A Beautiful Story – for a change

How a German company quietly saved their Jewish employees.

by George Gilbert

The Leica Freedom Train

published in 2009

A Beautiful Story – for a change

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.

Leitz’s activities intensified after the Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned throughout Germany. Before long, German “employees” were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz, Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry. Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom — a new Leica.

The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers, and writers for the photographic press.

The “Leica Freedom Train” was at its height in 1938 and early 1939, delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks.

Then, with the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders. By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America, thanks to the Leitzes’ efforts.

How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it?

Leitz’s daughter was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland.

Leitz Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected credit on the newly resurgent Reich. The company produced range-finders and other optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz’s single biggest market for optical goods was the United States.

Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews, and was freed only after the payment of a large bribe.

Leitz’s daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She was eventually freed, but had endured rough treatment in the course of being questioned. She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of more than 700 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s. After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d’honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.

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, “The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train,” by Frank Dabba Smith.

From: www.aish.com

Pruden dissects Obama, Netanyahu and Useful Idiot American Jews

PRUDEN: A Come-to-Moses moment at hand   
By Wesley Pruden
The Washington Times
Friday, May 13, 2011

The State Department, which has never been particularly friendly to Jews, is getting a little cover for its unrelenting deference to the enemies of Israel. The Jews eager to cover for the diplomats are the weak, the naive and, alas, the familiar.

They’re the liberal, mostly Democratic, Jews offended by the “aggressive” Israelis who understand what’s at stake in the Middle East. They’re embarrassed by and resentful of the “righteous Gentiles” eager to help Israel prevent a second Holocaust, this one in the Middle East, rather than to contribute to building another Holocaust museum later.

Israel once united the contentious factions of American Jews, but now the mere existence of Israel exacerbates tension between the realists and the deaf, blind dreamers. Nevertheless, a “come-to-Moses” moment is approaching. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, fresh from his kiss-and-make-up session with the terrorists of Hamas, is coming to New York City in September to press the United Nations to recognize an independent Palestinian State.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be in Washington next week to address a joint session of Congress and to meet with President Obama. Maybe they’ll talk about that. The occasion will give Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu, in diplo-speak, “An opportunity for the United States and Israel to review the full range of issues, from Iran to the regional change to the peace process.”

If the past is the usual reliable guide, the White House and the State Department will actually see this as an opportunity to pressure Israel to submit to further accommodation to those who want to “wipe Israel off the map,” in the vow of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and the chief enabler of Hamas.

Mr. Obama himself is all aquiver working on his speech, probably to be delivered next week, eager to speak softly and carry small convictions made of strawberry Jell-O. The Wall Street Journal reports that he will urge Muslims to “reject Islamic militancy in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and embrace a new era of relations with the United States.” Ah, if only.

But it’s not just the Jews who get the back of his hand. There hasn’t been a peep out of the White House since a dozen Egyptian Christians were killed and scores injured by violent Muslims last weekend. Christian homes and businesses were trashed and burned. The pope condemned it; Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned it. Nothing from the president, though there’s White House precedent for condemning burning churches. (Bill Clinton once condemned the burning of black churches in Arkansas even when nobody had burned any churches in Arkansas.)

Some American Jews who are fed up with the passivity, or worse, of well-established advocacy groups are splitting to establish new organizations with an appetite for the red meat that is the diet of everyone else in the Middle East. One particular target is the confederation of local Jewish Federations that, no doubt well-meaning, offer aid and comfort to those who mean Israel nothing but ill.

In New York City, writes Jonathan Rosenblum, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and the Hebrew daily Maariv, a Jewish Federation affiliate on the Upper West Side supports organizations promoting boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel. In Washington, the Federation funds an anti-Jewish theater troupe called Theater J, whose recent offerings include a play about Israelis as modern Nazis. A Southern California chapter contributes money to send students to Israel to be treated to scolding lectures by Hamas speakers.

This Jewish cover for anti-Israel initiatives is no doubt welcomed by Arabists in Foggy Bottom, where skepticism of Jews is part of the established old order. In his biography of Harry S. Truman, David McCullough tells of the fierce and bitter State Department resistance to recognizing the state of Israel at its founding in 1948. “The striped-pants conspirators,” Mr. Truman called the men just below George C. Marshall, the secretary whom the president regarded as something of a saint. “Some White House men … believe that a number of positions taken by career men on this matter were based on anti-Semitism, not diplomacy,” wrote one prominent pundit. Men at the State Department accused the president’s men of being more concerned about Israel than American security.

Six decades later, some things have changed, but not all. One thing that has changed is that there’s no one remotely like Harry S. Truman, a president fully at ease with the true character of the country he leads, in charge at the White House.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.