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ERNST LEITZ JR. -Another Person Who Made A Difference During the Holocaust.

by Noel Hershfield, June 21, 2019


During the 1930’s the German firm ,Leica,was the foremost company in photography. They were the first German firm to market their product to the world. The head of the company was Ernst Leitz II, described as a “steely eyed protestant patriarch." He suddenly was inundated with pleas from his Jewish employees to try and get them out of the country, because of the policies of the Nazis against the Jews. These pleas intensified after Kristallnacht, and also with the passage of the Nuremburg laws earlier, which destroyed the rights of German Jews.

Leitz established what is now called “the Leica freedom train”. Leitz transferred his Jewish employees and their families to the company’s sales offices and laboratories in New York, France , Britain and Hong Kong. These escapees found jobs in the photographic industry, and were supported financially until employment was found.

In the meantime, Leica produced many instruments that were needed by the German military-such as bomb sights, and photographic equipment to document the progress of the Nazi onslaught.

With the capitulation of Poland, in 1939, Germany closed its borders, and the “freedom trains” were stopped.


This did not stop the Leitz family. Leitz’s daughter, Elsie, was caught trying to improve the living conditions of hundreds of Ukrainian labourers, all women who were slave laborers in the Leica factories. She was also found attempting to free many Jews by sneaking them into Switzerland. She was apprehended and imprisoned by the gestapo,and tortured. She was eventually freed, likely because of her father’s influence-although this is pure speculation. She received many honors after the war.

One of Lica’s top executives, one Alfred Turk, was imprisoned for his efforts to save Jews. He was freed only after paying a huge bribe.


After the war the family desired no publicity of their involvement. Finally the story was unearthed, and a book has been published entitled “The greatest invention of the Leitz family:the Leica freedom train” by F Smith.

This is another all too infrequent example of how one person can make a change!

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