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Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar: Helping the Persecuted

Smith, Frank Dabba; (2017) Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar: Helping the Persecuted. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

As a study of both corporate and individual behaviour in the context of Nazi Germany, my research concerning Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar — the manufacturer of the Leica camera — is situated and seeks to build on the insights of scholars writing the histories of businesses during this period that were non-explicitly governmental corporate entities. One especially relevant historical example is that of Robert Bosch and his vast enterprise, also imbued with liberal political and universal humanitarian values and acting to help many persecuted people. The key question is, how did Ernst Leitz II survive and how did he manage to retain the independence of his company? This dissertation details with Leitz’s highly unusual activities to help persecuted Jews and non-Jews, throughout the duration of the Nazi regime, in three primary but nonexclusive ways: first, giving training and or employment to Jews, half-Jews, nonJews married to Jews and supporting non-Jews who had engaged in democratic politics prior to the Nazi assumption of power; second, helping, in a consistently humane manner, Jews, half-Jews and non-Jews married to Jews to leave Germany and enabling them to succeed when abroad; third, intervening to help employees subjected to criminal prosecution. Ambivalence is present when discussing the public face of Leitz as shown by advertisements, Christmas circulars to employees serving in the Wehrmacht as well as organised festivities. A public image in conformity with the Nazis’ outlook –both racist and escapist-- was deemed increasingly necessary as the regime implemented its racial, economic and military aims. Like Bosch, Leitz produced armaments vital to the war effort. Leitz’s devices including in-house designed and expertly built aiming and navigation devices for artillery, tanks and rockets. In doing 4 so, Leitz, like Bosch, additionally utilized forced labour from Ukraine. These ambivalent activities, along with maintaining an extensive range of critical relationships with those holding authority –especially at a regional and national level-- were necessary for an altruistic man like Leitz to survive and to retain his firm. Until now, the ‘tightrope’ behaviour of Ernst Leitz II and his firm has been written about primarily in the form of investigative journalism. Within this arena, there has been insufficient engagement with the relevant historiography so as to offer a genuinely illuminating contribution to understanding the complexities of human behaviour within the context of the relationships between businesses and the Nazi dictatorship.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar: Helping the Persecuted
Event: UCL (University College London)
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10038456
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