Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Leica Freedom Train

Ernst Leitz II was a German businessman who inherited the Leica camera company from his father in 1920. After Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the Nuremberg laws were enacted, depriving German Jews of the rights of citizenship. Leitz began receiving desperate calls from his Jewish employees, begging him to help them escape.

Leitz hatched a brilliant plan. He began "transferring" his Jewish employees, along with their extended families, to Leica sales offices all over the world. The refugees were actually sent to America, where each was given a Leica camera, a stipend, and help finding work.

Known as the "Leica Freedom Train", Ernst Leitz' bold plan saved the lives of hundreds of Jews. Leitz' daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo for trying to smuggle Jewish women into Switzerland. She was badly beaten but survived.

A rare light in a sea of darkness, the Leitz family never wanted publicity for their heroism. The story of the Leica Freedom Train only came out after the last Leitz family member died.

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