German Creator of Leica Camera "Freedom Train" Honored For Saving Hundreds of Jews From The Nazis
Palm Beach, Florida, February 9, 2007… The German owner of the company that manufactures Leica cameras was honored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for saving an estimated 200 to 300 employees and their families from the Nazis.
The ADL Courage to Care Award was presented posthumously to Ernst Leitz II, accepted by his granddaughter, Cornelia Kuehn-Leitz, at the League's National Executive Committee Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida.
"Under considerable risk and in defiance of Nazi policy, Ernst Leitz took valiant steps to transport his Jewish employees and others out of harm's way," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. "At a time when the Nazis were steadily advancing their nation on a path toward war and the Holocaust, Leitz had the courage to defy their directives while risking his life to save others. In the moral void that engulfed the world in those nightmarish days when the cruelty of the Nazis ran rampant, Ernst Leitz had the Courage to Care. If only there had been more Oskar Schindlers, more Ernst Leitzs, then less Jews would have perished. We remember and honor his act of selfless moral courage in the face of absolute tyranny."
Kurt Enfield, a survivor carried to safety on the "Leica Freedom Train," offered brief remarks during the Courage to Care Award ceremony, as did William Mann, former president of Ernst Leitz Inc, New York.
As early as 1933 and continuing as late as 1943, Leitz quietly established what has become known as the "Leica Freedom Train", a covert means of allowing his Jewish employees, their families, and even non-Jews to leave Germany under the guise of being 'assigned' overseas. These refuges were sent to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States. They were trained, housed at company expense and paid a stipend until work was found for them in the photo industry.
As new Leitz "employees" arrived in New York they made their way to the Manhattan offices of E. Leitz Inc., each with a symbol of freedom around their necks – a new Leica Camera. The total number of escapees has never been established but may have been as high as 200-300 in the United States alone.
In 1987, ADL initiated a unique award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era. The ADL Courage to Care Award is a plaque with bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop of the rescuers' exceptional deeds – the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews. The Courage to Care program is sponsored by Eileen Ludwig Greenland.
Past recipients of the ADL Courage to Care Award include: Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winton, Konstantin Koslovsky, Jan and Miep Gies, Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Jan Karski, Selahattin Ulkumen, Chiune Sugihara, the French town of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, Emilie and Oskar Schindler, The Partisans of Riccione, Italy and Johanna Vos.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.