Leica Freedom Train

December 9, 2009

Today I found something new about Leica history:

In the 1930s, after the Nazis under Adolf Hitler came to power, they started to systematically strip the jewish population of basic civil rights. Jews lost their jobs, licenses were revoked, companies got seized etc, all with the final goal of killing them in what would be known as the HOLOCAUST.
Few people had the will and/or the courage to stand up against this regime and help their neighbors, colleagues, lawyers, doctors, schoolmates… People looked away, either trying to ignore what was going on, or even approved to the measures the Nazis took against their compatriots.
Many famous German companies took an active part in the HOLOCAUST and managed to profit from it. I still remember the 1980s when many big German department stores celebrated their 50th anniversary, only to learn that these were the direct result of assets being stolen from Jewish owners. The stores changed ownership, the name, and the original owners were left with nothing.

There are exceptions, though:
Starting from 1933 (the first year of the Nazi reign) until as late as 1943, LEITZ Inc. (‘Leica’ = ‘LEItz CAmera’) under their owner Ernst Leitz II, organized a so called “Freedom Train” and managed to save hundreds of Jewish Leica employees + their families from the HOLOCAUST by assigning them to oversea positions, sending them to America, Asia and other LEITZ subsidiaries, paying for the transport, accommodation, taking care of them and even finding them jobs in the photo industry.
In honor of this courageous deeds, Ernst Leitz II was recently posthumously given the “ADL Courage to Care Award“.

I was quite impressed, especially being aware that for such a prestigious company like LEICA, it must have been extremely difficult in those times to such things without getting into the spotlights of the regime. The Nazis were always very strong in using icons of German technology for their propaganda. Resisting this regime by saving their employees from persecution and murder is something that very much stands out. It also shows a company culture that unfortunately has always been very rare. A culture where employers and employees are forming a partnership, not only to bring the profits up, but also with a feeling of mutual responsibility and contribution.
I am living in Asia, where today employees are often treated quite badly (taking the most out of them and then spitting them out) and in return show little loyalty and feeling of responsibility. During my years in China this was quite apparent. The average time a manager spends at a Chinese company is 2-4 years, then they are looking for better paid jobs, or get fired.

Thus, my respect to LEICA and its history! A company that has never been big, compared to todays Asian rivals, but always managed to keep their integrity and their excellent reputation for being one of the best camera makes of all time, from the 1920 to today!

More about the LEICA Freedom Train you can find here!


One Response to “Leica Freedom Train”

  1. David Perach Says:

    I solute Leica for its heroism and humanity in a time that so many people were not human.
    The story of the freedom train should be known to all.
    God bless you

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