Camera Geekery: No your Nazi Leica is not real
Every couple of weeks or so I get a mail or a message on IG/Twitter/FB from someone asking me to tell them the value of a ‘nazi Leica’ they have found. And every single time I have to tell them the same thing, that it is not what they think it is. So I thought I would save us all the trouble and write a little bit about it.
So you think you have a ‘nazi Leica’? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you don’t. In fact nobody does, as they basically don’t exist. At least not in the way you think they do.
I have heard sellers say “it was brought back from Germany by my grandpappy after the war” or “It belonged to a general and was smuggled out in someones rectum” but no matter what these are all basically a load of cobblers.
So if these are not Leica cameras, then what are they? For the most part they are Russian Zorki or Fed cameras. Pre-war the Soviets built an entire industry on Leica copies for their domestic market. And the Zorki cameras were produced in staggering amounts. You can read a lot more about them here (www.sovietcams.com) as my historical breakdown does not do the Soviet camera industry justice.
But these cameras did not start appearing on the western market until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall. You see, the wily Russians knew that the West was fascinated by war memorabilia and knew they could get some rubles for the trouble of converting these cameras from Russian to German ‘Leicas’
That is not to say there were not Nazi era cameras from Leica, and German military cameras from Leica. In fact there were several, including the extremely rare and highly collectible Luftwaffen/Wehrmacht/Heer/Kriegsmarine cameras. But these are valuable and there are many fakes on the market. You can read a great article about these cameras here (https://www.mikeeckman.com/2019/01/wehrmacht-leica/). But you know what was interesting about all of those cameras? None of them had insignia engraved on them.
So how can you tell if the ‘Nazi Leica’ you are looking at is fake? Simple. Does it have any kind of Nazi or military engraving on it? It does? Then yeah, you done got duped.
There was never a camera released from the factory by Leica that had any insignia engraved. None, nada, zilch.
In fact, Ernst Leitz II was famed for helping to smuggle hundreds of Jews out of Germany during the war. So you can safely say they were not about to start helping the nazi cause.
What should we do?
Amazingly despite (almost) everyone agreeing that the nazi’s were complete assholes, there is still a market for this crap. If you go on Ebay now you can find hundreds of the bloody things for sale. Some being sold as real, but many being sold as copies. In fact there is a massive amount of them currently coming out of the Ukraine, so there must be a market for them (go figure).
For real though, please don’t buy them and keep on feeding this awful market. Go and buy a real Zorki, they are much more fun and way less nazi.
Do yourself a favor, if you see one of these and have the opportunity to destroy it, go for it. The world will be a little bit of a better place.*
*I would never normally condone destroying a cameras, but I seriously hate seeing nazi emblems.
thats just a nice propaganda about leitz… they were Nazi party members and working for them… zeiss was a jewish and therefore he wasn’t in such a good position even with better cameras and lenses….
Have you read the book “The Leica Freedom Train”? I suspect not from your post. If you had done just a tad more research you would have found out that Elsie Kühn-Leitz, far from being an active member of the Nazi party, was arrested and imprisoned on a number of occasions by the Gestapo for her efforts to rescue jewish people and feed Ukrainian slave workers. After the war Elsie K-L was a very respected politician, much due to her humanitarian activities during WW2 and active in the formation of the EEC to prevent future European wars.
@srdjan: This is precisely backwards. No, Carl Zeiss was not Jewish. Also, he died in 1888. His company, however, was deeply involved with the Nazi regime, and operated subcamps (slave labor camps on the periphery of the major concentration camps, in which conditions were sometimes even worse). The Leica story, on the other hand, is not propaganda: it’s historical fact. Leica is a rare story of industrial heroism under the Third Reich. And the fact that you get this precisely backwards makes you more than a little suspect.
If you destroy everything with the swastika on it, people will not know history and forget that the sweet German people had a hand in killing millions of people of every nationality in WWII, along with the peaceful Japanese people killing millions on their side of the world. Every nation has its dark side, and destroying the history of it will only make it easier to lead people astray AGAIN.
The problem is that these things never originally had swastikas on them. These are things that are ‘defaced artifacts’ to begin with which have been made specifically because there is a market driven by people who want to have swastikas on them. You’re not destroying history, but a piece that pretends to be history to pander to someone with a weird obsession.
There’s this revolutionary thing called “books”, a rather recent invention, where you can learn all about history without keeping around useless items and statues that were originally designed to commemorate the thing you want people to remember. Crazy, I know, but its true.
First of all, do not buy anything from nowadays nazi Ukraine. They are definitely support a nazi cult.
WTF? New president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky is Jew.
Haven`t seen yet a Kiev ( Contax copy) with nazi engravings there.
Aha, just everyone))) really, is not more than in other countries… Sooo, sorry man, but you just have a sick fantasy.
Celebrating Zorkis, essentially knock-offs by one Tyranny that defeated another, isn’t much to celebrate. WADR.
Agree about that. If you are going to discriminate one tyrant (Hitler), please don’t approve/celebrate another (Stalin). I’m fine using a VW Bettle (which it came out of Nazi Germany) as much as I enjoy a Zorki. Those are technologies (well Zorki more of a knockoff) born from unfortunate times, but fine technology just the same.
Thanks for the fine article though.
In addition to people trying to pass these off as fake Leicas, another thing that irritates me is that the original FED and Zorki rangefinders that are used to create these, are actually decent cameras. They aren’t built to the same quality standard as real Leicas are, but they’re close enough for most people.
I’ve handled my share of Soviet Leica copies and they’re good shooters and I feel a lot less worried about theft or damage using a Soviet copy, than the real thing.
If people would just stop making these and leave them as they were, they’d be more valuable in my opinion.
I read on cameraquest that many of the actual Leica’s made for the Nazi military were defaced to REMOVE any evidence of the Nazi military because, ya know, what kind of person wants a Nazi camera? It’s pretty ironic/disturbing that there’s such a market for the fakes with ADDED Nazi symbols.
For the first anyone buing Leica with nazi stampings should learn how to distinguish Leica from their russian copies. The one depicted in article is a zorki with industar lens. There were Zorkis or Feds that had engrawed NKWD factory named after Felix Derżyński which would make a nice tandem with thei nazi counterpart, ( ideology like). By the way, are there japanese cameras ( leica copies ?) from second war time with japanese army propriety engravings?
I had forgotten about these! I happened upon one of these knockoffs in an ‘antique’ shop in the Souk in Merrakech, Morocco. The shop owner had cleverly stored it on a low shelf in among a bunch of junk – I did indeed think I had struck gold when I first spotted it – a quick inspection led me to believe it to be fake – this was years ago before I had actually held a true leica, I bounced it because it looked too new to be from the 40’s. On a similar note, in the years since I have travelled to Morocco a lot, and to the workshops on the outskirts of the city where all kinds of ‘antiques’ are being manufactured daily to be sold in the Souk. So be wary, and shop around before you buy a duplicate.
I bought a fake of a fake this summer. A Leica Standard from 1936 which was upgraded and disguised with the focusing system and the metal top of an Export-Zorki somewhere in the 1950s. The german serial number was underneath it. I was hoping to get a simple Zorki with a Jupiter 3 for 99 euros, but got a Leica instead – damn it!
Thanks for addressing this ever-controversial topic in such an enlightened (and enlightening) way. I never knew that Leica had helped so many people escape the tyranny.
Many years ago in Helsinki and just off the cruise ship, I was in the open air market at the harbor and I was approached by a gentleman of Slavic persuasion ( I assume Russian) who tried to sell me a used IIIC Leica. At the time, having never owned a Leica I assumed it was real. Rather than engravings, all of the logos and numbers were stamped. I didn’t have enough cash on me and was determined to get the cash and return. When I did return, he was gone. It was only several years later when I started using real Leica’s that I learned that Leica’s were never stamped and always engraved. In hindsight, I was very lucky to have missed out on this ‘bargain’. Leica’s are wonderful and I suppose Zorki’s are ok at the right price.
You need to be a complete idiot not to be able to recognize leica from zorkii or fed.