Henry just received ANOTHER letter from a teenager who was touched by his story. (In this photo, Henry is pictured wearing a cherished possession, a sweatshirt signed with sentiments and inspirational notes by an entire class that he spoke to in Minnesota.)
"Dear Mr. Oertelt, May I start out by introducing myself? My name is Tasman, I’m 16 years old and am writing to you from Australia. I was not sure whether you were able to read English, so I have included a translated copy along with this letter.
Perhaps I should explain the purpose behind this letter, for the past few weeks I have been studying concentration camps and the evil that was Hitler for my modern History class. I came across your name in a book I was reading entitled “The Holocaust” by Judith Sandeen Bartel. I was amazed by the way you described your survival. I cn’t imagine the amount of courage and determination it must have taken you in order to survive the death camps.
I must ask, if you do not mind, where you found the strength to keep on living? From what I’ve read it must have been horrid. Also, what did you encounter at the camps? How was your life afterwards? I read that your happily married, I’m glad it’s worked out well.
I apologize if I have upset you at all. It is not my intention to bring up bad memories. I merely wish to understand your emotions at the time. I hope to hear from you, if you feel like discussing it.
A short form 30 minute documentary film, entitled SYMBOL, began research and production in 2006 after public announcement of plans to remove and replace the swastika symbol disks on St. Mary’s cathedral in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Dr. Henry Oertelt is featured prominently in the SYMBOL documentary. He is often used to help viewers understand the historic context surrounding the swastika, as a symbol, and its changed meaning after the Holocaust. Henry knows this subject far too well, as a survivor, and he speaks very well and succinctly in an accessible manner. This helps people to “get it”, historically, culturally and personally.
Documentary filmmaker Gregory Martin said, “I have actually know Henry for some years now. I first interviewed him as a guest Holocaust Survivor speaker at SCSU, sponsored by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Education, about five years ago. Some of those comments are included in SYMBOL. I also used excerpts from Henry’s presentation about the swastika and racism at SCSU, in his live webcast to Canada last year, and an interview we completed at that time.”
SYMBOL was created by Gregory Martin, who is a St. Cloud State University (SCSU) Associate Professor of Mass Communications, with the help of many former and current students. Production and research continued for three years and were completed recently, in spring 2009.
SYMBOL is co-sponsored by SCSU Jewish Studies and the SCSU Center for Holocaust & Genocide Education. Additional sponsorship support was provided by the office of SCSU Provost & Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Michael Spitzer, Ph.D., the SCSU Graduate School, and the office of the Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities. The Department of Mass Communications provided technical resource support.
Our supporters in St. Paul can attend the movie: Wednesday, 27 May 09, in St. Cloud at 7:00 p.m. @ Pioneer Place on Fifth Theatre, 22 Fifth Avenue South, St Cloud, @ 320-203-0331. Tickets are $5.
Gregory Martin owns and generously shared the info and artwork for this project for our blog. Good luck to you, Gregory, on this important project.
Ray acted in numerous television shows and movies over his acting career in the 1950’s and 1960’s, including Mission Impossible and The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, among others. He too, has a large network of entertainment industry professionals and celebrities. He is retired, and divides his time between Los Angeles and Phoenix.
When he heard about my project, he reached out and has been giving me advice every now and then. We met briefly yesterday and gave me a controversial book on the Holocaust.
Ray speaks German, and with his blue eyes, he has promised to act as a German in our film project so you will see him in action again soon enough. Thanks, Ray, for all your support and hope to see you soon!
The Leica is the pioneer 35mm camera. It is a German product - precise, minimalist, and utterly efficient. Behind its worldwide acceptance as a creative tool was a family-owned, socially oriented firm that, during the Nazi era, acted with uncommon grace, generosity and modesty. E. Leitz Inc., designer and manufacturer of Germany's most famous photographic product, saved its Jews.
And Ernst Leitz II, the steely-eyed Protestant patriarch who headed the closely held firm as the Holocaust loomed across Europe, acted in such a way as to earn the title, "the photography industry's Schindler."
As soon as Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany in 1933, Ernst Leitz II began receiving frantic calls from Jewish associates, asking for his help in getting them and their families out of the country. As Christians, Leitz and his family were immune to Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws, which restricted the movement of Jews and limited their professional activities.
To help his Jewish workers and colleagues, Leitz quietly established what has become known among historians of the Holocaust as "the Leica Freedom Train," a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned overseas.
Employees, retailers, family members, even friends of family members were "assigned" to Leitz sales offices in France, Britain, Hong Kong and the United States .
Leitz's activities intensified after Kristallnacht of November 1938, during which synagogues and Jewish shops were burned across Germany.
Before long, German "employees" were disembarking from the ocean liner Bremen at a New York pier and making their way to the Manhattan office of Leitz Inc., where executives quickly found them jobs in the photographic industry.*
Each new arrival had around his or her neck the symbol of freedom - a new Leica.
The refugees were paid a stipend until they could find work. Out of this migration came designers, repair technicians, salespeople, marketers and writers for the photographic press.
The "Leica Freedom Train" was at its height in 1938 and early 1939, delivering groups of refugees to New York every few weeks. Then, with the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, Germany closed its borders.
By that time, hundreds of endangered Jews had escaped to America, thanks to the Leitzes' efforts. How did Ernst Leitz II and his staff get away with it?
Leitz Inc. was an internationally recognized brand that reflected credit on the newly resurgent Reich. The company produced range-finders and other optical systems for the German military. Also, the Nazi government desperately needed hard currency from abroad, and Leitz's single biggest market for optical goods was the United States.
Even so, members of the Leitz family and firm suffered for their good works. A top executive, Alfred Turk, was jailed for working to help Jews and freed only after the payment of a large bribe.
Leitz's daughter, Elsie Kuhn-Leitz, was imprisoned by the Gestapo after she was caught at the border, helping Jewish women cross into Switzerland. She eventually was freed but endured rough treatment in the course of questioning.
She also fell under suspicion when she attempted to improve the living conditions of 700 to 800 Ukrainian slave laborers, all of them women, who had been assigned to work in the plant during the 1940s.
(After the war, Kuhn-Leitz received numerous honors for her humanitarian efforts, among them the Officier d'honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.)
According to the late Norman Lipton, a freelance writer and editor, the Leitz family wanted no publicity for its heroic efforts. Only after the last member of the Leitz family was dead did the "Leica Freedom Train" finally come to light.
It is now the subject of a book, "The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train," by Frank Dabba Smith, a California-born Rabbi currently living in England.