancé, Dries Davids (Broer), ca 1941. (source: Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam)

One of the last paragraphs in Max’s diary shows us a man who —in spite of the desperate turn of events— tries to make the best of a bad situation:

Yet despite the turbulent and oppressive times, it was wonderful to walk outside, away from the crowds in God’s mellow nature. Then I practised some cello. After drinking coffee, I started reading or painting. And around six o’clock the boys came back. We had dinner and after Flip had played the flute and Broer the trumpet, we drank tea. How cosy we sat together. […]
I already said that the situation was oppressive, it became even more and more critical, but nonetheless we were happy. Did we ever realise this?”

Nonetheless, the family’s situation must have become untenable and with deportation looming, the family (Max, Flora, Flip, Ans and Broer) decided to flee the Nazi tyranny. In July 1942 the Salvation Army escorted the family to the Dutch border and with the help of passeurs (guides) the family clandestinely crossed the Dutch-Belgian and Belgian-French border. They even succeeded in sneaking over the demarcation line between the Zone occupée in the northern and western part of France and the Zone libre of the Vichy regime in the south.

Frankreich, Demarkationslinie, Kontrollposten
Sign at a checkpoint on the demarcation line. For English translation see footnotes (2). Source: Wikipedia (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-017-1065-45A / Becker / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Unfortunately the family was stopped in Lons-le-Saunier, a city in the French Jura.3 They were transported to the Centre d’Hébergement de Rivesaltes in the Eastern Pyrenees, a deceiving name for an internment camp.

Interior of a hangar at the Camp de Rivesaltes 1941/42 ©Photo Paul Senn, Fonds Leiter Paul Senn – Archiv Kunstmuseum

The camp was overcrowded, had poor housing and sanitation, and there was a shortage of food and medicine. At the end of November 1942, Flora and Ans were moved to the Camp de Gurs, in the western Pyrenees. This camp had an even worse reputation than Rivesaltes. According to one survivor: “If Auschwitz was hell, Gurs was purgatory.”

Construction of Camp de Gurs in 1939 to offer shelter for Spanish refugees. Source: Archives départementales des Pyrénées-Atlantiques, 1 M 182 credit: D.R.

At the same time Max, Flip and Broer were officially released from Rivesaltes to be sent to to the Foreign Labour camp (Groupement de Travailleurs Etrangers, or ‘GTE’) of Châteauneuf-les-Bains. This idyllic village in the Puy-de-Dôme was a spa with a lot of empty hotels that were requisitioned to lodge refugees, mostly Dutch. A transfer to a GTE was for the internees like a lifebuoy. They were still under strict control, but they had more freedom than in Rivesaltes. At one point Flip got wounded at the leg and was sent to hospital in Clermont-Ferrand. He had to stay there for almost a month and complained about the very bad food, a daily regime of carrots, turnip and cabbage. Shortly before Christmas 1942, the family was reunited in Châteauneuf-les-Bains. There they succeeded to rent rooms from two aged ladies so that the five of them could stay together.

View of Châteauneuf-les-Bains (source:

While thus living in Châteauneuf, the family received help from Alice Ferrières, a French mathematics teacher. She lived in Murat, a small remote city in the Cantal some 150 km further south. Alice Ferrières was a brave and selfless woman who abhorred the injustice against the Jewish people. From 1941 on Alice had tried to help Jews in any way she could, eventually rescuing around 50 adults and children. She kept full records of her potentially incriminating correspondence and a diary. These have been published in 2010.4 Miraculously, Alice was never arrested. According to a friend of hers, this was because the two local policemen’s daughters were among her pupils. If she had been imprisoned, who would have taught their children?

Alice had written to the GTE camp committee at Châteauneuf, offering help for the refugees. And so it happens that the Hakkert family was put in her care.

alice ferrieres
Alice Ferrières (front row, middle with spectacles) in 1944 at Murat. (Picture

The Hakkerts had suffered malnutrition in the camps, and Alice started to send them food parcels. Max and Broer asked her in a letter for help in finding a job, as they were penniless. They were prepared to accept any work. But then, on the last day of February, disaster stroke again. Max, Flip and Broer were arrested, during the round-up demanded by the Germans in retaliation for a Parisian attack which had claimed the lives of two German officers. This operation aimed at the deportation of 2.000 Jews from former Vichy France. Our three men, together with all the men from the Châteauneuf GTE, were transported to the Camp de Gurs. A few days later they were sent overnight to Drancy, the infamous transit camp outside Paris, together with 770 other hébergés (or ‘guests’, a cynical euphemism used by the camp commander).

On the 6th of March 1943, Broer, Flip and Max wrote their last postcard to Flora and Ans:

Stay strong, many kisses,

Do not give up,

I think this is absolutely the last card you’ll get from us for now. We write it in the train that’ll take us to our destination, direction Metz – further eastwards? At the moment, we are together with all the Dutchmen. […] The mood so far is wonderful and we make the best of it. Flip and Dries are also well. So far we have something to eat. But understand that we long for you! We hope to see you back soon and we keep our heads cool! We promise you that we will take good care of our own. If you just do the same, it will reassure us.” […]

Max, Flip and Broer had been loaded from Drancy onto cattle cars and were deported to an extermination camp in occupied Poland. Three days later, on the 9th of March 1943, they were murdered in Sobibor.5

ans frankrijk copy
Ans Hakkert in France during her exile (source: Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam)

Alice Ferrières’ apartment served as a temporary refuge for several Jews until she could arrange permanent shelter for them in a nearby village. Ans was now terrified of being deported also, and begged Alice for help. She even pointed out how she and her mother could be saved: they needed a document attesting that they had been offered a place in Murat where they could live and work. Alice immediately did the necessary. Ans was offered work as a maidservant by the parents of one of Alice’s pupils and Flora could start to help in a Café. Eight days later, on March 22, they arrived by train in Murat, with their spare possessions folded in blankets. The job for Ans proved steady, but her mother Flora was not so lucky, she had to switch jobs often. According to Alice, Flora seemed lost amidst the mountains, she was highly strung and lived in continuous fear. The two Hakkert women were invited every Sunday afternoon by Alice for le goûter. There they could have a decent meal, meet other refugees, sing, play the piano and find some comfort.

At a certain moment Ans realised that the only safe place was across the border in Switzerland. So at the beginning of August 1943 they moved to a ‘secret’ place near Lyon where they were helped by the consul of the Netherlands.6 They had to stay for some months with a family working in the kitchen and making clothes before they were guided to Switzerland where they arrived in January 1944.

Adolf Menco
Adolf Menco in the shop window of the Dormits/Menco butchery in Arnhem, circa 1936. (source: Historisch Klarendal)

We now travel back in time to continue our story. In July 1942, around the same time as the Hakkert family fled, Adolf or Dolf Menco also left his home in Arnhem trying to reach Switzerland. Adolf Menco, a Dutch Jewish butcher, was then 38 years old. In the middle of summer he wore an overcoat and two shirts and removed his yellow Star of David badge. He illegally crossed the Belgian border, together with two friends and helped by a passeur. It rained cats and dogs as they crossed fields and meadows but Dolf still found time to appreciate species of cattle, from a butcher’s point of view. The three friends passed their first night in a haystack and in the morning ate a loaf of bread with a peppermint as desert. So began their risky journey through enemy-occupied Europe during which they had to rely on strangers and good fortune. Though a couple of people took advantage of their situation, in his diary Dolf praises more than once the selfless kindness of utter strangers. The three were lucky, and after almost four weeks they reached Switzerland. Two of them were promptly arrested crossing the border. Dolf had to spend a few days of jail time in Geneva. Later he got interned in a refugee camp near Bern. At that moment his diary ends, apart from one undated (anyway not before 1944) entry: “And then I met Anneke and the fairy tale in the mountains began.”

‘Antje’ by Louis Noiret & Ch. Van Dijk, published by Ph. Hakkert (Rotterdam, 1917) and illustrated by Carlo Jung.

I didn’t find out when Ans finally heard about the tragical death of her fiancé Dries, and that of her brother and father. But she must have found some consolation in the company of Adolf Menco whom she met in a Swiss refugee camp.7 They were married in 1945.

After the war Ans went to live in Arnhem where her husband Adolf returned to start as a butcher again. Ans survived her husband Dolf by almost 30 years and lived to be 93 years old. She hardly ever wanted to discuss the war with her children.

Flora returned to Rotterdam where she rebuilt the Hakkert business, together with her nephew, David (Dé) Sanders. Mostly under David’s guidance it continued to exist until 2007. Flora passed away in 1980, aged 88.

Hakkert Music Store, Westblaak – Rotterdam (1976). (source: De Oud-Rotterdammer, November 26th, 2013). Photo: Ido Menco (grandson of Max)

Max’s brother Jacques was murdered in Auschwitz in May 1944.

Alice Ferrières visited Ans and Flora in 1947 in Holland. In 1964 Yad Vashem honoured her, as the first French woman, with the title ‘Righteous among the Nations‘.

Many thanks to Bert Menco, the son of Ans Hakkert and Dolf Menco for providing us with clues to search in the right direction and for proofreading the draft, to his brother Ido who provided some photographs, to Jos Engels for his article on the Hakkert family in Voorburg, and to Albert Rottier, the last owner of Muziek Hakkert, who compiled an extensive database that helped us in the writing of this article.

1 Officially Philip Hakkert’s name was Hakker.
2 “Jews” are prohibited to cross the demarcation line into the occupied part of France. A Jew is a person who belongs or belonged to the Jewish religion, or who descends from more than 2 Jewish grandparents. Grandparents are regarded as Jews, if they belong or have belonged to the Jewish religion. Violations of this prohibition will be punished by imprisonment or a fine. In addition possessions can be confiscated.
3 According to other sources the family would meet a guide In Nancy, France, who would accompany them further. But someone betrayed them.
4 ‘Chère Mademoiselle… Alice Ferrières et les enfants de Murat, 1941-1944’, by Patrick Cabanel (Calmann-Lévy, 2010).
5 There is some confusion about convoy 51 departing from Drancy on March 6, 1943. Historians have long wondered about its exact destination. In any case it was not directed toward the common destination: Auschwitz-Birkenau whose murdering capacities were, at that time, exceeded. According to some, convoy 51’s destination was Majdanek. Other documents state that convoy 51 first arrived in Majdanek but was sent some 100 km further eastward first to Chelm, and then on to Sobibor. Still others claim the train was first sent to Sobibor and then came back to Majdanek with about 50 survivors who had to work there.
6 Probably the Frenchman Maurice Jacquet, a member of the réseau Dutch-Paris in Lyon, an underground network to smuggle people and documents, known In the Netherlands as ‘La Route Suisse’ (The Swiss Way). He was deported to Mauthausen in 1944 but survived.
7 Mont-Pèlerin near Vevey. 

Bauhaus and Gigolettes

'Gigolette Fox-Trot'
‘Gigolette Fox’ by Franz Léhar, published by Smyth (Paris, 1922) and probably illustrated by Robert Laroche.

It took awhile before I pinpointed this cover in the haystack of our collection. It is a drawing for the Gigolette-Fox in Franz Léhars opérette La danza delle libellule from 1922. The image, a thick spiralling red line on a black background, had been lingering in the back of my mind since I saw Das Triadisch Ballet. Or better said,  the video of that ballet produced by the Bavaria Atelier in 1977. I saw this baffling dance piece in the exhibition Paul Klee – Pictures in Motion in Bern. Happily it is also on YouTube and we’ve extracted  the one-minute ‘spiral scene’.

The ballet is a major work of Oskar Schlemmer, who was a German painter, sculptor and choreographer, and also a member of Bauhaus (a school and modernistic movement in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin between 1909 and 1933). In it he presents “his ideas of choreographed geometry, man as dancer, transformed by costume, moving in space”. It is no wonder that the ‘figurines’ (the name he used for the extravagant costumes that abstracted the form of the human body into artificial and geometrical forms) were exhibited at the Société des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, in 1930.

Now, rewind to 1922 and the success of Franz Léhars Gigolette-Fox. We found French, Italian, and Portuguese covers of it in our sheet music collection,  which proves the success of the operetta and its Gigolette theme.

Another cover of 'Gigolette-Fox'
Another cover of ‘Gigolette-Fox’ from La danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar (published by Smyth Editeur, Paris, 1922). Illustrated by Robert Laroche.
An Italian version of 'Gigolette' (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
An Italian version of ‘Gigolette’ (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
The Portugese version for Léhars 'Gigolette'. Sheet music cover; partition musicale illustrée
The Portuguese version for Léhars ‘Gigolette’, published by Sassetti & Ca Editores, Lisboa, 1922. Illustrated by Stuart (José Stuart Carvalhais).

The Gigolette in Léhars operetta refers to a liberated girl, a flapper who isn’t afraid of a little amorous adventure… No wonder that the ‘Danse des Libellules’ was also produced by Madame Rasimi of the Ba-Ta-Clan: the perfect story to show lavish costumes and nudity at the same time. My Larousse explains gigolette as a ‘jeune femme délurée’ (a young smart/brazen/cheeky woman). One might think it is the feminine form for gigolo, but that term seems to be more recent.
Thirty years earlier, at the fin de siècle and start of the Belle Epoque, the gigolette was the female equivalent of that romanticised and proud male rascal, a member of the urban criminal canaille: the Apache. As in: I will be your Apache, will you be my Gigolette? But we’ll discuss the phenomenon of the Parisian Apaches in another story soon…

Left: 'La Marche des Gigolettes'
Left: ‘La Marche des Gigolettes – marche réaliste’ by Emile Spencer and René Esse, published Repos Editeur (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘Nini la Gigolette’ by Victor Thiels and V. Damien, published by Gross (Paris, s.d.), cover by Léon Pousthomis.
Left: illustration by Steinlen for 'J'ai perdu ma Gigolette'
Left: illustration by Steinlen for ‘J’ai perdu ma Gigolette’ by Mortreuil, Esse & Delormel, published by Maurel (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘La Valse des Gigolettes’ by Spencer, Lelièvre &Damien, published by Brondert (Paris, s.d.), drawing by O’Varély.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman

ma petite bretonne copy
Left: ‘L’affaire Steinheil’ by Antonin Louis, published by Edition Musicale Française (Paris, sd). Right: ‘Ma Petite Bretonne’ by Berniaux, published by Charles Mayol (Paris, 1907), illustrated by Pousthomis.

Last week we got a present from our friend Etienne: a tattered leaflet, folded  twice to fit in a pocket, ready to hand for an impromptu performance. On the backside of the leaflet are the words for L’Affaire Steinheil. No musical notation was needed as one had to sing it to the tune of a 1907 hit song Ma Petite Bretonne.

The Madame Steinheil of the cover was born in Alsace in 1869 as Marguerite Japy, the daughter of a rich industrialist.

meg steinheil
Marguerite Steinheil, posing as an ancient Greek aulos player.

The gorgeous Marguerite married the well-known but less gifted painter Adolphe Steinheil in 1890. The marriage was not a happy one but it allowed Marguerite to move in the highest social circles in Paris. She became the mistress of the French president, Félix Faure, often visiting him for assignations in the Elysée Palace. During one of their trysts Faure died suddenly. The salacious circumstances of the president’s untimely demise (in 1899) and the identity of his companion became widely known thanks to the tabloid press. According to some, presumably his political opponents, it happened while Marguerite was giving the president the Monica Lewinsky treatment, which earned her the nickname ‘La Pompe Funèbre’.

An artist’s impression of President Faure’s death, as seen by his supporters.

After the president’s death Marguerite continued to have a string of famous lovers. In 1908 Marguerite’s mother and husband were murdered in their bedroom. They both died by strangulation. Marguerite was found bound and gagged but otherwise unharmed. She told the police that a gang of four black-robed burglars had perpetrated the murders and stolen her jewellery.

An artist’s impression of the 1908 murders. Marguerite is found, gagged and bound on her daughters bed by a servant. In the adjoining bedrooms we get a glimpse of the bodies of her mother and her husband.

From the start the police suspected her of playing a part in the murders but couldn’t find proof of this. In an attempt to draw the investigation away from herself, the recent widow tried (unsuccessfully) to frame the male servant who had initially discovered her. She told the police that she had found some of the stolen jewellery in the servant’s possession, including a pearl. Alas for her, a jeweller recognised it as the gem Marguerite had asked the jeweller to dismount from her ring, after the murders took place. So she must have hid it in her servants wallet later on.

Being confronted with her lies, Marguerite at long last accused Alexander Wolff, the son of her old cook Mariette. Alexander Wolff, a horse dealer, called her a vile lying whore. Lucky for him, the police soon proved him entirely innocent.

alexander wolff
On the left: Alexander Wolff accused of the murders by Marguerite Steinheil. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Marguerite’s wild accusations and tampering with evidence,  heightened the suspicion against her and finally led to her arrest. She was charged with murder and sent to Saint-Lazare to await her trial.
At that time Saint-Lazare was a gloomy prison for women, housing mostly prostitutes and female thieves. None other than Toulouse-Lautrec (signing as Treclau) illustrated Aristide Bruant’s song ‘A Saint-Lazare’.

a saint lazare
Left: ‘A Saint-Lazare’ by Aristide Bruant, published by himself (Paris in 1887) and illustrated by Treclau (Toulouse-Lautrec). Not in our collection, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Right: Madame Steinheil in Saint-Lazare (1909). Picture from her memoirs.

In contrast to Bruant’s reputation of singing with a thunderous voice, the wonderful Barbara gave a delicate enactment of the song:
“C’est de la prison que je t’écris mon pauvre Polyte
Et si t’aime bien ta petite souris réponds moi vite…”

The press covered every aspect of the Steinheil murders, the investigation, the arrest, the imprisonment and the trial. Conspirationists pretended that Marguerite had -almost a decade before- also poisoned president Félix Faure.

steinheil avocat
Marguerite and her lawyer during her trial. Le Petit Parisien, Supplément Littéraire Illustré, November 7th,1909.

The trial revealed all her lies and tampering. However, because there was no motive and only indirect evidence of any physical involvement with the murders, she was unexpectedly acquitted and released.

lettre steinheil & procureur
Left: caricature of the attorney during the trial holding in his arms Marguerite’s husband and President Faure (only clad in his shirt). Right: ‘Lettre à Madame Steinheil’ by Dalbret, published by Valentin Pannier (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Léon Pousthomis (source: MédiHAL).

Following her acquittal Marguerite got another nickname: La Veuve Joyeuse after Franz Lehar’s Die Lüstige Witwe (The Merry Widow). The first production of this operetta in Paris had been in April of the same year.

steinheil veuve joyeuse

veuve joyeuse
‘Heure exquise’ from ‘La Veuve Joyeuse’ by Franz Léhar, published by Max Eschig (Paris, 1909) and illustrated by Georges Dola.

Nonetheless, Marguerite didn’t remain a widow for very long. She changed her name to Madame de Serignac, moved to England where she married into the British aristocracy in 1917 and became Lady d’Abinger.

Marguerite’s faithful cook Mariette stayed in France. She was an important witness at the trial and was described as follows: “Mariette looks an old peasant woman from one of Balzac’s novels. (…) Her nose is strong, and her eyes are terrible—but when she wants to, she can soften their expression. There is hardly any interval between the nose and the stubborn little chin, which reminds one of a dried-up crabapple.”

mariette wolff steinheil
Mariette Wolff, the cook of Marguerite Steinheil.

Notwithstanding that her mistress had accused her son Alexander of the murders, Mariette remained a very loyal servant. At the trial she had said nothing that could possibly harm her boss: “When one is a domestic, one must see everything but say nothing.” This allegiance was not reciprocal. In her 1920 memoir Marguerite wrote: “She had a terrifying appearance, the old Mariette, with her eyes that flashed angrily, her threatening jaw, and her big clenched fists.” Marguerite even hinted that Mariette was implicated in the murders…

Oddly, after the trial Mariette Wolff became a well-known billposter for the publicity firm Gabert.

wolf afficheuse1
Mariette Wolff as a billposter in december 1909. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Her new boss, monsieur Gabert, had astutely reckoned that her notoriety could well attract the best crowd…

Photo Mariette Wolff attracting a crowd in 1909.
Mariette Wolff as a billposter attracting a huge crowd in december 1909. Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Apart from being an advertiser Gabert was also a keen supporter of feminism and women’s suffrage. He would supported the right for women to vote in the elections of 1912. But back in 1908 he already made his point by hiring the first female billposter, until then a profession reserved for men.

premiere colleuse
The first female billposter in Paris. Le Petit Journal, 11 october 1908.

Soon onlookers and photographers would assemble around Gabert’s ‘colleuses d’affiches’. These controversial women in a ‘male’ profession first gave rise to surprise and incredulity. But soon they would turn into a spectacle, appearing on postcards as if they were a curio.

eerste colleuse 3 copy
Left: The first female billposter. Right: Paris-Féministe – New professions for women: the billposter.
Belgium had to wait for the first female billposter till 1916.
eerste colleuse belgie 1916
A new Brussels profession, January 1916. Royal Library of Belgium
But back to our story. The mystery of the two murders has never been solved. Though according to the lyrics on our leaflet Marguerite was guilty as hell: “Elle va bientôt lâcher le morceau, ou d’ venir marteau. Mais cett’ femm’ si belle, est bien criminelle!”
And as to her spot of bother with Faure well, presidents will be presidents, won’t they?
Front page of the French magazine Closer revealing the French president’s supposed secret trysts with Julie Gayet. (2014)