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Re: [Rollei] What did you do in the war? (long)

on 5/16/03 1:13 PM, crgrbrts   wrote:

> Here's one for the Rollei historians among us:
> Knowing that I'm a Leica owner, a friend recently gave me a German book on
> Leica photography published in 1941. It is an interesting but unsettling
> chronicle of a grim chapter in the camera maker's undeniable history.
> Curiously but predictably, the book's lead chapter on the history of the Leica
> and its inventor, Oskar Barnack, is illustrated liberally with photos of
> Wehrmacht soldiers, Kriegsmarine sailors and Luftwaffe airmen cheerfully and
> efficiently raping their European neighbors. A portrait of Hitler in "full
> cry" ends the introduction.
> Given the context and time of the book's printing, this clumsy propaganda did
> not disturb me unduly. By the book's end, however, I felt much less
> charitable. In a late, graphic and chilling chapter on "medical" photography,
> for instance, the Leica is slyly but unmistakenly portrayed as a "scientific"
> tool useful in racial and ethnic profiling (literally).
> Thoroughly disgusted, I slammed the book shut and reflected darkly upon those
> who designed, assembled and marketed my pre-1960 Leicas. I am neither young
> nor naive, but a periodic reminder of some of the uses to which these
> masterfully crafted machines were put -- and reflection upon the fact that
> Leitz provided the Nazi war machine with untold thousands of its instruments
> -- still has the power to sicken me (as well it should).
> This incident got me to wondering: what was Franke & Heidecke's contribution
> to the German war effort? We never hear of a "Luftwaffe Rollei", for instance.
> What were the men and women of the Rollei-Werke doing during the war years?
> Craig Roberts
> Washington, DC


Some time around 1955 in the Cleveland public library I came across a number
of promotional books by several German camera manufacturers, all printed in
English during the mid 1930s after the Nazis came to power but before the
start of war.  A Rolleiflex book featured samples of photography consisting
mostly of salon type pictorial photography.  One I remember most vividly
showed a group of hikers on a country road with pre-Automat Rolleiflexes
hanging from their necks, big smiles on their faces and a caption reading
"Happy Rolleiflexers On The Tramp."  Many of the other pix, however, were
flattering snaps of top Nazi party personalities and military scenes.  A
view of the F&H factory showed Nazi flags flying from all four corners. None
of the other books contained any political subject matter.  My impression
was that either F&H were enthusiastic Nazis or that the company was trying
to curry favor with the regime.

Until your post I had not come across references to Leitz promotional
materials supporting Naziism, and in fact the Leitz family are regarded to
have been anti-Nazi.  The company went to some lengths to protect its Jewish
employees, posting them to foreign cities where Leitz did business to get
them out of peril in Germany.  OTOH, F&H has a murky reputation. There have
been assertions that both Franke and Heidecke were members of the Nazi
Party, one of them an enthusiastic supporter, the other just along for the
duration (I don't remember which) and claims that F&H also tried to protect
its Jewish employees, which in the circumstances of wartime manpower
shortages was not totally inconsistent.  AFAIK, F&H did not produce items of
a specifically military nature, although like other manufacturers of
consumer-oriented photography gear, it supplied cameras to various branches
of the Nazi government and military.

Allen Zak