Leica and the Jews




The Leica Freedom Train
Photo Credit: High Strangeness

Constant reader Bernard Wishnia sent me the following email making the Internet rounds about Leica and the Jews Before and During WII. It is a true story of brave Christians who secretly helped Jews escape from Nazi terror and persecution:

The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product -- precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that during the Nazi era acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz, Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous photographic product, saved the company's Jews.

And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, "The Photography Industry's Schindler."

As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country. As Christians, Leitz and his family were, of course, immune to Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities.

To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "The Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.

Employees, retailers, family members, and friends of family members were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States.


For more details head over to aishcom and read The Leica Freedom Train.

Why has no one told this story until now?

According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did "The Leica Freedom Train" come to light. It became the subject of a book, Rolling On, The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train by Frank Dabba Smith.


We learn more about the rabbi here:

The Guardian, 9 Feb 2007, Behind the camera - secret life of man who saved Jews from Nazis

Only now have details of the Leica refugees come to light, thanks to the detective work of a London-based rabbi.

Frank Dabba Smith, 51, rabbi of the Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue in northwest London and a Leica enthusiast, has reconstructed their stories through photographs, documents and letters of thanks from survivors and their families. Yesterday his painstaking work culminated in a posthumous award for Leitz, who died in 1956, in recognition of the efforts that risked his life and those of his family.

The Anti-Defamation League presented Leitz's granddaughter, Cornelia Kuhn-Leitz, with its Courage to Care award in Palm Springs, Florida. The ADF credits Leitz with saving hundreds of lives - counting both the workers and their families - and has compared him to Schindler, believed to have saved more than 1,200 Polish Jews from death by employing them in his enamel factory in Cracow.


Andrew Nemeth has more detail at his website nemeng.com, specifically his article Leica and the Nazis.



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