Hometown: Lindau, Germany
Location at time of fire: lower keel, base of stairs leading up to bow.
Josef Leibrecht was one of three electricians who flew on the Hindenburg's final flight, the other two being Ernst Schlapp and Chief Electrician Philipp Lenz. Leibrecht had served as an electrician on every one of the Hindenburg's flights, going all the way back to the ship's maiden flight on March 4th, 1936. On one occasion while in the United States in 1936, on the way back to the ship from enjoying a rather late evening in New York with some friends from Lakehurst, Leibrecht was involved in an automobile accident. As the Hindenburg was preparing to sail at dawn, a police cruiser pulled up, and two New Jersey state troopers escorted Leibrecht to the ship, fresh from the hospital and covered in cuts and bruises.
As the Hindenburg approached the mooring circle at Lakehurst at the end of its first North American flight of the 1937 season on May 6th, Leibrecht was off watch in the crew's mess when he was ordered forward to the bow, along with 5 other crewmen (engine mechanics Walter Banholzer and Alfred Stöckle, cooks Alfred Grözinger and Richard Müller, and assistant cook Fritz Flackus), to help to trim the tail-heavy ship for landing. Leibrecht took a spot on a small platform alongside the keel walkway right at Ring 233, at the base of the stairs leading up to the mooring station at the tip of the bow.
(Hindenburg structural diagram courtesy of David Fowler)
Suddenly, Leibrecht became aware of a "swishing" noise, and the stern of the ship dropped. He held onto an overhead girder for dear life and kept his eyes shut tightly as the ship seemed to stand on its tail and fire raced overhead towards the bow. For the rest of his life, Leibrecht would remember the awful screams of the men on the stairs ahead of him as they dropped from the ship one by one and fell to their deaths. "It seemed forever," in Leibrecht's mind, before the ship finally leveled out and touched the ground so that Leibrecht could finally let go of his handhold and stumble through the framework to safety.
Of the dozen men who were in the nose of the ship at the time of the fire, only Leibrecht and two others standing twenty feet or so behind him (Alfred Grözinger and elevatorman Kurt Bauer) survived. Leibrecht was burnt badly enough that he remained in Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City for well over a month after the crash, and was still not well enough to testify to the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry when investigators visited the hospital on May 28th to interview other survivors.
Josef Leibrecht (at left) and Franz Herzog (right) visit with a friend following their release from Lenox Hill Hospital in the summer of 1937.
Thanks to John Tabert for the portrait photo of Joseph Leibrecht as well as the photo of Leibrecht and Herzog. John's father was a patient at Lenox Hill Hospital at the same time that Leibrecht and Herzog were there, and they struck up a friendship and continued to keep in touch even after they had left the hospital. The 1938 letter from Herzog in which he mentions Leibrecht's ongoing problems with his injured hands was written to John's father.