Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Joy of looking things up

I found this while hunting for stock in Norwich last week. It is a Kuhn Flexameter; which to the uninitiated was a waist level viewfinder designed in the 1930s to be clipped on to a 35mm camera and in particular to Leica cameras.

I was intrigued by the fact that it was made in Wetzlar, Germany which is the same town (city) that Leitz manufactured Leica cameras and decided to do some research.

The first thing I discovered was that it was designed by Frau Doktor Elsie Kuhn-Leitz. She was the daughter of Ernest Leitz II, President of Leitz and co-father of the Leica with Oskar Barnack who actually designed the camera. Kuhn was her married name.

I dug a little deeper and found out that Elsie Kuhn-Leitz should be better known as a courageous campaigner against the Nazis' treatment of Jewish and other forced labourers; she was imprisoned and tortured in 1943 by the Gestapo for helping two Jewish women in their attempt to escape to Switzerland. Her war time activities have been recorded in the book "Elsie's War, A Story of Courage in Nazi Germany" by Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, Introduction by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Frances Lincoln Ltd,) 2003, ISBN 0-7112-1861-7. Her story is also touched upon in another book by the same author entitled "The Greatest Invention Of The Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train".

All of which knowledge, adds not a penny of monetary value to the Flexameter which if I am honest is clumsy to use and rather redundant and only of interest to Leica completists. Neither is it worth a lot of money in the first place. (I have to put that in to appease all the people who will find this posting after googling Kuhn Flexameter in an attempt to discover out what the one they found in Uncle Ernie's bottom draw is worth)

There is a sub-group of Leica camera collectors who specialise in collecting the so called blood Leicas; the ones built with the help of (mainly Ukrainian I think) slave labour. They drool over cameras engraved with Swastikas or bear the markings of the German Army, Air Force, SS etc. It is more than nice to find a Leica antidote to that kind of poison.

Oh and I have sold it anyway but the very few quid (really) I got for it is as nothing compared to the fun I had researching it or the sense of awe at the bravery of people like Elsie Kuhn-Leitz.