By Henry John Steiner, Sleepy Hollow Historian
My Parents in Stuttgart, Germany
My parents, Leopold and Lucie Steiner bought a house in Tarrytown, New York about 1951. They joined Transfiguration Church and remained in the community for roughly thirty-five years. Sometime in the 1980s they moved to Woodstock, Vermont and remained there for most of their retirement years. They have both departed from this realm, but are dearly remembered by their family and friends.
My mother and father first met in Lorraine, France in the autumn of 1944, during World War II. Dad was in the United States Third Army and Mom was a French school teacher. At the time, the Third Army was engaged in fighting the Battle of Metz in the Lorraine. The City of Metz was not far from Mom’s hometown, in fact, her town was within the radius of the battle. They met and, ironically, the only language my parents had in common was German. Mom was raised speaking German as a second language and could speak it fluently. Dad, who grew up in Austria, had started out speaking German as his first language. By 1945, about a year after Mom and Dad met, Dad’s counter-intelligence unit had established its headquarters in Nuremberg, Germany. My parents were married in October 1945, at Mom’s hometown in Lorraine (see wedding photo). Mom later joined Dad at Nuremberg and actually worked for his counter-intelligence unit as a translator and secretary.
About two months after the wedding, they traveled to Stuttgart, Germany. For what reason, I do not know. Were they there on leave? or on some assignment connected with army counter-intelligence? In 1945, Stuttgart was certainly not a “vacation spot.” Destruction had been rained down on the city during the year 1944 by American and British air attacks. On September 12, 1944 alone, the British military dropped over 184,000 bombs on Stuttgart. A year and three months after that very destructive day, my parents were in Stuttgart observing Christmas 1945—their first Christmas as a married couple. One of my favorite photos of Mom was taken at that time. It shows Lucie walking down a street—behind her a bombed out train station. The destruction of war was nothing new to her.
I have no details on where in Stuttgart they stayed, but I still possess a gift that Lucie gave to Leo that Christmas. It is a book (see photo) about photography. She inscribed it:
“To my dear Leo,
for our first Christmas together.
(See photo of inscription)
The original edition of the book, in German, had been published in 1937. So it is likely that most of the photographs were shot in 1936 or 1937. This English edition of the book was produced in Germany in 1938, as the world approached the brink of world war. That was the year my father escaped from Austria at the age of eighteen, fleeing to the United States. I do not think that is why Mom gave him the book though. It was probably because she knew he was interested in still photography. Leo had worked as a cameraman and editor in film production at New York for two or three years prior to the United States entering the war.
The Leica Book in Color and “Tony” Baumann
The book itself has nothing to do with the war. It is a striking document of peacetime, with images of a world that has no idea of the terrible pain that is about to be visited on it—World War II. It does not contain even a whisper of Naziism in either its text or its images. Not even a faint suggestion of Hitler and his meteoric rise—although Naziism and Hitler were very much phenomenons of that time. It is a book created to celebrate beauty, optimism, and excitement. It heralds a “brave new world” where amateur and professional photographers will take their Leica 35mm cameras and Kodachrome film (just then being manufactured by the Eastman Kodak Company in America) and document a beautiful world! In color!
The photographs are illustrative of such a hope. And the “priest” of this vision was a life-long employee of the German company E. Leitz, Inc., manufacturer of the Leica Camera. His name was Anton F. Baumann. But first a word about the Leica Camera itself. Ernst Leitz II began production on the Leica Camera in the city of Wetzlar, Germany, in 1924. It became an immediate success. The camera was extremely lightweight and portable, and it lent itself especially to travel photography. Initially, all the 35mm films for the camera were black and white films. The camera was to become especially popular with
professional photo-journalists in the mid to late twentieth century. In contrast to the more modern 35mm single-lens-reflex cameras that came later, the Leica was a “view-finder” type camera. It was much lighter and compact. Even today, nearly a century later, there are diehard international photo-journalists who will not give up their old Leicas. In fact, my cousin, Austrian-born Lisl Steiner, a photo-journalistic icon, still has a collection of her own old Leicas. Her collection once included the Leica of famous photographer, Robert Capa. The camera was given to Lisl by Capa’s mother after Capa’s death. Robert Capa lost his life in 1954, while covering the war in Southeast Asia.
The Leitz company was doing well in the mid-1920s. Business was good and the company employed a large number of workers. In the company workforce there was a significant percentage of Jewish workers. As the mid 20s became the mid 30s, Jews throughout Germany began to feel the pain and danger of antagonistic government measures posed against them. These were official and unofficial measures that amounted to persecution against the Jewish population of Germany. This
oppression crescendoed in the Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938. In response, Ernst Leitz II quietly initiated a progressive policy within the company. He managed to keep Jewish workers on the payroll at E. Leitz by assigning them to company positions abroad—countries such as the United States. Leitz had its American headquarters at 730 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at the time.
But, long before this unfolded, the company hired a young boy in Germany, Anton F. Baumann, or “Tony,” who was mentioned above. The boy was placed in the research department of the company, probably as early as 1914, ten years before the
1924 production roll-out of the Leica Camera. With the development of the Leica, the company found it had an excellent photographer in Tony. He also had boundless energy and enthusiasm for the promotion of the company’s increasingly most exciting product, the Leica 35mm Camera. I have found no information about his home life.
Tony traveled on assignment to the United States in 1936. At that time he made contact with Eastman Kodak and established that the film company was just beginning to produce its marvelous Kodachrome film for 35mm still cameras. Tony bought twenty-five rolls of the film and took a whirlwind tour through the United States, shooting color photos all the way. He began in the North, and then swung through the American West, the South, and the East. Among the subjects he photographed were New York skyscrapers, Rockefeller Center, Niagra Falls, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, an American cowboy, a Hopi medicine man, a woman of the South who picks cotton, an Arizona mission, the Hoover Dam, Seminole people in Florida, and a costumed southern belle in Natchez. And all these subjects were photographed for the first time with 35mm color film and a 35mm still camera—all captured by Anton F. Baumann—Tony.
But he was not done. He used the same type of film in Europe—Scandinavia, Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Then, returning to Leitz headquarters in Germany, he went to work on “the first photographic picture book in the world devoted entirely to color photography.” The editor of the book went on to write, “…my sincere thanks to Tony Baumann […] through whose courage, energy and faith this first volume about color photography became possible.”
The book was a milestone for the E. Leitz company, the Leica, and for Baumann. But it was 1938 and the
social-political climate in Germany was changing quickly. Tony Baumann left Germany at the end of the year. This time he would not merely be visiting the United States, he would be immigrating there. Was he Jewish? Was that the reason he was relocating to the U. S? I think he may have been Jewish, but it is not spelled out in the sketchy information I have managed to find. If his German birth certificate still exists in some official archive, it might answer the question. When Baumann arrived in New York, his work was to more or less mirror the company activities that he had been doing in Germany. Tony was spreading the “gospel” of the Leica and the ease, versatility, and precision that it
The year 1939 found Baumann in the Northeast of America, hosting photography lectures, demonstrations, and work shops. Passionate and dedicated to his craft, he continued to avidly shoot his own photos of America. The Leitz headquarters in New York was his home base. He hosted the Leica Universal Camera Exhibit in New York and took it on the road through the American South. Photographers visiting the exhibit were also instructed on Leica accessories and their use, by “Anton F. Baumann, Leica expert, lecturer, and photographer.” Then, something happened…
It was the summer of 1939. There are no details on the what, the where, or precisely when, but Baumann was apparently attempting to line up a scenic shot from a great height, and, tragically, he fell to his death. The event was noted in perhaps two publications with few details offered. The Scientific American quipped, “Widely known and admired both as a photographer and a personality, Anton F. Baumann has shot his last picture.” The announcement added that, “Baumann [was] a master of 35mm technique…”
A death announcement, possibly from his employer, stated, “He had just completed a lecture and demonstration tour of a number of southern cities and was making pictures when he met with an accident attempting to obtain a ‘different’ angle from a high position.” Baumann was 38 years old.
Further information about the accident is hard to find. On September 1st, 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Soon the world would be embroiled in a vast war, and few would have the inclination or the leisure to remember or contemplate Tony Baumann’s achievement and fate. His 1937-1938 book, The Leica Book in Color, may be his only legacy, and that, a rather obscure one. A search of the Web does not readily produce any information on Baumann’s final resting place, or even a photo of the photographer.
Mom and Dad would eventually leave Germany and make their home in the United States. In Forest Hills, Queens actually, where they lived for a few years before moving to Tarrytown.