During the dark days of World War II, Leica secretly saved hundreds of Jews from extermination. Behold, the heroism of the Leitz family.
While the death of over 6 million Jews (and millions of Gays, Gypsies and others) at the hands of the Nazis may seem far removed from this web site’s mission, which is to promote black-and-white photography, there is a very strong connection. That connection is the Leica, a camera that was used to make many of the most iconic black-and-white images of the 20th century, and the heroic acts of the family that owned that company during World War II.
As a Jew and a photographer, for years I felt conflicted about owning a Leica—a German-made camera—until the early 1980s, when Jason Schneider, my boss at Modern Photography, told me the story of how Leica had saved thousands of Jews during the first years of the Nazi era.
As Hitler rose to power, Leica’s owners started getting frantic calls from their Jewish employees, begging them to help them leave Germany as Hitler’s antisemitic Nuremberg laws were being enacted and their lives were in danger. Leica responded by making their Jewish employees, their families and friends, foreign sales representatives. They sent each off to other countries with Leica gear that they could sell (they were worth a lot even then) and start fresh.
In this way, hundreds of lives were saved. Thousands of their descendants are alive today because of the Leitz family’s efforts.
Here are three videos tell the story—a story that couldn’t be told while memebers of the Leitz family were still alive.