Jacques Levi Lassen
Jacques Levi Lassen’s life began in Bergen, Germany, on February 25, 1884: he was born to Moses Levi and Fanny Hahn, who named him Jacob. He had two older brothers, who both left home and Germany at a very early age, and an older sister, Pauline.
Jacob graduated from high-school (the "Realschule der israelitischen Gemeinde" in Frankfurt-am-Main) in 1899. Following his father’s death in that same year, young Jacob found himself in charge of providing for his mother and his unmarried sister - at 15 years of age! He joined Siegmund Strauss Jr., a Frankfurt-based wholesale company that dealt in textiles and had branches in several western European countries as well as in Germany. In 1904 Jacob was sent to the Netherlands, where he was appointed manager of a newly opened Siegmund Strauss store in the city of The Hague. Before long it became clear he had a flair for trade...
A highly talented business man
In 1911 Jacob Levi decided to branch out on his own and set up shop in The Hague’s Zoutmanstraat. This business soon took off, especially when he switched to importing rough shantung fabrics from China - bringing them in via England where they were first dyed and printed. Voiles from England followed, as did silks from France. In 1917, Levi decided to go into partnership with a ladies’ fashion store in The Hague, the Maison de Nouveautés. Other such initiatives followed, each of which became a building stone that contributed to the establishment of a large business concern. Take for instance the evolution of “NV Textiel Import- en Export Maatschappij,” a public limited company Levi created in 1919: changing names more than once, this business continued to develop throughout the nineteen twenties and thirties, and nowadays it is an important finance corporation with two subsidiaries named Maison de Nouveautés NV and Siegmund Strauss NV (or Sistra BV, its current name).
Following World War I, Jacob Levi chose to settle permanently in The Hague and be naturalized: his applications were successful and he was granted citizenship of the Netherlands in 1920. Furthermore, in 1923, he was authorized by Royal Decree to carry the name Lassen: Jacob Levi thus became Jacques Levi Lassen. His mother and sister Pauline left Germany and came to set up home with him in the villa he bought on the Stadhouderslaan in 1926, where Fanny lived until her death in 1929.
Business thrived. In 1933 Siegmund Strauss NV acquired a plot of land in down-town The Hague, on the corner of Grote Markstraat and Spui, and launched the construction of a large office block, with street-level stores. Jacques Levi Lassen ordered the building to be equipped with an underground air-raid shelter, an initiative which earned him a royal decoration: on August 23, 1939 he was knighted "Companion in the Order of Orange Nassau." Up until the onset of World War II, the J.L. Lassen concern continued to invest in real estate, notably purchasing a number of properties in the area behind his office building, along the streets that constituted The Hague’s oldest Jewish neighborhood.