The Leitz family saved many of its Jewish employees and friends by sending them off to America with brand-new Leica cameras around their necks and finding them jobs.
As late as 1967, Gunther Leitz refused to allow anyone to write about the role his father Ernest Leitz II had played.
A recent article in the Financial Times focused on an interview with California-born Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith of the Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue in northwest London, who wrote a book about the Leitz "freedom train." Smith grew up in San Diego and spent his bar mitzvah money on a Leica camera.
On Feb. 9, the Anti-Defamation League honored Ernst II’s granddaughter, Cornelia Kuhn-Leitz, with the Courage to Care Award, in recognition of her grandfather's role in helping at least 41 Jews to flee Germany during the 1930s Nazi persecution. Leitz is also credited with helping an additional 23 people to circumvent Nazi laws aimed at punishing Jews and Germans related to Jews by marriage.
"Smith first heard about Leitz’s role in Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany when he was a student at Berkeley and came across a passing reference to the Leica apprentices in an article about Norman Lipton, the managing editor of Popular Photography magazine."
Lipton witnessed the arrival of scores of German Jewish refugees from the Wetzlar factory, and said the refugees were processed by Leitz's general manager and vice president Alfred Boch.
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To see a trailer of a film being made about this, click here and scroll to "One Camera, One Life."