On a much more positive note, thank God, our Jim, (who is quite the opposite of me politically, you might be interested to know, and will be causing a ruckus here as soon as he remembers his password), sent me with pride the following regarding a heretofore nearly unknown WWII activity of the ultimate optical house, Leitz, makers of Leica cameras, for whom he once worked...
Makes me proud to have worked for them.
The Leica Freedom Train.
The Leitz family, owners of the famous optical firm in Wetzlar were Protestants. The family supported one of the democratic political parties in Germany at the time the National Socialists gained control of the country and began their well documented punishment of their Jewish countrymen. With the increasing intrusion of the Nazi government into business and social life, Leitz quietly began assessing the effect of government policy on its staff and German dealers, many of who were Jewish. Leitz began a practice of buying back stock from affected dealers, reselling it to any who emigrated to America. From there they began 'hiring' people associated with the firm who were at grave risk. Each new employee was quickly trained to use and demonstrate the Leica. After training, Leitz applied for an exit permit to send the new 'employee' to America to assist in generating sales.
In America, the Leitz subsidiary worked hard to find jobs for these emigrants - some with little or no English skills. It was said that an editor of the Leica Magazine called every Leitz account in America to help place the new employees. It was also rumoured that Leitz paid full salary for three months and half salary for the next three months. In all, it is estimated some 300 or more people benefited from the program. To the German government, the program was transferring skilled salesmen to America to generate hard currency sales.
Telling the tale.
Long after the war ended, the story of the Freedom Train program was first proposed to Reader's Digest with its 12 million plus readers. Leitz directors regretfully refused permission as long as the people involved were still alive and possibly at risk of retaliation. By 1987 the last of the protagonists had died and George wrote a small half page article that was published in various photographic chronicles. A decade later, the story was briefly covered in the book Illustrated World Wide Who's Who of Jews in Photography (see review in the May 1997 issue of Photographic Canadiana). George sent an abbreviated version of the story to the various photographic societies for publication - we published the story in our May 2002 issue. Unfortunately, efforts to find anyone with relatives who were helped by Leitz has failed to turn up anyone to date.
The Freedom Train story and the role played by Norman Lipman, George Gilbert, and Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith to bring it to light, are covered in Rabbi Smith's 2002 pamphlet The Leica Freedom Train published by the American Photographic Historical Society in New York. A copy was provided to each attendee at this presentation.
Questions? Please contact me at phsc at phsc.ca.
Obtain your copy of this fascinating work... The greatest invention of the Leitz family: The Leica freedom train