Feb 6, 2007

Leica's Schindler

Ernst Leitz, the owner of the camera factory, who helped numerous Jews escape Hitler's Germany.
Leitz's humanitarian efforts on behalf of Wetzlar's Jews began within days of Hitler's rise to power in March 1933 and continued through Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 when Jewish businesses and synagogues were systematically looted. Leitz's secret campaign only ended in 1939, when Hitler's invasion of Poland resulted in the closure of Germany's borders.

Typically, young Jewish men like Rosenberg would be offered apprenticeships at Wetzlar. Then, after varying periods of training, they would be transferred to New York and put to work in the Fifth Avenue showroom or associated dealerships across the US. Leitz paid all the bills for their travel, and his executives furnished the refugees with letters of introduction and helped them obtain visas.

Incredibly, it is only now that the full story of the Leica escape routes is emerging. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that Leitz, a modest and close-lipped Protestant businessman, never spoke about the Nazi period in public, and even kept his good works secret from his family.

"One of the marks of the true altruist is that they don't parade their works, they just get on with it," says Smith. "From Ernst Leitz's point of view, he was only doing what any decent person would have done in his position."

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