Podcast: Whoever Saves One Life, Saves the Entire World—A Secret History of Leica

The oft-quoted line paraphrased for our headline, and notably used in reference to Oskar Schindler and Chiune Sugihara, can also be applied to industrialist and Leica camera manufacturer Ernst Leitz II, who used his influence to help many Jews and other subjugated people avoid persecution, maintain their jobs, or even escape Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Like any story drawn from a terrible era of oppression, heroes are painted with shades of gray, and humanitarianism can be found in small gestures, but historian Frank Dabba Smith creates a narrative derived from primary source research. Our other guest, photographer Jill Enfield, recounts her family’s direct relationship with this chapter of Jewish, German, American, and photographic history. Join us for this engaging conversation.

Guests: Frank Dabba Smith and Jill Enfield

To listen to this week’s episode: Listen to or download on SoundCloud, or subscribe to the B&H Photography Podcast on iTunesStitcher; SoundCloud; or via RSS.

Frank Dabba Smith

From the book, Ernst Leitz II- Ich entscheide hiermit: Es wird riskiert

Jill Enfield, Frank Dabba Smith, and Allan Weitz

Photos by Jill Enfield

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Host: Allan Weitz
Producer: John Harris
Engineer: Jason Tables
Executive Producers: Bryan Formhals, Mark Zuppe

40 Comments

Brings back memories. I was a pilot flying C-119's for the Air national Guard based here in the early 60's before returning to active duty. Nice to know that the field is preserved and not just built over. I'll have to get back for a visit. Thanks!

Fairchild's 'Flying Boxcar'!

I remember them well though I haven't seen one for at least 25-30 years, maybe more.

C-119s and Lockheed P-2 Neptunes were my favorite fly-bys back in the day.

Glad you enjoyed my article and thanks for your feedback!

- Allan

Alan, I was fascinated to read your article and it immediately reminded me of the Leica M3 I was lucky enough to be able to use in about 1962 when I was all of 15 years old. My father who worked in Greece had bought one in Germany on his way to the UK but then found he would have to pay a lot of ‘duty’ to get it back to Greece so he left it with my mother and me.

At the time, I had already joined a local camera club so the ‘old boys’ there, were amazed when I turned up with this fantastic and expensive camera. I remember that it was a joy to use with its double stroke film wind lever instead of a winding knob and super range-finder. The shutter noise was, I only later realised, blissfully quiet compared with the SLR that we bought later. Our camera had a Summarit 50mm F1.5 which I have never seen since when I look at old second hand Leicas but it performed perfectly.

Because of the appeal of up and coming SLRs, I wanted to switch to something more modern and the M3, serial no. 831 220 was sold and replaced with a Pentacon, which I now realise was  inferior in many ways but  it served me until I could trade up after starting work and was earning. However I still have nostalgic memories of the M3 which I now wish we had not parted with.

This dialogue reminds me how in my youth, Kodak Pan F or Ilford FP3 both around 125 ASA were the norm but on special occasions, we ‘pushed the boat out’ to shoot in colour and used Kodachrome at 25ASA.  Unbelievably slow by modern standards! A fast B/W film would be 400ASA and we all developed them and printed them ourselves. A roll of film was only 36 shots and so we used it sparingly and carefully. We had to wait for the results and hope that we had got the exposure right.

Call me old fashioned but when I see everyone taking photos nowadays with phones and tablets, pictures of everything that moves, well yes it is photography but without the purity and enthusiasm as I remember it when I started more than 50 years ago.

Thank you Leica for getting me up to speed and giving me a hobby that I still enjoy and practise everyday.

Martin Christidis – Bordeaux, France.

Martin,
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Needless to say I share your love of analog photography, and even though most of my personal work is shot digitally, I keep all four of my film cameras loaded with Tri-X or Ilford XP2 in case I 'get the urge'. I'd say that's a healthy habit to maintain... no?

Allan

Allan, Todd, John....Another minor anecdote. On February 18, 1952 the Coast Guard conducted its' most famous rescue in a Hellish winter nor'easter in seas of up to 60'. 32 men were rescued off of a tanker that had split in half off Chatham, MA by a 36' rescue boat designed to accomodate 12 people. That rescue is the subject of the new film, "The Finest Hours". I read the fascinating book a couple of months ago. A participant in that rescue operation was a refurbished B-17 whose job was to drop night flares for illumination during the rescue. That B-17 was based at Floyd Bennett Field. 

Hey Tom,

Floyd Bennett Field also served as a staging area when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Northeast. Interestingly, while cleaning up the damage in the Rockaways workers discovered loads of lumber and surplus packing materials left over from the construction of the naval base that had been re-purposed as framing materials and inner walls for many of the bungalows that when up around the same time.

-Allan

Allan...Tremendous article and I had no idea that Floyd Bennett Field was still in existence. Hopefully I can get there someday.

This article brought back the memory of a somewhat historical anecdote: In 1957, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft wanted to prove the stamina of their J57 jet engine to the military. My father was Pratt's Chief Engineer at the time. A flight was scheduled that originated in Los Angeles. I forget which jet was used for this demonstration but the pilot was soon-to-be astronaut John Glenn. The plane was flown across America on full afterburner the entire time! The landing spot? Floyd Bennett Field! 

Thanks so much for this article!

Hey Tom,

Thanks for that tidbit.

If this was the same flight John Glenn set his trans-continental flight from LA to Floyd Bennett Field, it was a  McDonnell Douglas Phanthom F4B.

(BTW John & Todd say 'Hi'!)

Regards,

Allan Weitz

Allan meant to say "Vought F8U/RF-8 Crusader." :)

Hey guys....You know your aircraft as well as you know your photography! Great stuff. Thanks Todd, John and Allan. Always a distinct pleasure reading Explora.

Your heart warming story brought back those forgotten feelings of photography as magic I once had. Thanks. 

Thanks for your kind words EJ, and I'm pleased to hear my essay made your day.

Enjoy the magic...

-Allan

When I was in college in the early 70s I bought a used M3 with a 50mm Summicron and a 90 mm (also I think a Summicron) and took a lot of pix with it. I friend from then saw this article and sent it to me. Great piece! My M3 was ultimately stolen, and with the insurance money I bought an M4 with a 35 mm Summicron. I used that until about 12 years ago when I unfortunately switched to digital. But last year I started digitizing my negatives, and that made me realize that I received a lot more satisfaction from photography when I shot film. I pulled the M4 out of the drawer and had it overhauled, and now I'm learning how to shoot again. (BTW, you can get a light meter app for a smartphone, and so you don't have carry a separate meter around.) In the meantime I've been posting some of my old pix on Flickr -- here's a link to some I posted last night, of a talk by Anaïs Nin. The images are not perfect by any means, but they show what the Leica and the f2 lens could do in low light. 

Hey Frank,

I can't help but notice how many shooters have turned to anolog lately in a bid to rediscover the medium.

Thanks for sharing the Anias Nin shots.

My wife & I were fortunate enough to spend a day with her when she visited our Creative Writing class at the HS of Art & Design in Manhattan many years ago.

I just wish I knew more of her back story at the time - she was an interesting charactor to say the least.

Regards,

Allan

Very nice article, Thanks!

I was stationed at FBF during the early eighties on a USN Reserve LST.  Good times sliding down the ice-covered runways in our cars and wandering around the abandoned buildings, looking to start the ancient and huge Fairbanks-Morse diesel emergency generator.

I also had an M3 with a Leitz pop-out 50mm, 35 mm and 90mm portrait lens, also a 135 by unrecallable Japanese manufacture.  I had a lot of fun shooting with that camera until the sad day that I came home and it was discovered to be stolen.  Looking at BH's used selection to purchase another.

KJ,

This can be your lucky day!

I just checked and the camera I used to shoot this article - the M3 with the mint green leatherette covering, is still in the house.There's also a nice 2-stroke in stock at the moment.

Tell them 'Al' sent you.

And regardless of whether you buy the camera or not thanks a bunch for sharing your story with us!

Allan

(Dear Konsultor, the Leica IIIg had two peepholes too.)

My first camerabag contained one Leica IIIf and one Leica Ig together with an Elmar 90/4 and a universal finder.

No other lens.

53 years later and all these years behind the desk in different camerastores I now, after beeing retired, work parttime at Leica Center, Wibergs Foto, in Stockholm Sweden. 

And your pictures in the article are truly inspiring.

Lasse,

Thanks for sharing.

50-plus years behind the viewfinder of Leica... I'm jealous.

Hope I can make that claim someday!

Many thanks for sharing your story.

-Allan

The last Leica with the thread mount was the IIIg.  It was distinguished by having one peephole that combined the rangefinder and viewfinder.  Earlier models had separate viewports for these functions.

I learned on a IIIg about 1960 and currently own a IIIf.

I'm guilty of this error and it has been corrected. Funny thing is I knew the IIIg was the last threadmount Leica but for some reason unbeknownst to me I wrote 'IIIf".

Sure hope you still shoot with your IIIf - got any pix you want to share?

Regards,

Allan

Hi Alan

Thank you for sharing those wonderful photos from Floyd Bennett Filed that wer taken both by your father and yourself with that wonderful Leica camera.

And thanks to you Dwight for taking the time to write us.

Glad you enjoyed my essay - I certainly enjoyed producing it.

Allan

Enjoyed the article very much.  

Not familiar with the camera type, but the article took me back to the days when you worried if you had enough film to shoot all the subjects you wished to shoot on a particular trip.    SD cards took care of that worry.   

I'll agree there's nothing like a memory card with 100-plus gigs of memory, but there's something equally enticing about having an infinite number of opportunities to capture photographs worth sharing with others.

The beauty of film is that you have to question yourself every time you squeeze the shutter button.

It's a disciple that's worth visiting every now and then.

And yes... digital certainly has it's upsides too!

Thanks for the feedback...

Allan

For the 35 and 90 combination you would have been better off with the M2. 

No doubt Ken but the mint green leatherette on the M3 they had in the B&H Used Department stole my heart.

The M2 they had was wearing its original black skin but wasn't half as fetching as the Mint Green.

Life is short... why not enjoy every step of the way!

Thanks for the feedback Ken!

Allan

Allan

Sheesh, Allan, the last screw mount LEICA was not the IIIf, but the scarce and brilliant IIIg, sometimes written as the IIIG. It had a bright line rangefinder, among other improvements on the IIIf. 

But the pictures are gorgeous. They're inspiring me to go out to one of our small local airports the next time they have an open house and to bring my M9, a 50mm lens, and set it to shoot in black and white.  

Super article; thanks!

You got me Pete, but truth is I was checking to see if you would notice.

How about we keep this between ourselves for now and I'll straighten things out in the morning. 

Glad you enjoyed the pictures - I certainly enjoyed shooting them.

Regards,

Allan

Excellent article. It takes me back, since I too owned a Canon F1-N. In fact it was my go-to 35mm: I was using my Linhof Technika IV 4 x5 for professional work, until I sold it to pay my college tuition. With the advances in film and chemicals quality the Canon became my all-around tool. It never disappointed me. It wasn't until Nikon introduced the D70 that I was tempted to move over to digital. Boy, do I ramble.  But the article did such a great job in bringing bak those memories. Thanks again for the stroll down memory lane.

It's never too late Tom. 

This is the first time I ever shot with an M3. I've shot with and own other M-cameras, but never an M3.

And the last time I checked it's still legal to own film AND digital cameras simultaniously in all 50 States.

Go for it!

-Allan

Very familiar with the location and have an album on Flickr of captures there. Thanks for the great article. When you realize what the airfield was in its heyday - we have certainly lost something with our "technological advancement." Warmth . . . for one thing.

Kind regards,

Scott.

We lose, we gain, and we keep taking pictures of all of our losses and gains...

Keep shooting Scott and thanks for the kind words.

Allan

Great article. I look forward to reading about more classic cameras. I still shoot with my Canon A-1 that I bought new in 1980. I mentioned to my wife about a used F-1N that was for sale: "That's their flagship?" I answered "Yes, for the 80's" and she said "Buy it". What I didn't know was that she would buy me a 5D III kit from B&H (okay, I had to steer her from a mega shopping site).

Thanks for the thumb's up Ralph and thanks for steering your wife in the right direction.

We appreciate it.

And speaking of appreciation - I sure hope you appreciate your wonderfully-thoughtful wife (A Canon MK III... Mmmmm... nice choice!)

-Allan

Excellent essay. I love how photography, history, personal journey and NYC are all used to tell the story. Thanks Allan Weitz.
 

Thanks for the kudos Nikola - it's much appreciated.

-Allan

Rabbi's Smith's explanations of the anatomy of genocide, in this case the holocaust, are brilliant. In hebrew school and elsewhere, I have always heard about the holocaust, horrible beyond belief, but the explanation about launching the process by marginalizing employment options and business success put it into a clear and terrifying formula. The discussion about photography, a "true" depiction, was equally illuminating and frightening. To have a descedant one of the families saved, Jill Enfield, was also much appreciated. Thanks to the hard work and results of the producers and the interviewees for sharing this important story of history and current events.

nice article Allan

Thank you for your comment Richard, we are very proud of the effort we put into this episode and could not be happier to have had Frank Dabba Smith and Jill Enfield participate. 

Thanks Chelsea!

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