A Photographic Connection (Extract)

By JAN JABEN-EILON
September 28, 2008 11:48
3 minute read.

 
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i>Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. WETZLAR, GERMANY - Suddenly I looked out the window and saw the most amazing full rainbow stretched across a huge picture window, drawing us out of our dinner seats to get a better view. In brilliant colors, the rainbow stretched fully from one hillside east of this city about 50 kilometers north of Frankfurt Am Main, to another hill on the west. We could actually see trees and houses through the colors of one end of the rainbow. Our mouths were gaping open in amazement. As magnificent as that sight was, however, it was overshadowed by the experience that soon followed. Sitting around the dinner table were our hosts, Dr. Knut Kühn-Leitz and his wife Barbara; my husband and I who had traveled from the States; my mother-in-law who had flown in from Jerusalem; and a friend, Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, who had come from London. I had wanted to bring this group together for a long time. Smith and I had connected years ago when he edited the "Leica Historical Society of the U.K." newsletter, for which I wrote an article that documented the little-known story of how Leitz, the maker of Leica cameras during the Nazi era, took tremendous risks to help save its Jewish employees. A Leica fan since his bar mitzvah, Smith's interest in Leitz and its history started in the 1990s, but he had not known the details of how Leitz had managed this brave deed. I wrote about one of those lucky Jewish Leitz employees, Kurt Rosenberg, who was my father-in-law's first cousin. Rosenberg signed up as an apprentice with Wetzlar-based Leitz in 1933. While he learned his trade, he also struggled to get a visa to emigrate to America. With the assistance of the Leitz family, Rosenberg left Germany in 1938 and arrived in New York, where the Leitz company had a showroom and service center at 750 Fifth Avenue, and he worked there for a while. When the war broke out, Rosenberg volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army; in 1944 he died when a German Luftwaffe plane dropped its bombs on his ship in the Mediterranean, killing him and everyone aboard the merchant liberty ship, "Paul Hamilton." Rosenberg left behind, however, a treasure trove of correspondence by his family in the United States, Germany and Palestine and more than 2,000 frames of negatives he had taken with his own Leica camera. As if he knew that someone needed to document those dramatic times, he clicked photos of his extended family all over Germany, photos of Nazis parading in Wetzlar under his hotel window, photos of Stüttgart where he traveled to the American consulate to get his visa. And he continued snapping those photos all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, into New York Harbor and across the United States to meet up with his older brother in San Francisco. And now, we are sitting around the dining-room table in the home of Kühn-Leitz, the grandson of Dr. Ernst Leitz II, the man who had saved Rosenberg's life. This 72-year-old "gentle man" had not only treated us to a relaxed, delicious dinner, but earlier in the day he had hosted a lunch for us at an Italian restaurant. Prior to lunch, he had arranged a private tour of the Leica camera factory for us, providing us a view of how these exquisite lenses are produced and assembled by white-jacketed employees in dust-free environments. After the dinner dishes were removed from the table, I watched as my husband, Joab, showed Kühn-Leitz and Smith the photos that Rosenberg had taken 70 years earlier which my husband had digitized into his computer. Joab, a Jerusalem native who has been researching his family's German past based on the correspondence and negatives he inherited, had also printed some of the photos for larger viewing. Under carefully placed lamps illuminating the photos, the three men were like treasure hunters putting together their heads and clues to make their discoveries. Smith brought to the table a book, in German, that he and Kühn-Leitz had published about persecuted people Leitz had assisted so they could compare people whose identities they knew, with Rosenberg's photos that had no definite identity. Jan Jaben-Eilon is a writer with homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem. Extract from an article in Issue 13, October 13, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.

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