Leica and the Nazis

It was in part thanks to the Nazis' dependence on the military optics that Leitz's factory produced, as well as their belief in the importance of the Leica camera for their propaganda purposes, that he was able to succeed in his plan to spirit Jewish workers and their families out of Germany. Many times the Gestapo turned a blind eye to what Leitz was doing, so important was it to them that production at the plant continued.

"He was able to act in the way he did because the Nazis needed our factory for their military production," Günther Leitz said. "But no one can ever know what other Germans had done for the persecuted within the limits of their ability to act."

And so his story might have been forgotten were it not for the doggedness of the rabbi. He first came across Leitz's story as a student in a brief mention of the refugees in a photography magazine.

The most complete biography of the Leica refugees belongs to camera mechanic Kurt Rosenberg. There is evidence that Leitz paid for his journey to New York in 1938 and got him a post at the Leica showroom on Fifth Avenue. As with other workers, he helped him get a visa. He also provided them with a Leica as financial security because it could be easily exchanged for cash.

Leitz's transports only ended in 1939 when, following Hitler's invasion of Poland, Germany's borders were closed.

Like Schindler, Leitz - who was a member of the Nazi party - is unlikely to be viewed by historians as a straightforward character. Although the allegations were never proven, Holocaust survivors filed a legal suit against the company for employing slave labour in 1988 and along with other companies, Leica paid into a compensation fund for slave labourers in 1999.