I didn't know Mr. Barnett well at all. But when I lived in my studio space in downtown Marshall in the early 1980s, I would often see him and we would speak. I do know he was a loved and respected part of a community that is not noted for its racial or ethnic diversity. He lived downtown, just off of Hill Street. He served our country during World War II as a member of the 34th Naval Construction Battalion, the famous Seabees, whose motto was Construimus, Batuimus - We Build, We Fight. The Battalion participated in much of the fighting in the Pacific Theatre during the war and the shell casing he is holding is from the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. That battle was one of the most hard fought and bitter fights of the War as Japan was desperately defending its homeland. It was instrumental in bringing the war to an end. I wish I knew more of Everett Barnett and would love for readers to share stories of him.
My friend Joe Grittani recently sent me this article posted by Mr. Alan Currie. Joe is well aware of my love of Leica cameras and this article only made me love them more. Given my post of April 16 titledThe Klan in Madison County, and that this is Good Friday, I felt it important to post this story. It is gleaned from a book titled The Greatest Invention of the Leitz Family: The Leica Freedom Train by Frank Dabba Smith. While it is clear from the recent events in Missouri that racism, stupidity, and hatred are still, and always will be, with us. It is equally true there will always be good people willing to risk everything to fight them. As Mr. Currie remarks at the end of this post: Memories of the righteous should live on.
LEICA AND THE JEWS
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 the 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 camera.
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.
Keeping the story quiet 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 cameras, 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 Officer d’honneur des Palms Academic from France in 1965 and the Aristide Briand Medal from the European Academy in the 1970s.)
Why has no one told this story until now? 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.
Thank you for reading the above, and if you feel inclined as I did to pass it along to others, please do so. It only takes a few minutes.
Memories of the righteous should live on.
My Grandmother, Jennie Lozupone, ca. 1915
Today would have been my Grandmother’s 114th birthday. She died in 1995. I was asked to give the eulogy at her funeral, which I’ve reprinted in this post. Rereading the eighteen-year-old text, I understand how much I’ve learned in the ensuing years from a series of great editors and teachers. I’m resisting the urge to correct grammar, syntax, and sentence structure within the text. There are also some factual errors that I’ve corrected at the end of the post.
So, what’s in a name? The woman we are honoring and saying goodbye to today was known by many names. Jennie Lozupone. Mrs. Galeano. Aunt Jennie. Mama. Gram.
Her life spanned the length of the 2oth Century and encompassed many of the great events of this county’s history during the Century. But as we know, history is more than great events. History is also the past and the past is both personal and intimate.
Jennie Lozupone was born in 1899 in Bari, Italy. She arrived in the United States in 1907, part of the great Italian migration. She landed at Ellis Island and her family first settled in Albany, New York, before moving to Washington, DC, where she lived her entire life.
In 1916, she married Joseph Galeano, a fellow immigrant, he from Sicily. They bought a home on Morse Street in Northeast Washington. It was there they had their four children – Vincent, Louis, Catherine, and Charles.
When the Great Depression struck this country in 1929 Jennie joined the workforce to help support her family. She began a career as a seamstress with the late Jimmy Bello. While her clients included President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Supreme Court Justices, she was most proud of the First Communion dresses, the dance recital outfits and the Easter clothes she made for her nieces and grandchildren. She was always there to hem a pair of pants or sew on a button.
Two of her sons served in the Armed Forces during World War II. She suffered the insecurity of not knowing her baby son’s whereabouts for two years during that conflict.
After the war, as the middle class in this country grew, her family became part of that movement. She and Joe bought a house in suburban Maryland on University Blvd. Gram always accepted what life had to offer her – sometimes with resignation, but more often with grace and a willingness to make the best of any situation. Her husband Joe died unexpectedly in 1948 and it was then the second half of Jennie’s life began.
Gram loved life. She loved food – not jus the cooking and eating of it, but she loved to feed others. Her lasagna and eggplant are famous across the country given the travels of her children and grandchildren. She loved to gamble – bingo, horse races, poker. She loved to win, but really she was a safe bettor. Mostly, she loved the Fellowship that the gambling provided.
Gram understood the value of money. I remember a story of her getting held up at knife-point by a young boy whose situation was even worse than hers. She said she looked him in the eye and said, “You’re not getting my hard earned money” and started swinging her oversized purse at him. She was a giving and generous woman who understood that by giving she would receive.
As she got older and her eyesight worsened, she switched from sewing to knitting afghans although she never could get the name right, calling them Africans until the end. Hundreds of Africans that now reside all over the country. She made them for weddings, births and graduations – or simply because she liked you. Every Christmas and birthday each of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren received a savings bond.
When she was 67 years old she made the first of seven trips back to Italy to visit her late husband’s relatives in Sicily, often taking one or more of her grandchildren with her. She loved those trips – talking the language again, the food, the attention.
She was devoted to St. Camillus Church and was an active member of the Leisure Club. She put her sewing skills to use for the Church and often made Baptismal bibs for the newborn and did laundry for the parish priests.
Gram represented a sense of security and safety for all of us. She has been with us all our lives. Not just the literal security of a home, a meal, clothing or help when we needed it, but also a symbolic security of a safer place, a safer time.
So, what’s in a name? I can’t help but wonder if this Jennie Lozupone, this Mrs. Galeano, this Aunt Jennie, this Mama, this Gram had any idea she would be so blessed in her life. That she would leave such a wonderful legacy – four children thirteen grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren with two more on the way and seven great-great grandchildren.
The last few years she had forgotten most of our names although she still delighted in our company, especially the young children. She seemed to become more of a child herself. The last time I saw her was last November. She let me feed her her supper and carried on a long conversation with me – in Italian. As she finished her meal I struggled with my Latin and Spanish to ask her if she was done eating. “Fini?” I asked. She looked me in the eye, always the teacher, and answered, “Finito.”
Jennie Lozupone Galeano, 1992
My grandmother and her family lived in Gioia dei Colle, Italy, which is a small village just west of Bari. Gioia dei Colle means Joy of the Hill – if there could be a more perfect name for a town I haven’t heard it.
I’ve listed Gram’s birth year as 1899, which would have made her 95 when she died. After her death, we discovered a document that indicated she was actually born in 1897.
The number of great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren has mushroomed since 1995 to a point where I can no longer keep up.
John Henderson at Home, Big Pine, 1978
I almost didn’t recognize him in the grocery store. After I moved from the community four years earlier, I lost touch with many of my neighbors on Big Pine – John Henderson among them. There were a couple of years before my divorce and move when I saw John most every day - helping him with tobacco, mostly, but also socializing together on many occasions. He was older, a local man, a tobacco farmer who was also a substitute driver at the post office. During World War Two he was in an engineer battalion at the Battle of the Bulge, in front of the front lines. He was tough, strong man with unlimited stamina. He enjoyed hanging out with the new people in the community, the hippies, and he loved to work.
But here in the grocery store was a spent man – his face and frame gaunt and hollow, while his stomach extended like a ripe melon. He would have been about 70 years old then, not young after a lifetime of work, but he moved with the gait of someone beat down. It had been some years since we had spoken and I asked what was going on with him. “It’s the cancer,” he said. “They say I likely got it from all that sprayin’ I did for the tobacco and other stuff. All them chemicals.” It wasn’t long after that conversation that I got word he had died.
Digging John Henderson's Grave, Big Pine, 1988
A group of men gathered at the graveyard one morning to dig his grave. It’s a very precise endeavor, grave digging, and there were men there who knew how to do it – the squaring and leveling, and the deliberate work of digging. Others stood around talking, waiting their turn at the shovel. The talk was of John and his commitment to the community. He wasn’t a churchgoing person, but he was always ready to pitch in or lead when something needed doing – kind of an individual neighbors-in-need program. The men talked about that. What they liked about him. His character. Funny stories. Sad stories.
At the Worley Cemetery, Big Pine, 1988
From the left, front, McKinley Massey, Jim Woodruff. Rear, George Marler, Cylde Anderson, Clyde Randall, Randy Fowler, Robert Buckner, Unknown, Alan Payne, Earl Roberts, Jerry Anderson
John would have enjoyed the mix of work and talk and the words being spoken by his neighbors - people he had lived with his entire life. I remember thinking how deeply intimate and spiritual this act was – the digging and handling of the earth John would be buried in. And also, how fortunate we were to live in a place where those rituals remain - men gathering, offering their backs and their memories to John one last time. Funerals remind us of our mortality; grave digging even more so. As everyone gathered for this photograph, we were aware that at some point in the future we, too, would no longer be in the picture, but would only exist in the memories of our friends.
February 25, 1945, My parents - Robert Warren Amberg, Catherine Galeano Amberg,
with Anthony Vitto and Mary Mastromarino Galante.
Today, had they lived, would have been my parent’s 68th wedding anniversary. As it was, my father died in February 2002 as they were approaching their 57th anniversary and my mother passed away in 2008.
My parents married in a bit of a rush. Mom had been dating Ralph for a couple of years – a career Army officer – and my father was Ralph’s best friend. When Ralph broke off the relationship, my father stepped into the void and he and my mother were married within two weeks of their first date. Part of the rush had to do with World War II, which was coming to a conclusion in Europe, and after a couple of weeks of marital bliss Dad was shipped off to Italy where he stayed until the end of the war.
But part of the rush to marriage also had to do with my mother’s sense of rebellion. She was a first generation American of Italian and Sicilian ancestry who was clearly ready to move away from that old world way of living. My grandparents, however, were not quite ready to let go of her or their traditions and my grandfather, especially, was so displeased with the marriage that he didn’t attend the wedding. It wasn’t just that my father wasn’t Italian, let alone not Sicilian, but nobody knew anything about him, his family, or his prospects. My mother’s two young Italian cousins –whose families were also from Gioia de Colle in Puglia, Italy - stood with them at the wedding as symbols of friendship and love, but also as kind of sanctioning agents who recognized and accepted that the old world was changing. The marriage was a leap of faith for my father as well. He was a mid-westerner, a meat and potatoes guy, a quiet man steeped in good manners and efficient organization, who was marrying into a large, loud, and emotional Italian family that loved to gamble, drink, eat, and party.
Mom and Dad, Ormond Beach, Florida, 1978.
By 1978, at the time of the bottom picture, my parents had four children, one grandchild, a house in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and thirty-three years of marriage behind them. By that time, as is the case with most relationships, the romance and the rebellion had worn off and they were faced with not only the good things they had built together, but also their differences in temperament, belief, and culture. My father had taken early retirement from his government job and was ready to move to Florida where they had bought a lot in a subdivision. But as time went on, it became increasingly clear that my mother would never leave her family or the place she had always known as home.
They stayed together until the end and I, for one, often wondered why. But my parents were of the generation that stayed together and honored their commitments, no matter the differences that arose later in life. It’s a lesson many of us could well learn from.