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Feb 23, 2016 1:00 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

From Budapest To Springs, East Hampton Couple Celebrates 70 Years Of Marriage

Gerson and Judith Lieber at their home in Springs. KYRIL BROMLEY
Feb 23, 2016 1:00 PM

Staying married is no easy feat.

As the honeymoon period begins to dwindle, a couple’s relationship, finally bound by law, can be tested by any number of obstacles—finances, intimacy or even deciding who will do the dishes.

Gerson and Judith Leiber, however, have come to prove that a marriage made of true love and devotion can survive any form of adversity—even a world war.

In fact, the prominent couple, known for their lucrative careers in the art and handbag industry, recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

Sitting in the sunny parlor of their Springs home, the couple, now in their 90s, continue to dote on one another, exchanging affections such as “honey” or “sweetheart,” as they explained the series of events that brought them together all those years ago.

“I was a G.I. soldier in Hungary at the time when I met my wife,” Mr. Leiber began, gazing at his wife who was sitting across from him and smiling.

Mr. Leiber was one of thousands of American soldiers deployed to Europe to fight in World War II. A member of the army, he first shipped into Hungary from Italy to provide aid in the final days of the Siege of Budapest, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war, he said.

However, it was not until the war was finally over that he met his future wife on the recovering streets of Budapest, where she and her family were finally free from the Nazis and Hungarian fascists.

“She was imprisoned in the Budapest ghetto and the fact that the Russians broke through and conquered the Nazis and the local Hungarian fascists saved the occupants of the ghetto’s lives. Otherwise they would have massacred my wife and her family,” he said.

After a quick and passionate courtship of less than a year, Mr. Leiber found himself asking his commanding officer for permission to marry the woman he had fallen in love with. His superior obliged.

“We were married in my wife’s family’s apartment, which was very near the location where the mission had its offices,” Mr. Leiber explained.

Surrounded by Ms. Leiber’s family and Mr. Leiber’s fellow soldiers, the couple married on February 5, 1946.

Just a year later, Mr. Leiber requested to be discharged and the couple took another colossal step and moved from Budapest to New York City where a new, post-war world awaited them.

“It was an exciting time,” he remembered with fondness. “We took part in the post-war expansion … it was the cultural life and the artistic life. Everything was expanding and burgeoning. It was a time of great prosperity.”

While Mr. Leiber continued his studies of painting, which he began in Budapest on the G.I. bill at the Art Students League, Ms. Leiber entered the industry that would project her into worldwide renown.

In the shadow of the Empire State Building, the young innovator began working jobs at fashion houses that now cease to exist. However, once people began to see what she could create, she quickly moved up in the industry.

“Nobody could believe she could do what she did and when we went into business after my wife had a thorough grounding in production practices, it didn’t take long for her to establish herself,” said Mr. Leiber. “She rose to the very top of the American handbag industry.”

Her success culminated with the formation of her own luxury handbag business in 1963. Her bags, characterized by the endless detailing of tiny crystals, would become a symbol of status, featured in the pages of Vogue and in the hands of the rich and the famous.

“As long as we were in business we did all the bags for the first ladies and we made them as gifts. We never charged for them,” said Ms. Leiber, citing Jackie Kennedy as one of the recipients.

While Ms. Leiber has been honored with almost every award possible in the fashion industry for her work over the years, no one was more proud of her than her husband, who last year erected a museum in Springs to exhibit the handbags.

“I felt that we should have a museum of sorts to make sure my wife’s position of a handbag designer would continue to be recognized,” said Mr. Leiber.

In turn, Ms. Leiber holds her husband’s work as a modernist painter in high regard. Much of his work will be on display at the museum, the Lieber Collection, when it reopens this summer.

“I’ve never tried to influence my wife’s work and she has never tried to influence mine. We enjoy the work that we do so very, very much,” Mr. Leiber said.

Despite their work continuing to be shown in exhibits and galleries in New York City, Mr. Leiber said the couple rarely ventures into the city where they made their names.

“I find it frightens me now,” he said of Manhattan. “There’s so many people, so many cars all dashing about.”

With that in mind, the couple decided Springs would be the perfect place to retire. After living in the community for four years now, Mr. Leiber said they have found peace.

“We spend a lot of time reading,” he said. I had a pleasant garden that I built up over the years. We both took a lot of pleasure in it.”

Still, the couple made the trip to the city to attend their very own anniversary party, held by their friend Patti Kenner of East Hampton.

“It was certainly special in every respect,” said Mr. Leiber as he held up a gift he received, a photo of Mr. and Ms. Leiber on their wedding day in a circular, golden frame.

However, Mr. Leiber admitted that while their milestone may seem astonishing, to them it’s merely a moment in passing.

“[Our marriage] is something that is so part of our lives,” he said. “We’ve been together for such a long time that it’s the very groundwork of life. It’s like the sun coming up in the morning.”

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I have known the Leibers for many years, and their example of love, kindness, and generosity never fails to captivate my attention and inspire my admiration.
-Jeffrey Sussman
By marketingpro (2), East Hampton on Feb 23, 16 8:30 PM
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