In the last several years the humanitarian acts of Ernest Leitz and the Leica refugees come to light, thanks to the detective work of a London-based rabbi. Frank Dabba Smith, rabbi of the Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue in northwest London. Rabbi Smith, aLeica enthusiast, reconstructed the stories of refugees through photographs, documents and letters of thanks, from survivors and their families.
Due to Rabbi Smith's painstaking a posthumous award for Leitz, who died in 1956, in recognition of the efforts that risked his life and those of his family was made by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The award was presented to Leitz's granddaughter, Cornelia Kuhn-Leitz. The ADF credits Leitz with saving hundreds of lives - counting both the workers and their families - and has compared him to Schindler, believed to have saved more than 1,200 Polish Jews from death by employing them in his enamel factory in Cracow.
"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 Foxman, director of ADL. "If only there had been more Oskar Schindlers, more Ernst Leitzs, then less Jews would have perished."
Leitz's simple ethos, Rabbi Frank Smith told Die Welt in an interview, was "that of old Jewish fathers - do a lot, speak little." He spoke not at all to his family or friends about what he had done. "He didn't want to distinguish himself from the other citizens of Wetzlar," said Mr Smith. "It wasn't in his nature to talk of his own good deeds and he thought he was only doing what any decent person would have done in his position."
His son, Günther, tried to write an article about the refugees. But Leitz wanted nothing to do with it. Günther later said: "He did what he did because he felt responsible for his workers, their families, for our neighbors in Wetzlar."