21 October 2019

Johann Hans Wolpe & the Aleister Crowley Connection

Aleister Crowley in America (2017) by Tobias Churton (book cover from Amazon)
Aleister Crowley in America (2017)
by Tobias Churton
(book cover from Amazon)
 A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Josef Jakobs' information on Ziebell's attempt to secure Irish naturalisations for the Jews. The scheme involved two other men: Johann (Hans) Wolpe and Josef Emil Roos. During my research for that post, I came across some references to Wolpe in Google Books - specifically a book by Tobias Churton entitled: Aleister Crowley in America - Art, Espionage and Sex Magick in the New World (2017). Given that Google Books only provides snippets of information, I ordered a copy of Churton's book which arrived in the mail last week. Here's what I discovered...

The information on Wolpe is contained within Appendix I of the book and is a summary of the history of Simeon Leon Engers (Kennedy), the brother of Beatrice (Engers) Wolpe (wife of Johann Hans Wolpe).

As it turns out, Leon Engers was a painter who moved between Holland, Germany, the USA and Paris. He encountered Aleister Crowley as early as 1911 and apparently became involved with Crowley's spiritual sect, being known as Frater T.A.T.K.T.A. Leon became known for his "psychochrome" style (painting the sitters aura), his most famous being a painting of Crowley now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in England.

Edward Alexander ('Aleister') Crowley by Leon Engers Kennedy oil on canvas, 1917-1918 National Portrait Gallery NPG 6630
Edward Alexander ('Aleister') Crowley
by Leon Engers Kennedy
oil on canvas, 1917-1918
National Portrait Gallery NPG 6630
The information contained within Appendix I of the book was compiled by Frank van Lamoen, assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. It is in the appendix that we find information on Johann Wolpe and his wife Beatrice. Beyond that, Churton's book has some brief comments about Leon Engers.

The appendix information is tantalising:
Beatrice's father ran a business (Firma M. Engers) out of Rotterdam but, from 1904-1918, the family apparently lived in Berlin at Kurf├╝rstendamm 23 (or 24). The company had branches in London, Hull, Hamburg and Bremen.

On 13 June 1917, Beatrice Engers married Johann Wolpe in Berlin-Charlottenburg. I had always wondered how the two had met, given that Beatrice was Dutch but the fact that her family was living in Berlin now explains the connection.

In 1919, Beatrice's mother, Paula (Schwabacher) Engers) was living in Berlin at Uhlandstrasse 197, the same address as J.H. Wolpe & Co, likely Johann Wolpe's company.

In 1924, Leon Engers and his American wife, Catherine Elizabeth Reilly moved to Paris where Leon may have studied at the Sorbonne. The following year, 1925, Beatrice and Johann Wolpe also moved their family from Berlin to Paris. The Appendix notes that "banker Wolpe together with a certain Fritz Klekottka (Klikottka?) accused of swindle". I had gleaned that bit of information from Google Books, but there is additional information for the following years.

In 1934, Beatrice's mother, widow Paula (Schwabacher) Engers applied for Dutch citizenship while living in Paris. She had been born in Odessa (Ukraine) in 1867 of German parents and one might expect that her marriage to Mozes Engers would have given her Dutch citizenship, but apparently not.

In 1935, Johann Wolpe, while living in Paris, tired to sell forged shares. Three years later, on 3 February 1938, Beatrice and Johann moved to The Hague, living at Laan van Meerdervoort 377. They made a trip to Ostend on 27 August 1938 and on 26 September 1938, Beatrice's mother was staying with them in The Hague.

But all was not well between Beatrice and Johann. The following year, on 17 February 1939, the couple was divorced. Beatrice and her children moved to Ostend and it isn't clear what became of Johann Wolpe. This may explain why Beatrice and her daughter were deported to Auschwitz on the same day while Johann seems to have been handled separately.

Wolpe's association with Aleister Crowley would therefore seem to be quite tangential through his wife's brother.

I have reached out to Frank van Lamoen to see if he has additional information on Wolpe... stay tuned. [Update 2019 10 21 - I heard back from Frank van Lamoen and he kindly shared his sources for the Wolpe material - mostly Dutch newspaper articles. I will be working through them and putting together a follow-up article in the next few weeks.]

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