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Any decent person.

Camera lovers will recognize the name Leica, the first 35mm camera, invented by photography pioneer Ernst Leitz. Mr. Leitz started his company in Germany in 1869, and his son, also named Ernst, took over in 1920. Leica was a proud German company, technologically advanced and financially successful. It was also quite progressive, providing pensions, sick leave, and health insurance for its employees in a time when such things were quite unusual. Leica employed many Jews, and when Hitler came to power in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began deliberately hiring additional Jewish workers as restrictions on their employment elsewhere tightened. Soon his Jewish employees were seeking his help in leaving Germany, and Ernst came up with a brilliant plan. Workers were needed, it seemed, in retail Leica locations in Great Britain, Honk Kong, and America. Every week, employees and their extended families embarked on the SS Bremen, courtesy of their employer. Upon reaching their destination, they were presented with a new camera and a weekly stipend from the local Leica office until they established themselves in their new locations. This plan became known as the Leica Freedom Train and remained in place until Germany’s borders were sealed in 1939. Ernst Leitz II and his family never sought recognition for the approximately 300 Jews they saved, and the story was unknown until after his death. Günther Leitz later said of his father: “My father did what he could because he felt responsible for his employees and their families and neighbors. He was only doing what any decent person would have done in his position.” Any decent person…


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