From Film to Freedom: The Leica Freedom Train


You've probably heard of Leica cameras, and you've almost definitely heard of Schindler's List. What you may not know is that the two have something in common.
Ernst Leitz II (pictured), the son of Leica founder Ernst Leitz, answered the call of panicked friends, acquaintances and total strangers who turned to him for help when Hitler became chancellor in 1933. He and his company reassigned Jewish employees overseas and then hired many more. They were quickly trained on how to use and demonstrate the cameras, then were immediately assigned to roles as far away from Germany as possible, including positions in Hong Kong, France, and the U.S. headquarters in Manhattan. By some accounts, more than 300 people were saved thanks to Leitz' efforts before the German border was closed on September 1, 1939.

Aiding Leitz in his efforts was his daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, who was helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland when she was captured by Nazis. The Gestapo jailed her and handled her roughly during her interrogation but eventually let her go. She wasn't the only accomplice of Leitz, though: an executive named Alfred Turk was also jailed for helping people escape and was only freed after Leitz paid a large bribe.

Some find it suspicious that the Leica Freedom Train story has only come to light in recent years, but it's said the Leitz family wanted the story kept under wraps until after the deaths of everyone in the immediate family — they didn't want their deeds to seem like a publicity stunt.

Leica Freedom Train from The Image Studio | Rich Brimer on Vimeo.