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Red Prometheus: Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany, 1945-1990 (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology)

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"This superb study of the "new technical intelligentsia" in East Germany analyzes the ambivalent interaction between engineering professionals and the SED dictatorship, exploring the promise of socialist modernity, the tightening of Stasi control and the failure of innovation in high technology."--Konrad H. Jarausch, Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina and Senior Fellow, Zentrum f?r Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam (Konrad Jarausch )
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Red Prometheus

Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology
Jed Z. Buchwald, general editor
Dolores L. Augustine, Red Prometheus: Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany,
Mordechai Feingold, editor, Jesuit Science and the Republic of Letters
Larrie D. Ferreiro, Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific
Revolution, 1600–1800
Sungook Hong, Wireless: From Marconi’s Black-Box to the Audion
Jeff Horn, The Path Not Taken: French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution,
Myles W. Jackson, Harmonious Triads: Physicists, Musicians and Instrument Makers in
Nineteenth-Century Germany
Myles W. Jackson, Spectrum of Belief: Joseph von Fraunhofer and the Craft of Precision
Mi Gyung Kim, Affinity, That Elusive Dream: A Genealogy of the Chemical Revolution
Ursula Klein and Wolfgang Lefèvre, Materials in Eighteenth-Century Science: A Historical
John Krige, American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe
Janis Langins, Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to
the Revolution
Wolfgang Lefèvre, editor, Picturing Machines 1400–1700
Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, editors, Heredity Produced: At the
Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500–1870
William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton, editors, Secrets of Nature: Astrology and
Alchemy in Early Modern Europe
Gianna Pomata and Nancy Siraisi, editors, Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early
Modern Europe
Alan J. Rocke, Nationalizing Science: Adolphe Wurtz and the Battle for French Chemistry
George Saliba, Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance

Red Prometheus
Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany, 1945–1990

Dolores L. Augustine

The MIT Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England

© 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic
or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or informati; on storage and
retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information about special quantity discounts, please email special_sales@mitpress.mit
This book was set in Sabon by SNP Best-set Typesetter Ltd., Hong Kong.
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Augustine, Dolores L.
Red Prometheus: engineering and dictatorship in East Germany, 1945–1990 / Dolores
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-262-01236-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Engineering—Germany (East)—History—20th century. 2. Technology—Germany (East)—History—20th century. 3. Germany
(East)—Social life and customs. I. Title.
TA73.1.A94 2007
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

This book is dedicated to my husband, Claude LeBrun, and to my children,
André and Caroline LeBrun


List of Illustrations
Introduction xi
Abbreviations and Acronyms


1 The “Great Eastward Trek”: German Specialists in the Soviet Union


2 Reinventing Professionalism in Soviet-Occupied Germany and the Early
3 Under Siege: Facing Challenges to Professionalism in the Ulbricht Era


4 In Pursuit of an Electronic Future: High-Tech Pioneers and Communist
Bureaucracy in the Ulbricht Era
5 The Old Guard under Attack: Three High-Tech Research Directors in the
“Reform” Era and Beyond
6 Red Prometheus: Technological Fantasies in Popular Culture and
7 Careerists and Conformists, Individualists and Technology Enthusiasts:
Engineers and Computer Scientists in the Honecker Era
8 High Ambitions: Careerism and High-Tech Research during the New Cold
Conclusion 343

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.1

Nikolaus Riehl during his stay in the Soviet Union

Figure 1.2

Kurt Berner and Bruno Golecki during their stay in the Soviet Union


Figure 1.3 Photo taken by Kurt Berner to the Soviet Union and reproduced in his memoir.
Original caption: “The specialists often thought of loved ones at home”
Figure 2.1 Parade, Bergakademie Freiberg. Note the traditional mining officials’ uniforms.
Photo published in a 1965 volume commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding
of the Bergakademie Freiberg
Figure 2.2 Unknown woman in a laboratory, probably in the early 1960s. Photo published
in a 1965 volume commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Bergakademie
Figure 4.1 Werner Hartmann, center, speaking with Minister for Electrical Engineering and
Electronics Otfried Steger, left, and Walter Ulbright, right foreground
Figure 4.2 Visit of Nikita Khrushchev to the Vakutronik exhibit in the Leipzig Trade Fair,
1959. Left to right: Khrushchev, Hartmann, unknown
Figure 4.3

Herbert Kortum (second from left) at Carl Zeiss Jena, 1960s

Figure 4.4 Paul






Figure 4.5

Paul Görlich, 1966

Figure 4.6

Paul Görlich (far left) at the Technical University of Dresden




Figure 4.7 Paul Görlich with Soviet physicist Petr Petrovich Feofilow, then an officer,
Figure 5.1 Visit of Walter Ulbricht and his wife Lotte to Carl Zeiss Jena, 1968. HansJoachim Pohl (far left); General Director Ernst Gallerach (far right)
Figure 5.2

Werner Hartmann in the 1970s

Figure 6.1

East Berlin television tower on the Alexanderplatz, at sunset


Figure 6.2

Poster announcing the Fifth Party Congress of the SED, 1958


Figure 6.3 East German cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn with fellow crew member, Soviet cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky


List of Illustrations

Figure 6.4 Proposal (1957) for a monumental central building in East Berlin, modeled on
Soviet architecture 210–211
Figure 6.5 Hermann Henselmann’s proposed design for the East Berlin Alexanderplatz, an
entry in an official competition of 1958–1959 212
Figure 6.6

Television tower and East Berlin skyline

Figure 6.7

Observation deck of the East Berlin television tower


Figure 6.8

Planned city, from the 1965 edition of Weltall Erde Mensch

Figure 6.9

A “fully automated factory,” Weltall Erde Mensch



Figure 6.10 Vacation area on a large reservoir, with industrial city in the background,
Weltall Erde Mensch 220–221
Figure 6.11 Toroidal Containment Machine, or Tokomak (fusion reactor), Weltall Erde
Mensch 222
Figure 6.12

Space station of the future, Weltall Erde Mensch

Figure 6.13

Dig and Dag assist a chemist, from “Ein rätselhafter Fund” (Mosaik)

Figure 6.14

Female photographer in “Alarm in der Raumstation” (Mosaik)

Figure 6.15 Atomic
(Mosaik) 233










Figure 6.16 Dig and Dag drive through ruins on a distant planet in “Die neue Sonne”
(Mosaik) 234
Figure 6.17 Admiring the newly installed atomic-powered sun, cover of “Die neue Sonne”
(Mosaik) 235
Figure 6.18 Dig and Dag getting ready for their space flight to install an atomic-powered
sun in “Die neue Sonne” (Mosaik) 236
Figure 6.19 Cover of “Detektive im Weltall” (Mosaik) featuring a scene from “Erdölpiraten” (Petroleum Pirates)
Figure 6.20

“Oil thieves from the other side,” “Erdölpiraten”

Figure 6.21

Dig and Dag rescue a native from an oil-rig explosion, “Erdölpiraten”


Figure 6.22 East German experts shut off the flow of petroleum, thus stopping the fire,
Figure 6.23

Industrialization of the rain forest, “Erdölpiraten”


Figure 6.24

Palipapu serves as intermediary for the East Germans, “Erdölpiraten”


Figure 6.25 “Modernized” Palipapu with modern industrial complex in the background,
“Erdölpiraten.” Dig: “I like you much better without the war paint”
Figure 6.26 Due to a lumbering accident, Palipapu is “branded” with a tribal symbol,


What is the relationship between dictatorship and science? How effectively can scientific and engineering communities resist the totalitarian impulse of a dictatorial
ruling party? Was the Communist system able to produce good science and technology? What does this tell us about the degree to which an autonomous society
continued to exist under Communist rule? These questions stand at the center of
this study, which focuses on one of the most technically advanced East bloc countries, East Germany. There, the German tradition of science-based technology was
wedded to a socialist system that accorded technological progress a central place in
modernization strategies. German engineering and Communism held in common a
profound belief in the transformative power of technology, but differed on how to
unleash it. Their alliance was complex and fraught with contradictions.
German engineering, which played a central role in the creation of the Nazi killing machine, enjoyed twin rebirths after the Second World War in East and West
Germany. Scientists and engineers tried to revive a culture of technological excellence and a tradition of science-based industry. They brought with them attitudes
and expectations that stemmed from the military-dominated Nazi research establishment and from patriarchal traditions of engineering going back to the nineteenth
century and before. German intellectual tradition viewed technology as a manifestation of culture. The great men of science and technology—whether universityeducated specialists or engineers trained on the job—were thought capable of
forging unique cultural products that solved major technological puzzles. Scientists
and engineers in East Germany counted on the Communist state to give due recognition to their unique creative powers and mastery of complex technologies through
experience and education.
Communism did not only accept technological modernity, but viewed technology as an essential part of socialist progress. Radically rejecting the Nazi utopias
of racial purity and absolute violence, after the war East German Communism
embraced equality and technological modernity—the wonders of science harnessed



to the needs of the people. Marx believed technology to be essential to the triumph
of socialism.1 Lenin made industrialization, rather than equality or the pursuit of
world revolution, the centerpiece of efforts to win and keep the support of the
masses, thus establishing priorities that would guide the Soviet bloc until the fall of
Communism.2 Technology provided the basis of modern industrial production and
became an important part of East German socialist identity. This expressed itself in
propaganda, high culture, and popular culture. In East Germany, technology was
central to the way Communists saw their system and citizens saw their state. Technology was a crucial weapon in the Cold War struggle between East and West, and
was seen as essential to the creation of a better socialist future. To a much greater
extent than any other Communist state, East Germany legitimized and undergirded
its existence with technology.3
In the post-Stalin era, the universality of science, whether in East or West
Germany, was affirmed, and the earlier doctrine of the superiority of “socialist
science” was jettisoned.4 Technology was conceived as a derivation of science.
Unsullied by the system under which it was developed, technology could travel
without difficulty from the capitalist world to the socialist world, believed supporters of the Communist system. It was the use to which technology was put that
differed drastically between capitalism and socialism. While capitalists used technologies to promote exploitation and war, socialists deployed technology to the
benefit of their people and all mankind. According to this view, the work of engineers and scientists was not intrinsically good or bad. This “technical intelligentsia”
could serve the bourgeoisie, and do its evil bidding, or it could become the partner
of the working class, and help build a better, socialist society. It was hoped that the
“old intelligentsia,” educated and socialized in the pre-socialist era (i.e., the Imperial, Weimar, and Nazi eras), could be won over to the socialist project. The trustworthiness of these holdovers from the capitalist period was questioned by some,
however. Above question, at least in theory, were the loyalties of the “new technical intelligentsia”—engineers, scientists, and technicians recruited, educated, and
socialized under socialism. The creation and expansion of the ranks of “socialist
engineers” became a major goal of the SED (the Socialist Unity Party, as the Communist Party of East Germany was known).
During the 1960s, socialist ideology came to be infused more and more with a
belief in technology. The GDR (German Democratic Republic) aspired to overtake
the West through “technical-scientific revolution.” With this ambition came a profound shift in the relationship between technical professionals on the one hand and
state and party bureaucrats on the other. When the SED leadership started allowing itself to believe it could win the competitive race with the West, it came to believe
it could become the central driving force behind technological innovation. A process



of centralization, bureaucratization, and ideologization of decision-making took
place. The SED and the secret police also attempted to co-opt and penetrate the
“technical intelligentsia,” replacing any alternate ideology or loyalty to professionalism with loyalty to the socialist system. Now infused with a belief in technology,
Communist ideology was seen as capable of becoming not only the guiding force
behind “scientific-technological progress,” but the ultimate source of technical innovation. This major shift in power relations and ideological claims made by the SED
had a major impact on the innovative process.
In recent years, scholars have sought to overcome the “black-and-white picture . . .
[of] the oppressive state versus the victimized scientific community” under dictatorial rule.5 Research on the Nazi era has come to emphasize the complicity of engineers and scientists with the Nazi régime.6 In his work on Stalinist science, Nikolai
Krementsov explores the maneuverings of scientists intent on promoting their own
interests, careers, disciplines, and research institutes under Communism. They
worked within the context of a system in which the state not only held a monopoly over the funding of science, but also had at its disposal a considerable repertoire of methods of coercion. Who won or lost in the competition for state sponsorship was not, however, determined by ideology, but rather by the resources and
abilities of groups of scientists, organized in often competing networks. To win out
over its competitors, a discipline, subdiscipline, or institute needed spokesmen able
to formulate a particular scientific approach in ideological terms, connections in the
upper echelons of the party hierarchy, and the prospect of military applications of
its scientific work. According to Krementsov, the party pursued its own political
and ideological aims, and “service to the party’s goals was the main criterion in
defining the objects and subjects, and even the pace, of scientific studies . . .”
Nonetheless, the outcomes were often unexpected, reflecting the needs and desires
of segments of the scientific community as much as those of the party hierarchy,
which itself was profoundly fragmented.7
Asif Siddiqi has shown that the Soviet space program was the brainchild of engineer Sergei Korolev and other missile experts, who induced the political leadership
to embark on a project that they did not see as of central importance.8 The development of nuclear missiles was the main concern of political leaders, who were
focused on the conflict with the United States. Resources and personnel were shifted
from the missile program into the space program on the initiative of missile scientists and engineers. The Soviet leadership had extraordinary confidence in them
because of their role in the build-up of Soviet defenses, and was therefore willing
to accord them a good deal of autonomy. The propaganda value of the space
program was an unforeseen by-product. Siddiqi sees this case as evidence of the



dynamic quality of the relationship between scientists and political elite in the USSR.
Policy was not always dictated from above, he argues.
Slava Gerovitch has studied the way Soviet scientists used the ideas and language
of cybernetics to reform society and to create a new sort of relationship between
themselves and the rulers of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, “newspeak” dominated,
a form of speech that placed ideology and philosophy above science. Western ways
of talking about the use of computers and cybernetics were thoroughly rejected as
intrinsically capitalist. Based on ideas developed by American mathematician
Norbert Wiener, the central concept of cybernetics was that much of reality could
be reduced to logical relationships within systems that could be controlled with the
help of computers. With the Khrushchev-era liberalization and the acceptance of
computers as essential to growth and progress, it became possible to completely
overturn the ideologically motivated rejection of cybernetics, to make it into a kind
of master science in the Soviet Union, and to replace “newspeak” with an entirely
new form of speech, “cyberspeak.” Scientists were now able to successfully impose
their language and the supremacy of scientific rationality on philosophers. Some
even hoped that cybernetics would remake the power structures and economic
system. In the end, however, cybernetics became a new orthodoxy, a tool of the
Communist elite. Gerovitch shows that scientists in the Soviet Union had considerable resources at their disposal in their negotiations with the state, though he is
more pessimistic than some historians about their ultimate ability to retain control
over those resources.9
This emphasis on the agency of scientists in the Soviet Union has parallels in the
broader literature on the nature of dictatorship. Historians such as Robert Gellately
have found much evidence of the complicity of the population in Nazi terror.10 Historian Sheila Fitzpatrick has argued that even in the darkest days of Stalinism, the
masses played an active role in social and political life in the Soviet Union. Social
and cultural historians have made a similar argument with regard to East Germany.
They assert that although the East German leadership aspired to totalitarian rule,
it did not fully achieve it, failing in important ways to control and direct society.
The resulting tensions within Communist societies often went right to the top,
leading to competition between opposing factions within the elite.11
Others have sharply rejected such a view. For them, the GDR was a totalitarian
dictatorship terrorized to the end by the secret police. An important group of historians who subscribe to this interpretation rely heavily on the files of the Ministry
for State Security (or MfS), which ran the East German secret police, known as the
Stasi. They believe that these files reveal the true mechanisms at work in East
German society. A totalitarian state-within-a-state, the Stasi maintained labyrinthine
networks of informers who not only kept the MfS informed of possible deviation



from absolute loyalty to the Communist system, but also took action to root out
the (supposedly) disloyal. Security procedures increasingly took precedence over all
other criteria (such as professional competence), with the result that only highly
conformist individuals were given positions of responsibility and power.12
There are alternatives to the “totalitarianism” interpretation. Sigrid Meuschel has
given us a sociologist’s definition of the SED dictatorship, which she calls a “party
state” (perhaps best rendered in English as a “one-party-state”). According to her
analysis, the SED effectively destroyed the autonomy of different sectors of society,
insinuating the “logic” of Communism into all aspects of life. This destroyed the
functional differentiation of society, which Talcott Parsons and others have asserted
is a central characteristic of modern societies.13 Alternate interpretations of the East
German system include Jürgen Kocka’s concept of the “modern dictatorship” and
Konrad Jarausch’s “welfare dictatorship,” which emphasize the linkage between
coercion and consensus-building in Communist rule in the GDR.14
This study addresses this debate, making use of the kinds of sources used by the
two major schools—secret police reports as well as all sorts of sources that provide
the perspective of the common citizen.
This book explores the creation of technology in East German industry as a process
of constantly renegotiated power relations. But this is not the story of struggles
between two homogeneous camps. Both the bureaucracy of party and state and the
technical professionals were torn by rivalry and competition. The dynamics of their
interactions were also profoundly influenced by two actors that cannot be left out
of the equation. The first is the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the thinking behind
Soviet policymaking is often obscured by the lack of access to Soviet archives
(though pioneering research has begun). Nonetheless, a Soviet agenda can often be
inferred from a multitude of decisions and interactions with East German industry.
The Soviet leadership was torn between two goals. On the one hand, the Soviet
leadership sought to gain whatever advantage it could from the advances of East
German industrial research. On the other hand, the Soviets viewed the East Germans
as potential rivals whose advances, particularly in the atomic and high tech sectors,
posed a potential threat to the Soviet Union.
The fourth actor in the process of creating technology is society. To create an
alternative to Western-style professionalism, society had to be mobilized. The model
of autonomous, self-regulating professions was to be replaced by a new loyalty to
the SED. Serious attempts were made to sever the historical links between the professions and the bourgeoisie, as well as to forge new ones between the professions
and the proletariat—above all by recruiting university students from the working
class. Women were also to gain new professional opportunities. It was thought that



this “new intelligentsia” would promote “social progress.”15 The participation of
society was not only essential to the creation of the “socialist engineer,” but also to
the mobilization of the creative talents of the proletariat in the factory. Art, literature, public representations, and educational efforts attempted to reach the masses
with the message that they should help build socialism by promoting technological
How successful was socialist science and technology? During the Cold War, it was
often argued that in the Soviet Union, ideology had impeded the search for scientific truth. The classic case of this is Trofim Lysenko, a poorly educated agronomist
and a “clever and cruel political maneuverer” whose teachings began to supplant
genetics in the 1930s and ruled supreme until 1965.16 The purges of the 1930s killed
off or silenced the best scientists and engineers. Initiative and critical thinking were
suppressed. It has also been argued that theoretical work in the sciences suffered
from an overemphasis of practical applications. In numerous works, Loren Graham
has argued that the oppressive role of the state slowly, over the decades, eroded the
scientific and technical prowess of the Soviet Union. The central problem lay in the
creation of a top-down, overly centralized system, particularly in its Stalinist incarnation. As in the days of the tsars, engineers and scientists put pleasing the rulers
first, and as a result oscillated between frenetic activity and passivity. However,
Graham has also argued that political interference was not great enough to prevent
valuable scientific work from being done. Soviet scientists often performed well
because they were given tremendous social prestige and financial resources for
research. Marxist ideology not only did not stand in the way of scientific progress,
but in some cases sparked new insights and profitable new paths. Graham’s overall
evaluation of Soviet science is nuanced: “The Russian experience points to a strong
distinction between those conditions that are necessary for the survival, even prospering, of science, and those that are necessary for its most creative achievements.”17
Graham also points out the human costs, particularly of Soviet engineering.
Universities and engineering colleges churned out engineers with very narrow technical specializations and lacking a sense of the “broader social concerns” that earlier
generations of Russian engineers had possessed. Huge technical projects were
carried out without giving thought to the human costs, environmental impact, or
social utility, resulting in unnecessary human suffering and social problems, and thus
contributing to the ultimate downfall of the Soviet Union.18
A younger generation of scholars has been more categorical than Graham in
its rejection of the idea that democracy fosters better science. In a book defiantly
entitled Stalin’s Great Science, Alexei Kojevnikov argues that many of the factors
that Western scholars have cited as causes of the failures of Soviet science and



technology could just as easily be used to explain the triumphs of Soviet science.
Indeed, centralized control very much facilitated the emergence of Big Science,
notably in the case of the Soviet atomic program. Despite tremendous hardships and
the political persecution around them, many scientists worked with great dedication,
and were rewarded with great success. They were motivated by careerism, but also
by profound patriotism, fueled by their bitter experiences in the Second World War
and fear of the United States. Their attitudes toward socialism varied. Many of the
scientists educated in the early Soviet period were rebels whose socialist beliefs led
them to embrace revolutionary scientific concepts and to reject the conservatism of
the academic establishment. The era of “High Stalinism,” which was also the era of
the purges, brought sober careerists to the fore. Although they publicly toed the
party line, their primary concern was the preservation of the scientific community
and its institutions, as well as the promotion of their own careers, institutes, schools,
and disciplines. Kojevnikov considers the triumph of Lysenkoism to be a very exceptional case. He also argues that ideological opposition to quantum physics and
Einstein’s theory of relativity hardly had a serious chance of success, due to nuclear
physicists’ “skills—and some luck—in playing the rhetorical, ideological, and political games of that culture.” According to Kojevnikov, atomic scientists possessed
enough freedom to pursue the ideas they found promising, and the state provided
them with tremendous resources to do so. Moreover, competition within the scientific community promoted scientific excellence. Gradually abandoning attempts to
develop a uniquely “socialist science,” the Soviet Union nonetheless developed its
own brand of modern science. Kojevnikov attributes what he sees as great successes
to the “extraordinary cultural value and importance” accorded to science in the
Soviet Union.19
Though the detonation of the first H-bomb in 1955 and the launching of Sputnik
in 1957 unleashed a wave of intense anxiety about the technological and scientific
capabilities of the Soviet Union, on the whole, the West underestimated the scientific capabilities and technological might of the Soviet Union. In the West, it was
argued that conformism and the inefficiencies of the planned economy stood in the
way of good scientific and technical research. With the end of the Cold War and
the opening of Soviet archives, the debate over Soviet science and technology has
become more complex and less colored by ideology. The history of science and technology in Eastern Europe must be explored in a similar spirit.
East Germany makes for an interesting and unique case study on technology under
Communism. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was a relative backwater at the time
of the Russian Revolution, Germany was one of the top scientific and technological
powers in the world at the end of the war. Its research and teaching infrastructure



largely intact, East Germany inherited an academic tradition of excellence in science
and a strong base for high-tech research in industry. Along with this went certain
cultural attitudes, notably a consensus that science and technology should be left to
the experts. Anxious to make use of German capabilities, the Soviet Union signaled
a willingness to largely leave institutions and personnel alone after the war. In time,
de-Nazification, state control of industry, the introduction of the planned economy,
and secret police surveillance had a considerable impact on the universities and industry. Nonetheless, there were clear lines of continuity at the universities and in industry in the conception and organization of scientific and technical research and
teaching. A major reason for this is the deep respect the Communist leadership felt
toward the German university tradition and German science.
German professionalism was also uninterrupted. Although bureaucracy clearly
triumphed over scientific and technical professionalism in the Soviet Union, this was
much less the case in East Germany. In part, this is due to the more pervasive impact
of professionalization in German society. In Germany, the professional ideal was
intimately bound up with aspirations to join the bourgeoisie, as well as with the
reconfiguration of masculine identity in the nineteenth century. A period of deprofessionalization in the Weimar Republic was followed by what was widely perceived as re-professionalization of engineering and industrial science in the Nazi era.
Professional autonomy in these fields was sharply curtailed during the Communist
era. Nonetheless, a professional ethos persisted, thanks to traditions of university
training, the persistence of the scientific ideal, the vitality of professional organizations, and continuities in research culture, particularly in large enterprises with a
long history.
A third major difference between East Germany and the Soviet Union is the problematic transition from Nazism to Communism. With some exceptions, one could
say that the Germans chose National Socialism, whereas Communism was imposed
on East Germany from the outside. Some felt nostalgia for what they had perceived
in the Nazi era as increased autonomy, greater opportunities for professional
advancement, and the sheer joy of technical work, untroubled by political or ethical
considerations (particularly in the militarized sector of the economy). However, the
Nazi era also set the stage for the Communist period. Engineers and scientists
working in the high-tech sector became accustomed to working in high-security
facilities, cut off from society, unconcerned with consumers, enjoying job security
and generous support for industrial research, responsible only to the state, but completely dependent upon that state. These were the conditions many encountered in
East German industrial research after the war.
Ideologically, acceptance of the new political system was eased by a fourth
German peculiarity, namely the cultural model of the apolitical scientist or engineer.



This ideology was based partly on the defense mechanisms developed by technical
professionals working for the Nazis to justify themselves after the war. It was,
however, also rooted in professional ideology, as propagated by the Verein
Deutscher Ingenieure (Association of German Engineers) since the nineteenth
century. This organization’s outlook combined a supposedly apolitical loyalty to
Kaiser and nation with an ostensibly ideology-free dedication to technology.
Fifth, the existence of West Germany had a significant impact on the situation
and mindset of the higher technical professions in East Germany. Particularly in the
era before the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, West Germany provided a frame
of reference that affected the way professionals saw their personal career trajectories, issues involving professional autonomy, and the economic and technical accomplishments of East German industry. The greater earnings, status, and mobility of
their Western counterparts, the public role played by West German engineering
organization, and the successes of West German industry engendered discontent in
the GDR. Some of these disillusioned professionals fled across the border into West
Germany. The SED and secret police tried to combat this brain drain, as well as
real or imagined acts of sabotage and espionage.
The identification of these five East German characteristics is useful in understanding the process of negotiation involved in the creation of new technologies
and, in particular, why this process occurred so differently in the GDR than in the
USSR. Methods of analysis are drawn from disparate fields: social history, cultural
history, the history of professions, the history of elites, the STS (“Science, Technology and Society”) school of the history of technology, analysis of the power structures of party and state (including the secret police), and biographical approaches.
I have chosen to focus on high-tech industry rather than consumption and production of consumer goods, although very important debates have developed concerning that sector. The economic choices made in the GDR, choices that had a profound
impact on the availability of consumer goods and that contributed to the downfall
of the GDR, cannot be understood without a full appreciation of the cultural values
that ascribed a central role in industrial development to high-tech industries. I set
out to study the East German obsession with high-tech industries as a cultural, political, social, ideological, and gendered phenomenon, a subject that, despite the extensive literature on these industries, has not really been explored in any great depth.
(This literature has concerned itself mainly with a chronicling of technological
progress within the histories of individual enterprises.) In addition, high-tech industries lend themselves well to the science-under-dictatorship theme because science
and industrial scientists play a prominent role in these industries, because they had
leverage and influence as highly favored industries, and because they were swept up
in power conflicts to a greater extent than other industries.



This book is not about the ways in which innovation was blocked by the economic inefficiencies of the planned economy or false incentives created by the socialist system—a fine literature already exists on this subject.20 Instead, I attempt here
to look at the way engineers and industrial scientists—who were motivated by a
complex mixture of professionalism, individualistic careerism, socialist ideology, a
belief in science, company traditions, and personal goals and ties—interacted with
the dictatorial system. This will tell us something about the innovative process in
the GDR, but also about many other things: the ways in which the SED mobilized
society, the interaction of cultural forces coming from above but also from below,
and the ways in which individuals conformed or did not conform to socialist norms
in everyday situations.
My strategy is to delve deeply into individual examples, using biography as a
vehicle. This methodology has been tried too little in research on East German technology. The analysis of biographies, autobiographies, and interviews illuminates
vital aspects of the relationship between culture and technology, providing insights
that institutional histories cannot. They make it possible to examine motivations,
ideology, and career strategies. A re-creation in detail of the interactions of individual and system in the factory, university, and research facility becomes possible.
What biographical and autobiographical approaches to these microcosms show is
that the actors were seldom driven by simple opportunism or by blindly ideological thinking. Rather, their lives were, like all lives, messy and driven by complex
and contradictory forces. To understand the nature of life under dictatorship and
its impact on science and technology, we must understand these complexities. This
approach brings up problems with regard to sources, problems that are, however,
Vast archives have opened up since the fall of Communism. Official reports—
the reports of party and government agencies, industrial reports, and other papers
from enterprises, socialist “combines,” and other organizations—give a fairly good
picture of the engineering profession and the development of technologies. However,
they do not make it possible to re-create in detail the process of negotiation among
technical professionals, state, Soviet authorities, and society. Almost entirely missing
is the realm of public debate that existed in the West. Biographical and autobiographical materials offer an alternative, yet they are extremely sparse for the GDR
(unlike for the Soviet Union21).
To my knowledge, the best memoir of a person active in East German industrial
research is the unpublished, handwritten memoir of Werner Hartmann (born on
January 30, 1912, in Berlin-Friedenau, died on March 8, 1988, in Dresden), an
industrial physicist. As the head of the Office for Molecular Electronics (Arbeitsstelle



für Molekularelektronik) in Dresden, he oversaw the birth of microelectronics in
the GDR. The existing eight volumes of his memoirs cover important phases in
German history of technology from the Nazi era to the Honecker régime.22 As far
as I know, nothing more than brief accounts of his life have been published.23
Hartmann’s account, as well as the archival record, show him to have been a very
talented industrial scientist and organizer of research who carried out highly innovative research programs. His struggles with the Communist bureaucracy provide
a great deal of insight into the complex relationship between the innovator and
the state.
Hartmann’s career will be compared with that of some of his contemporaries. I
chose individuals who (like Hartmann) played a prominent role in high-tech industrial research, where innovation was of central importance and innovative behavior was highly likely to be encouraged and rewarded. They worked in the electronics
industry and related industries—semiconductors, computers, and computer software—as well as in the East German Carl Zeiss corporation (specializing in precision instruments and, later, microelectronics). I have also gathered considerable but
very dispersed material on the work and lives of rank-and-file engineers and industrial scientists.
In conducting research for this project, I visited (in some cases several times) the
Archives of the Parties and Mass Organizations of the GDR/Federal German
Archives (SAPMO/BArch) in Berlin, the secret police (Stasi) archives (the former
Gauck-Bureau, now the Birthler-Bureau), National Archives II (in College Park,
Maryland), the archives of the Carl Zeiss corporation in Jena, the Provincial
Archives of Berlin, the Provincial Archives of Brandenburg (in Potsdam), the Provincial Archives of Saxony (in Dresden), the Archives of the Technical University of
Dresden, and the Archives of the Mining Academy of Freiberg, and the Berlin office
of the German census bureau (Statistisches Bundesamt), as well as a considerable
number of small archives, some of them now defunct, such as the Technical Collections of Dresden, the archive of the Chamber of Technology (Kammer der
Technik), GESIS (a collector of quantitative material), and the “Project Group on
University Research.”
I have also made extensive use of oral history. An NSF grant financed two sets of
interviews, conducted by my two research assistants in Berlin, one with software
engineers, one with female engineers. My interview questions focused on professional
and personal identity and links between the two. The interviewees’ responses were
not restricted. They were allowed to roam across the landscape of their professional
lives, reconstructing the paths they had followed or abandoned, as well as tracing
the highs and lows, the continuities and discontinuities. They were encouraged to
reflect upon the meaning of their lives up until that point and the importance of their



profession in those life trajectories. In addition, I have interviewed numerous public
figures, engineers, relatives of industrial researchers, and scholars.
In addition to what was visible on the surface, there was a subterranean level of
interaction between professionals and the state in East Germany, represented by the
secret police. This is not a subject to which I originally intended to accord much
attention. The lurid sensationalism of the revelations of Stasi involvement of various
public figures in the 1990s appeared to be little more than a distraction from other,
more important issues, such as the difficulties in integrating East Germany into West.
Many felt that such accusations were a handy cudgel in the hands of Westerners
intent on asserting their superiority over Easterners. Even for those (such as myself)
who felt the revelations to be justified in theory, the spectacle of mass denunciations
seemed unwise, given the sensitivity of Easterners to their vulnerable and unequal
position in the new Germany.24 Nonetheless, I have come to understand during the
years of research that went into this book that one simply cannot begin to understand the relationship between state and professional without studying the involvement of the Stasi. It is also here that the layers of the personalities of these prominent
East Germans—victims, perpetrators, and bystanders of secret police repression—
reveal themselves, along with conflicted feelings and divided loyalties.
I have not attempted to trace the relationship of a large number of individuals to
the secret police. Such an endeavor would be impossible in any case, given the difficulties in procuring Stasi files from the office that oversees those records.25 Rather,
I have confined myself to a couple of case studies for which I also had access to a
large body of other kinds of sources. I can only hope that I have handled the Stasi
files with the necessary discretion and critical sensibility.
This book’s organization is both thematic and (roughly) chronological. Chapter
1 explains why many German scientists and engineers deported to the Soviet Union
after the Second World War decided to go to Communist East Germany after the
war instead of to the capitalist West. These decisions are placed in the context of
these scientists’ experiences in the USSR and (earlier) in Nazi Germany, as well as
in the context of engineering ideology and professional history. Chapter 2 traces the
attempts of engineers and industrial scientists to hold on to certain aspects of professional autonomy. Three sources of professional identity will be discussed: the
“bourgeois” tradition of engineering and industrial science inherited from Nazi
Germany, institutions of higher technical education, and the Chamber of Technology, an engineering organization. Chapter 3 is about major challenges to professional identity that engineers and industrial scientists faced in everyday life in the
factory. Workers, local party officials, women, and a “new technical intelligentsia”
forced these (mainly male and apolitical) professionals to rethink their position
in the factory, and called forth resistance to an extent that has been often been



overlooked. Five high-tech researchers are the subject of chapter 4, which explores
the causes of failure of pioneering research projects in the 1950s and 1960s. Chapter
5 focuses on the clash between the cultures of innovation cultivated by three major
research directors and the culture of control pushed by the SED and the secret police.
Popular culture and propaganda are the theme of chapter 6, which explores the role
of technological fantasies in the mobilization of the masses, the recruitment of engineers and scientists, and the legitimation of the system. Chapter 7 is devoted to an
analysis of my oral history project. This chapter focuses on the individual career
strategies in the Honecker era, looking at the reasons why people went into technical fields; how this fit in with private and family life; what role gender played in
the higher technical professions; the factors behind upward professional mobility;
and attitudes toward the power structures of the East German system. Chapter 8
deals with the increasing importance of microelectronics, militarization, and SED
and Stasi control of high-tech research in the 1980s, focusing on strategies used by
enterprises, combines, and individual engineers and industrial scientists in dealing
with changing power relations.
Finally, I would like to thank all of those who have helped make this project possible, first and foremost my family, whose unfailing love and emotional support have
given me the strength and courage to complete this very challenging project, and to
whom this book is dedicated. I am very grateful to my husband, Claude LeBrun,
not only for shouldering part of the burdens of household and family duties, but
also for sharing a life of learning with me and being the best science teacher I ever
had! I also want to thank my children, André and Caroline LeBrun, both born while
I was working on this project, for having brought so much happiness, humor, and
enthusiasm into my life, and for having been so good-natured about spending time
in Germany. I also thank my father, Reginald C. Augustine, for having read through
and commented on the entire manuscript, my mother, Juno Yolanda Augustine, for
having helped both with the manuscript and the children, and my sister, Nancy
Augustine, for having helped me find comparative data for the United States.
I am very grateful to the National Science Foundation for a sabbatical grant
in 1997–1998. I also received grants from the National Endowment for the
Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the German Academic
Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, or DAAD). None of
these agencies or institutions is responsible for the opinions expressed in this book,
or for any errors contained in its pages. I also spent a summer in residence at the
Center for Research on Contemporary History (Zentrum für Zeithistorische
Forschung) in Potsdam, Germany. Many thanks to Peter Hübner, Arnd
Bauerkämper, and Siegfried Lokatis for making my stay there worthwhile and



stimulating. I thank my university, St. John’s University, for giving me research leaves
in 1997–1998 and 2004–2005 to work on this book.
Particular gratitude goes out to Dieter Hoffmann (of the Max Planck Institute for
the History of Science) and Günter Dörfel (of the Technical University of Dresden,
and a former employee of Werner Hartmann) for their ideas, source materials, and
critiques of my work, as well as to the German Women’s History Study Group
of New York (Bonnie Anderson, Marion Berghahn, Rebecca Boehling, Renate
Bridenthal, Jana Bruns, Jane Caplan, Belinda Davis, Atina Grossmann, Amy Hackett,
Deborah Hertz, Maria Hoehn, Young Sun Hong, Marion Kaplan, Jan Lambertz,
Molly Nolan, Krista O’Donnell, Kathy Pence, Nancy Reagin, and Julia Sneeringer)
for having slogged through some very rough drafts of what became chapters 1, 2, 3,
6, and 7, as well as grant proposals, and for the never-failing insightfulness and
verve of their comments. Charles Skow gave me important ideas for chapter 8.
I commend Christa Scheff and Andrée Fischer for the thoroughness, tact, and professionalism they displayed in conducting interviews for this project. I very warmly
thank the forty-three IT specialists and engineers who were interviewed by Scheff
or Fischer. They will remain unnamed for reasons of privacy. I myself interviewed
a number of former East German scientists and engineers, as well as their wives and
relatives. Immensely useful and fascinating were the many hours spent with RenéeGertrud Hartmann, talking about her husband, Werner Hartmann. Thanks are also
due to others who spoke with me: Werner Albring, Hans Becker, Bernd Falter,
Irmgard and Steffen Görlich, Dagmar Hülsenberg, Klaus Jüttner, Alfred Kirpal,
Christa Luft, Karl-Heinz Müller, Hans-Joachim Pohl, Heinz Stange, and Rainer
Very generous with their time and living quarters were friends who allowed me
to stay with them during research and conference trips to Germany: Burghard and
Christa Weiss, Karin and Günther Zachmann, Hasso Spode, and Christa Scheff.
They provided me not only with a room and meals, but were also companions with
whom I could discuss my research at length. I thank the archivists and assistants at
the fifteen archives that I visited. Wolfgang Wimmer (of the Carl Zeiss archive in
Jena), John E. Taylor (of the National Archives in College Park, Maryland), and
Frau Kahl (of the Birthler Bureau) provided advice and assistance that went well
beyond the call of duty. The Inter-Library Loan Office of St. John’s University was
also very helpful.
I also remember with gratitude conversations with two great scholars who
are no longer alive, Hartmut Zimmermann and Manfred Lötsch. Loren Graham,
Konrad Jarausch, and Hannes Siegrist gave me important words of advice that
helped in the overall design of this project. The encouragement I received
from Gerald D. Feldman was also important to me. My conversations with



Frank Ninkovich, of St. John’s University, have given me a greater appreciation and
understanding of theory. Alan Beyerchen, Mitchell Ash, Dick van Lente, Michael
Neufeld are among those who gave formal comments on my papers at conferences.
There are many others whose incisive comments also contributed to this project in
important ways. These include Kristie Macrakis, Ralph Jessen, Gerhard Barkleit,
Johannes Bähr, Burghard Ciesla, Florian Schmaltz, Anna-Sabine Ernst, Benjamin
Fischer, Kees Gispen, Jörg Roesler, Ray Stokes, Rüdiger Stutz, Georg Wagner-Kyora,
Olaf Klenke, and Lutz Marz. I would also like to mention that the idea for doing
a project on this subject came to me after reading The Technical Intelligentsia and
the East German Elite by Thomas Baylis.26
1. See Alvin W. Gouldner, The Two Marxisms (New York: Seabury Press, 1980), esp. 42–43,
73, 269–275, 385–386.
2. On Lenin, see Jonathan Coopersmith, The Electrification of Russia, 1880–1926 (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1992). Stalin’s massive assault on technocratic thinking led to
little change in these priorities. On Stalin, see Kendall Bailes, Technology and Society under
Lenin and Stalin: Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia, 1917–1941 (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1978), 64–120; Loren R. Graham, The Ghost of the Executed
Engineer: Technology and the Fall of the Soviet Union (Cambridge, MA, and London:
Harvard University Press, 1993); Susanne Schattenberg, Stalins Ingenieure: Lebenswelten
zwichen Technik und Terror in den 1930er Jahren (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2002),
70–107. For a longer view, see Paul Josephson, Red Atom: Russia’s Nuclear Power Program
from Stalin to Today (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000), esp. 7–19.
3. See Sigrid Meuschel, Legitimation und Parteiherrschaft in der DDR (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1992); Jürgen Kocka, “Wissenschaft und Politik in der DDR,” in Wissenschaft und
Wiedervereinigung, ed. Jürgen Kocka and Renate Mayntz (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1998),
4. See Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 155.
5. Nikolai Krementsov, Stalinist Science (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997),
6. See Monika Renneberg and Mark Walker, eds., Science, Technology and National Socialism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Margit Szöllösi-Janze,
ed., Science in the Third Reich (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001); Eric Katz, Death by Design:
Science, Technology and Engineering in Nazi Germany (New York: Pearson Longman, 2006);
Mark Walker, Nazi Science (New York and London: Plenum Press, 1995); Dirk Böndel, Ich
diente nur der Technik: Sieben Karrieren zwischen 1940 und 1950 (Berlin: Nicolai, 1995).
7. See Krementsov, Stalinist Science, quotation on p. 81.
8. See Asif Siddiqi, Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945–1974
(Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2000). Reprinted in two



volumes: Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge (Gainesville: University Press of Florida,
2003); The Soviet Space Race with Apollo (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).
9. See Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak.
10. See Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (Oxford
and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Robert Gellately, The Gestapo and German
Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933–1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford
University Press, 1990).
11. See Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999);
also Wendy Goldman, “Stalinist Terror and Democracy: The 1937 Union Campaign,”
American Historical Review 110, no. 5 (December 2005): 1427–1453. Important studies
touching on these themes for East Germany include Richard Bessel and Ralph Jessen, eds.,
Die Grenzen der Diktatur (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996); Ralph Jessen, “Die
Gesellschaft im Staatssozialismus: Probleme einer Sozialgeschichte der DDR,” Geschichte
und Gesellschaft 21 (1995): 96–110; Jürgen Kocka and Renate Mayntz, eds., Wissenschaft
und Wiedervereinigung: Disziplinen im Umbruch (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1998); Detlef
Pollack, “Die konstitutive Widersprüchlichkeit der DDR,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft
24 (1998): 110–131; Monika Kaiser, Machtwechsel von Ulbricht zu Honecker (Berlin:
Akademie-Verlag, 1997). An older literature points to competition between factions of the
Communist elite: Gouldner, The Two Marxisms; and (on East Germany) Peter Christian
Ludz, Parteieliten im Wandel (Cologne and Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1968).
12. On the totalitarianism approach and use of related concepts in research on the GDR,
see Corey Ross, The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR (London: Arnold, 2002). For an important study that emphasizes the role
of the secret police in industry, see Reinhard Buthmann, Kadersicherung im Kombinat VEB
Carl Zeiss Jena (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 1997).
13. See Meuschel, Legitimation und Parteiherrschaft in der DDR.
14. See discussion and literature cited in Ross, The East German Dictatorship, 28–43.
15. See Hartmut Zimmermann, “Intelligenz,” in DDR Handbuch, vol. 1 (Köln: Verlag
Wissenschaft und Politik, 1985), 658; Erika Hoerning, “Der gesellschaftliche Ort der Intelligenz in der DDR,” in An der Spitze: Von Eliten und herrschenden Klassen, ed. Beate Krais
(Konstanz, Germany: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2001), 113–155.
16. Loren Graham, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 126.
17. Loren Graham, What Have We Learned About Science and Technology from the Russian
Experience? (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 132; Loren Graham, “The Fits
and Starts of Russian and Soviet Technology,” in Technology, Culture and Development: The
Experience of the Soviet Model, ed. James P. Scanlan (Armonk, NY, and London: M. E.
Sharpe, 1992), 3–24; Graham, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union.
18. Graham, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union, 165; Graham, The Ghost of the Executed Engineer.
19. See Alexei Kojevnikov, Stalin’s Great Science: The Times and Adventures of Soviet Physicists (London: Imperial College Press, 2004), quotations on pp. 244, 304. Siddiqi advances
similar arguments for the space program. See Siddiqi, Challenge to Apollo.



20. See Heike Knortz, Innovationsmanagement in der DDR 1973/79–1989: Der Sozialistische Manager Zwischen ökonomischen Herausforderungen und Systemblockaden (Berlin:
Duncker & Humblot, 2004) and literature cited therein.
21. Susanne Schattenberg was able to make use of a great wealth of memoirs and other autobiographical and biographical sources in her study, Stalins Ingenieure.
22. His memoirs are in the collection “Nachlaß Prof. W. Hartmann,” held by the archives
of the museum “Technische Sammlungen Dresden.” I thank Renée-Gertrud Hartmann for
granting me permission to use these memoirs.
23. See Hans Becker, “Prof. Werner Hartmann: Würdigung eines diskriminierten
Wissenschaftlers,” radio fernsehen elektronik 39 (1990): 648–650; Hans Becker, “Ein Pionier
der Mikroelektronik,” Sächsische Zeitung, January 30, 1997; Günter Dörfel, “Werner
Hartmann: Industriephysiker, Hochschullehrer, Manager, Opfer,” in Physik im Nachkriegsdeutschland, ed. Dieter Hoffmann (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Harri Deutsch, 2003),
221–230; Reinhard Buthmann, “Die strukturelle Verankerung des MfS in Wissenschaft,
Technik und Technology,” Dresdener Beiträge zur Geschichte der Technikwissenschaften 25
(1998): 39–70, esp. 59–60, 68.
24. See my article, “The Impact of Two Reunification-Era Debates on the East German Sense
of Identity,” German Studies Review 27 (Fall 2004): 563–578.
25. The office’s official title is “Der Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheisdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik.”
26. Thomas Baylis, The Technical Intelligentsia and the East German Elite (Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 1974).

Abbreviations and Acronyms

AME, AMD Arbeitsstelle für Molekularelektronik, Arbeitsstelle für Molekularelektronik
Dresden (Facility for Molecular Electronics, Dresden)

Bergakademie Freiberg (Mining Academy of Freiberg)


Bundesarchiv (Federal Archive of Germany, Berlin)


Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv (Provincial Archive of Brandenburg)

BStU Bundebeauftrage für die Unterlagen des Staatsicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR
(Federal Administration for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former GDR)
CoCom Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (Western organization
established to maintain embargos on Western exports to East bloc countries)
COMECON Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Eastern European economic

Carl Zeiss Archiv (Carl Zeiss Archive, Jena)


Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front, a Nazi organization)


deutsche mark (former official currency of West Germany)


Erweiterte Oberschule (East German high school)

ESER Einheitliches System der Elektronischen Rechentechnik (unified system of electronic
computing technology)
FDGB Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (Federation of Free German Trade Union, an
East German trade union federation)

Freie Deutsche Jugend (Free German Youth, East German youth organization)

HF Werk für Fernmeldewesen (Telecommunications Works), located in the Oberschöneweide section of Berlin, later known as WF

Halbleiterwerk Frankfurt/Oder (Semi-Conductor Works of Frankfurt an der Oder)

Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter (secret police informant)


Landesarchiv Berlin (Provincial Archive of Berlin)


Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security)


Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del (Ministry of Internal Affairs, USSR)


Abbreviations and Acronyms


National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD


Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (secret police, Soviet Union)

NSBDT NS-Bund Deutscher Technik (National Socialist League of German Technology)
NSDB NS Dozentenbund (National Socialist Teachers’ League)
POS Polytechnische Oberschule (polytechnical school, the basic school type in the GDR,
encompassing grades one through ten)
SächsHStA Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Dresden (Central Archive of Saxony, Dresden)
SAG Sovietische Aktiengesellschaft (enterprise directly run and controlled by Soviet authorities in SBZ)
SAPMO/Barch Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR im
Bundesarchiv (Foundation of the Archive of the Parties and Mass Organization of the GDR
in the Federal German Archives)
SBZ Sovietische Besatzungszone (Soviet zone of occupation of Germany)
SMAD Sowjetische Militäradministration in Deutschland (Soviet military administration in

Statistisches Bundesamt (Federal Office for Statistics)


Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany)


Technische Sammlungen Dresden (Technical Collections of Dresden)


Technische Hochschule, Technische Universität (technical university)

Technische Universität Dresden (Archives of the Technical University of Dresden)

VDCh Verein Deutscher Chemiker (Association of German Chemists)
VDI Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Association of German Engineers)
VDDI Verband







Volkseigener Betrieb (people’s enterprise)


Vereinigung Volkseigener Betriebe (association of people’s enterprises)

WF Werk für Fernsehelektronik
Oberschöneweide section of Berlin





Wissenschaftlich-technisches Büro (scientific-technical bureau)


Wissenschaftlich-technische Zentren (scientific-technical center)


Zentraler Kaderdatenspeicher (Central Cadre Data Repository)





The “Great Eastward Trek”: German Specialists in
the Soviet Union

German scientists and engineers entered into a new relationship with the Soviet
Union quite suddenly at the end of the Second World War. From the beginning of
the Red Army invasion of Germany to the end of Soviet occupation in 1949, Soviet
authorities captured, coerced, and recruited German scientists and engineers to go
to the USSR to work on the atomic bomb and other essential technical projects.
Virtually all, even those who had gone voluntarily, felt like prisoners at least part
of the time. They experienced extreme rupture in their personal and professional
lives, and were confronted with tremendous difficulties and hardships. Amazingly,
despite these traumatic experiences, a large percentage of them, upon their release,
decided not to flee to the capitalist West, but to make their lives in Communist East
Germany. Their exact numbers will never be known, but they made themselves felt
in every corner of the GDR. Indeed, many of these deported Germans rose into
positions of prominence in East Germany. During their time in the Soviet Union,
they entered into a complex relationship with the Communist system, one that
would have a profound impact not only on their professional lives, but also on the
engineering profession and industrial research in the GDR. The roots of their decisions to go to work for the Communists and their understanding of their position
within the system can only be understood against the background of their experiences in the Soviet Union, so it is to this chapter in their lives that we turn.
“A Piece of Familiar Home in a Continually Changing Landscape”
On October 22, 1946, Werner Albring, an aerodynamics expert working at the
Soviet-run rocketry research center in the Thuringian village of Bleicherode, was
shaken awake by his wife and sister-in-law just before 6:00 a.m. Groggy after a
night of hard drinking at a banquet orchestrated by the Soviet authorities, he was
startled by the words of a friend, a Soviet officer who had come to prepare him for
a very unexpected turn of events: “You must travel to Moscow today. . . . At 6


Chapter 1

o’clock, a lieutenant will come to your apartment, accompanied by four soldiers.
He will order you to pack up all of your furniture and belongings for the trip.”
Albring’s escorts arrived punctually. An interpreter translated their written orders:
Zentralwerke—the research center where Albring worked—was to be moved for
five years to the Soviet Union, and some of its employees were required under the
Potsdam Agreement to go along to continue their work under Soviet supervision as
a kind of reparation.1
All over the Soviet zone of occupation, similar scenes were playing out. This was
the beginning of Osoaviakhim, the Russian code name by which this deportation
action has come to be known.2 A big military research and production complex that
the Soviets had built up in their zone of occupation in Germany from Nazi-era corporations and research institutes—clandestinely, and in violation of four-power
agreements—was now moved to the Soviet Union. Laboratories, factories, and documents were disassembled or gathered up and loaded onto trains. The thousands
of scientists and engineers who were rounded up were welcome to bring along
employees, family members, even lovers, along with personal effects, household
items, heavy furniture, pets, livestock, and house plants. Adults, children, animals,
and goods were carefully loaded on to ninety-two Soviet trains. Many specialists
protested vociferously, but, convinced of the hopelessness of their situation, resigned
themselves to their fate. Few were given a contract, and so began a long period of
living in a legal limbo.3
This was the beginning of a temporary migration to the great “socialist motherland,” a collective experience shared by about 300 scientists, 1,300 engineers, and
1,300 skilled workers, along with some 5,000 family members.4 They were called
“specialists,” a term that in Russian referred not only to engineers and scientists,
but also to skilled workers. Later, when they returned to East Germany, a mystique
surrounded them, admired as they were for having helped rebuild the Soviet Union.
According to historian Burghard Ciesla, over 80 percent initially returned to the
German Democratic Republic when they were permitted to do so, though many
later fled to the West.5 The roster of those who attained key positions in the East
German technical and scientific elite or even (in a few cases) in the party leadership
is impressive. They include: Peter Adolf Thiessen (head of the Research Council
[Forschungsrat] in 1957–1965 and member of the State Council [Staatsrat] in
1960–1963), Max Volmer (head of the Academy of Sciences [Deutsche Akademie
der Wissenschaften] in 1955–1958), Manfred von Ardenne (top researcher in many
areas, head of a private institute, and member of the Research Council
[Forschungsrat]), Erich Apel (member of the Central Committee of the SED and
head of the State Planning Commission), Matthias Falter (an important figure in
early semiconductor research), Werner Hartmann (head of the first major institute

The “Great Eastward Trek”


for microelectronics research), Paul Görlich (head of research at Carl Zeiss Jena),
Herbert Kortum (who built the first computer in the GDR), Nikolaus Joachim
Lehmann (another computer pioneer), and many of the founders of the East German
aviation industry (which attained considerable prominence in the 1950s). The “specialists” played an important role in East German industrial research, and had a
major impact on technological culture in East Germany.
This roster of “alumni” reflects the degree to which scientists and engineers found
their relationships with the powerful congenial, or at least workable. Coercion obviously played a major role in the interaction between experts and Soviet authorities.
But in many cases, there was also a strong element of consent. Some went to the
Soviet Union voluntarily. Osoaviakhim swept up those who were already working—
directly or indirectly—for the Soviets. A process of negotiation began immediately
upon their deportation. Most German scientists and engineers accommodated the
expectations of the Soviets, but also felt themselves lucky to have the opportunity
to continue their research.
Werner Albring’s account of deportation to the Soviet Union is one of the most
positive. Very much colored by loyalty to the Communist system, he depicts his trip
to the Soviet Union as the beginning of a very constructive phase of his life. Inspired
by Sputnik, Albring began writing his memoirs in 1957, although he did not
complete them until 1988 and did not publish them until 1991, when they were
published free of GDR censorship. This account is shaped by a desire to find
meaning in a life dedicated to East Germany. For Albring, the normalization of an
extraordinary situation came surprisingly early in his “great eastward trek,” as he
calls it in his memoirs. Albring’s wife’s twenty-year-old sister, Liddy, who had
been living with the Albrings, decided to go along out of a sense of adventure. The
sisters, having made their preparations for the unexpected move “with bravado,”
seemed very much at ease with the sudden turn of events. The journey to Moscow
took nearly three weeks on the completely overwhelmed and still badly damaged
Eastern European rail system. Reminders of the war and the privations of the
post-war period were subtle: a field of sun-browned wheat left unharvested since
1944, unseen Polish bandits who were kept out at night by tying the handles of the
train cars from the inside. Although the trip was tiring, the food was good, the compartments pleasantly heated, and the company congenial. Two cows in the freight
compartment provided the small children with milk. Liddy was soon being courted
by two admirers. Albring’s three-year-old daughter played happily, day after day,
feeling secure in the midst of her family. Soon the train became “a piece of familiar
home in a continually changing landscape.” Blown-up tanks and damaged planes
lay strewn around fields in Belorussia, but grass had already covered the grenade


Chapter 1

Albring’s eastward journey had actually begun before his deportation, shortly
after the war, as it had for many others in armaments production. A former
employee of the wartime Institute for Aerodynamics and Aviation, he found himself
unemployed and living in the British zone of occupation. His first crossing over into
the Soviet zone in 1946, on his way to a job interview, felt to him “as adventurous
as an expedition of the legendary Baron Münchhausen” (an eighteenth-century
figure made famous by a Nazi-era film). Like other engineers, he feared the Soviets,
partly because of Nazi propaganda, but also partly because he knew of the Stalinera show trials and persecution of engineers. However, Albring felt compelled by
circumstances to overcome these fears. Thirty-two years of age, with a young wife
and three-year-old daughter, Albring faced unemployment or life abroad, away from
his family. The Albring family (which included Werner Albring’s sister-in-law) lived
in two small rooms, with inadequate facilities. During the winter (a winter of bitter
hunger in Britain as well), food rations in the British zone were reduced to a thousand calories per person per day. Many German children died that winter due to
privations of various sorts. The Albrings augmented their rations with mushrooms
and berries from the woods, often preserved in jam jars, and spent a good deal of
time gathering fire wood. On the other hand, the Soviets offered the family 4,500
calories worth of daily rations per person and offered Albring the chance to work
on the V-2 rocket, Hitler’s much-vaunted Wunderwaffe, which was used during
the last days of the Second World War to terrorize the civilian population of
Britain. This was an enticing prospect for Albring, as it represented a professional
The Soviets offered him a job at Zentralwerke, a rocket research center that had
been evacuated by the Nazis from Peenemünde (where Wernher von Braun conducted rocketry research for the Nazis) to Bleicherode, a small village in Thuringia,
and was renamed and converted into a SAG (Sovietische Aktiengesellschaft, an
enterprise directly run and controlled by Soviet authorities) in 1946. Helmut
Gröttrup, the head of Zentralwerke, inspired confidence in Albring, as evidently did
the Soviet officers present at the first meeting, whose calm demeanor and excellent
German made a positive impression on Albring. Albring claims that he believed the
Russians when they asserted the rocket research would be used for peaceful purposes, such as mail transport and space exploration.8
Working and living conditions in Bleicherode fully lived up to the researchers’
expectations. Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, who was to become the father of the Soviet
space program, was assigned to Bleicherode with the rank of major. Albring describes
him as “a talented engineer, a figure of authority, decisive, possessing a precise
knowledge of engineering coupled with common sense.” Germans and Russians

The “Great Eastward Trek”


socialized with each other, visiting each other’s homes along with their families. The
specialists’ optimism burst forth in daydreams of a futuristic, technocratic nature.
One evening, Hoch is reported to have said: “We are now in our most productive
years . . . And it is important to work on a meaningful task . . . I sometimes think
that sometime in the far distant future our earth could become uninhabitable. And
we are the ones who are doing the pioneering work on the future means of transportation, the rocket.” The dawning realization that the rockets developed at
Bleicherode would, indeed, be used for military purposes did not deter him or his
colleagues from continuing their research with great enthusiasm. He rationalized his
decision to stay with the arguments that other professional possibilities were no
longer available, and that he could not let down his colleagues by leaving.9
“Du, Dokument. Ich, Revolver”: Werner Hartmann’s Trip to the Soviet Union
Werner Hartmann, a thirty-three-year-old physicist who had participated in
pioneering industrial research on television, electronics, and solid-state physics
during the Nazi period, had been commandeered to go to the Soviet Union to work
on the atomic bomb project over a year before Albring. His unpublished memoirs,
secretly written by hand between the 1960s and early 1980s, give insight into the
chaotic and dangerous situation that scientists and engineers faced at the end of
the Second World War and the decisions that led to their migration to the Soviet
Although living in Zehlendorf, an affluent suburban area of Berlin, Hartmann
was caught up in the struggle to survive after the Red Army occupied Berlin. His
fear of Soviet soldiers is palpable in his descriptions of their “habit” of shooting
aimlessly all day and all night. Once, when they entered and took him down to the
basement of his house with a rifle (MP) to his back, he thought they were going to
shoot him; it turned out they were only looking for objects of value. He took in a
secretary of the television company, Fernseh GmbH, where he worked, as well as
her husband. The two men told her to always keep her back to Soviet soldiers so
that they would not see her physical beauty. Hartmann recalls the long lines outside
of doctors’ offices of women who had been raped by soldiers. Hartmann’s bicycle—
even though he had papers allowing him to keep it—was confiscated with the words,
“Du Dokument, ich Revolver!” Hartmann’s depiction of Soviet soldiers very much
follows the pattern of many post-war accounts, colored by racialized perceptions.
He recalls that one day, two Soviet soldiers with “Asiatic” features showed up
at the home of a former Nazi. They played in a very kind way with the man’s
dachshund, then walked into the house and smashed all the furniture in the parlor


Chapter 1

with their rifle butts, came out again, and again petted and fed the little dog. “Not
until much later did I learn that this behavior demonstrated the two sides of the
Slavic-Asiatic soul: brutality and tenderness.”10
In downtown Berlin terrible devastation and chaos were everywhere. “The most
terrible sight was the stream of people—often women with several small children
or very old people with a cane—carrying those few possessions that they had
been able to save in backpacks, bags, suitcases, cardboard boxes, baby carriages
or small carts. All of them had lost their homes and all their belongings in the
inner city, along with family members, and were now marching out of Berlin, toward
an uncertain future, most without a destination.” Like these people, Hartmann did
not know what to do after his old company and other places where he might
have been able to work were shut down by the Soviets. It was rumored that all factories were to be disassembled and taken to the Soviet Union as reparations or
plunder. “What should I do now?” he asked himself.11 Like many Germans in that
period, Hartmann suffered from hunger. When he came upon a crowd looting a
grocery store, he helped himself. Decades later, he still remembered with pleasure a
meal of fried potatoes and bacon that he ate in this period at the home of Gustav
Through Hertz, Hartmann received what he saw as a chance to escape this miserable situation. Hertz, winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize in physics and Hartmann’s
mentor at the Technical University (TU) of Berlin-Charlottenburg, had been considered a “quarter-Jew” during the Nazi period. A Mischling (a person of mixed
racial ancestry) under the Nuremberg Laws, but too famous to be rounded up, Hertz
was forced out of the TU, but was invited by the Siemens Corporation to conduct
industrial research as the scientific head of Siemens Laboratories. Sickened by the
crimes of the Nazis, Hertz accepted an invitation to go to the Soviet Union after
the war to set up a physics institute and to run it for two years. Hertz put
Hartmann’s name on a list of assistants he would like to take along. Hartmann
signed on the day after he learned of this, motivated primarily by a desire to continue his research.12
Hartmann flew with the Hertzes on a two-motor Douglas plane to Moscow. From
the air one could see “fires, the whole extent of the destruction.” During a refueling stop in Germany he put a handful of soil in his pocket, which he threw away
in the late 1940s, after he lost hope of ever returning home. Images of a confrontation with wrathful Russians passed through his mind on the truck-ride from
the Moscow airport: “Five weeks after the surrender of Hitler’s Germany, which
had attacked the USSR and inflicted gigantic losses on her . . . My only wish was
that the truck not break down. If it did, I would probably have to get out, and
someone could recognize me as a German; how would the population react?”13

The “Great Eastward Trek”


The Soviet Seizure of Scientists and Engineers
It is quite surprising how so many German engineers and scientists quickly accustomed themselves to their new lives in a land they hardly knew, given that they had
very different agendas from that of their Soviet captors. The Soviet seizure of
German scientists and engineers must be seen both in the context of the Soviet push
for reparations and in the context of the early Cold-War scramble to grab specialists who might otherwise end up developing military hardware for the other side.
At Yalta, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that forced labor was to be included as a
form of reparations, which were to total $20 billion, half of which was to go to the
Soviet Union. At the same time, the Soviets vied with American and British forces
to capture or recruit as many scientists and leading technical experts as possible.
The German nuclear program was a principal target. The secret Anglo-American
Alsos mission (whose name derived from the Greek work for “groves,” a bilingual
pun of sorts on the name of the head of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie
Groves) was charged with capturing leading German scientists, especially atomic
physicists. Another Anglo-American program, code-named Operation Paperclip,
recruited German scientists such as Wernher von Braun to work for the United States
and Britain. Occupying parts of Thuringia and Saxony that were later to be turned
over to the Soviets, American forces seized laboratories and papers from military
research facilities and were able to induce technical personnel to go west (not always
using the gentlest of methods). The Soviets tried to recruit scientists and engineers
living in the American and British zones, as well as to win over the cooperation of
technical and scientific experts in the Soviet zone of occupation, offering the unemployed among them jobs and offering the former Nazis leniency. Generous food
rations and good housing sweetened the deal, as did the prospect of living with their
families and receiving open-ended contracts (as opposed to the temporary contracts
offered by the Americans and British). The Soviet contracts even stipulated that the
Germans could resign if their place of work was moved.14
The first group of German scientists sent to the Soviet Union (May to September
1945) consisted of about a hundred scientists who were to work on the atom bomb.
The importance attached to this project by the Soviets is reflected in the fact that
the NKVD (the Soviet secret police, headed by Lavrenty Beria) was put in charge
of it. A number of nuclear physicists surrendered to the Soviets, among them Gustav
Hertz and former students of his such as Heinz Barwich, as well as Professor
Max Volmer and Baron Manfred von Ardenne, who had built a cyclotron at his
institute in Berlin-Lichterfeld. Their hopes for Soviet leniency proved well founded.
Peter Adolf Thiessen, the director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry and an
“ardent Nazi” who had joined the party in the 1920s, only underwent pro forma


Chapter 1

de-Nazification. Anti-Nazi feelings, bitterness over their experiences in the Nazi
period, and leftist leanings (particularly in Barwich’s case) motivated Hertz,
Barwich, and Volmer to agree to go voluntarily to the Soviet Union. They were also
anxious to continue their work, together with their colleagues, using their own laboratory equipment and notes, which had been confiscated by the Soviets. Two institutes were established in September 1945 at the Soviet Black Sea resort, Sukhumi
(now capital of the breakaway republic of Abkhazia): one in Agudseri, headed by
Gustav Hertz, and one in Sinop, where Ardenne, Thiessen, and Max Steenbeck
worked. Nikolaus Riehl, who had worked on uranium purification and heavy water
for Auer Company in Rheinsberg (Brandenburg), was taken to Elektrostal, near
Moscow, along with the Auer Company laboratories and staff. At his institute there,
Riehl continued work on the production of purified uranium.15
A year later, Osoaviakhim relied much more exclusively on compulsion than had
the seizure of specialists for the atomic program. Without contracts or valid passports and bereft of the protection of international agreements or international law,
these Germans were forced to stay in the Soviet Union as long as the Soviet leadership so desired. The immediate goal of the October 22, 1946, action was to move
huge aviation, rocketry, and other weapons research and production facilities in
Saxony and Thuringia to the Soviet Union. These Nazi-era facilities had been rebuilt
by the Soviets, who were well aware of the perils of conducting military research
in Germany, given the open frontiers among the United States, British, French, and
Soviet zones of occupation in Germany and the four-power prohibition of such
research. The heart of the Nazi aviation industry was also located in the Soviet zone
of occupation. The Soviets were quite interested in jet research, which had been
more advanced in Nazi Germany than in the Soviet Union. The Soviets scoured the
ranks of BMW, AEG, and Junkers employees for engineers and scientists who could
work on aviation programs.16
The Soviets also put recruits from POW and civilian prison camps (many of the
latter former Nazis) to work in atomic research and in the development of aircraft
parts. German specialists were recruited to set up and run dismantled German
factories, as well as to supply qualified technical specialists that the Soviet Union
For most of these Germans, this was the first direct encounter with the Soviet
Union: Most of the top scientists and engineers had worked on high-priority
research projects during the war and had not seen the battlefield (least of all on the
Eastern Front). Fewer still had been to the Soviet Union during the period of the
Hitler-Stalin Pact, or had gone to live there in the Weimar or Nazi periods.18 How
did these specialists experience the Soviet Union, its culture, its research system, its
political system? How did they negotiate this system? What impact did this have

The “Great Eastward Trek”


on the way they approached the situation in the GDR upon their return from the
Soviet Union?
A One-Way Street: German Specialists and the Transfer of Technology to the
Soviet Union
One-way technological transfer was what the Soviets sought: the transfer of knowhow from Germany to the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Germans made significant contributions to Soviet technological development. However, recent studies such as that
by Christoph Mick show that popular assumptions about the extent of those
contributions are greatly exaggerated. Albring emphasizes that Sputnik was not
German-built. It is now generally agreed that the espionage activities of Klaus Fuchs
and others at Los Alamos made a far greater contribution to the Soviet atomic
program than did the German nuclear physicists in the Soviet Union.19
But the Germans learned little from Soviet research, according to Mick. They
were not allowed to interact with their Soviet counterparts, nor were they given
access to Soviet research results. This is particularly odd since Soviet research teams
were conducting parallel research. However, the parallel research gave the Soviet
leadership a method for checking German results for signs of deception, sabotage,
lack of motivation, or incompetence, while spurring Soviet scientists and engineers
to a maximal effort. Members of the Soviet research groups were allowed to visit
the German groups and to question them about their research, at times gaining
insights that helped them solve key research problems. By contrast, the Germans
almost never received help from Soviet engineers or scientists. According to Albring,
Korolev and others ended personal friendships begun in East Germany after their
transfer to the Soviet Union: “The beloved acquaintances from Bleicherode had
turned into monosyllabic people.” The German rocketry team provided interesting
ideas to Soviet researchers, but ultimately lost out to Korolev’s team.20 Too few
bridges were built between Soviet and German technical experts. This prevented the
forging of Soviet-German links that could have provided a firm foundation for longterm German-Soviet technological collaboration.
Confronted with tremendous hurdles, many German researchers felt overwhelmed. The atomic scientists reacted to a report about the accomplishments of
the Manhattan Project in the United States with anxiety: “Compared with the huge
army of scientific personnel, the capacity of laboratories which had been operating
for five years, we looked to ourselves like castaways who, in order to save themselves, had to build an ocean liner.” However, they displayed ingenuity and energy
in confronting the problems posed by isolation, poor working conditions, the lack
of materials and skilled workers, the indifference of factory management, and the


Chapter 1

inefficiencies of the planning system. They improvised and built their own equipment and parts. They simplified design. Forced to work with pen and paper—sheets
cut off of a big roll of brown paper—and isolated from other research institutes or
libraries, the rocket research team nonetheless did very good work.21
Hardship, coupled with the opportunity to devote themselves to interesting and
challenging technical projects, actually seems to have unleashed tremendous energy
in the Germans. Many of them felt a great deal of pride in their hard-won accomplishments. Herbert Kortum, suffering greatly from the privations of life in the
Soviet Union, wrote to a colleague at Carl Zeiss that he and others were working
hard on the projects assigned to them because they wanted to prove the value of
their company and of German culture to the Soviets: “If we again and again pull
ourselves together and try to accomplish something, despite all the difficulties, we
do so out of a feeling that we stand here as representatives of our old, worldrenowned company and of our German people, and that everything that we do or
leave undone will be seen from this perspective.”22 Barwich and Hartmann savor
moments of triumph over Soviet rivals in their memoirs. Barwich was subjected to
a scathing and brutal attack by a rival when, at a talk at an isotope separation plant
in Siberia, he presented new techniques that he had developed. But afterward, the
rival became quite friendly. Barwich remarks, “The cold war between the two sides
was familiar to all the participants; it was nothing but a mock battle.” At the end
of the day, Barwich was offered a new job at the plant.23 Successes such as this contributed to a sense of professional satisfaction as well as to a feeling of normalcy
in the working lives of these Germans. They proved to be adaptable in other regards
as well.
Isolation and the Re-Creation of the Heimat
The physical isolation of the Germans is quite striking. Many were sent to remote
locations. Whatever hopes the Germans may have had of being associated with
the premium research institutes of the Soviet Union were in most cases dashed
at the outset. The rocketry specialists were bitterly disappointed to learn, soon after
their arrival, that most were to be sent to a remote island, Gorodomliya. Most of
the Germans in the Soviet Union had little or no access to Soviet research institutes
or research libraries. German specialists were also unhappy to find themselves
confined to relatively small compounds or perimeters around their places of work
and residence, generally well patrolled and ringed with barbed wire. They were
seldom allowed to visit Moscow or other cities, and then only in the company of
a member of the NKVD, or, from 1946 onward, the MGB, or Ministry for State

The “Great Eastward Trek”


Censorship was another irritant. Hartmann once received a letter from his father,
of which the censor had blackened out all but two lines: “Dear Werner” and “Love,
Father.” However, Hartmann’s father sent a second copy of each letter a few weeks
after the first, and the censor usually censored different parts of the letter the second
time around. The censorship of letters virtually ceased in 1952. Germans in the
atomic bomb project received copies of West German publications such as Stern
and Der Spiegel and listened to Western radio broadcasts. Nonetheless, many at
Agudseri felt profoundly frustrated by restrictions on mobility, professional isolation, and restrictions on contacts between Germans and Soviets. Hertz told Beria
about the discontent of the Germans. The infamous head of the secret police did
not punish Hertz for complaining, but neither did he loosen security restrictions.25
However, isolation also had its advantages. Isolation was, for some, a welcome
escape from the chaos of post-war Germany. Coming from a Germany lying in ruins,
suffering from hunger and hopelessness, most of the German specialists found themselves in relatively unscarred, remote areas, where they were provided with good
housing, food, and pay as well as a kind of security, albeit behind barbed wire.
Knowing that Soviet vengeance had rained down on women who had fallen victim
to mass rapes, on the hapless conscripted labor put to work in the dreadful uranium
mines, as well as on those sent off to NKVD/MVD “special camps,”26 the German
“specialists” felt relatively well off. And although the experience of captivity and
relative isolation seems to have caused some of the Germans great suffering, for
others, such as Werner Hartmann, isolation brought the opportunity to totally
immerse themselves in their work. Hartmann writes, “I never during my professional
life—neither earlier in Germany nor later in the GDR—was able to work with such
concentration . . . in a congenial atmosphere that was never disturbed.” Reduced
to “subservient work animals,” many of the Germans got used to being taken care
of by the Soviets, and in fact thrived professionally. They coped well with their situation and, rather than succumbing to feelings of claustrophobia, got along remarkably well, displaying a high degree of solidarity. Some had become accustomed to
working in high-security facilities during the Nazi period, where they had developed
a kind of “military comradeship” with fellow engineers.27
Two factors seem to have been central to the well-being of the Germans: their
ability to work effectively and their ability to re-create a Heimat (hometown or
homeland) away from home. Family and familiar gender relations were an important part of this portable Heimat. Traditional gender roles were the norm among
the Germans, who expressed considerable disapproval over the employment of
Soviet women in heavy work, such as construction work. The occasional female
scientist or engineer among the Germans was marginalized. Hartmann writes, for
example, that one female physicist from Germany was “a dried out, pimply old


Chapter 1

maid.” Virtually all experts were allowed to bring along their families. The Germans
were initially not allowed to divorce or marry in the Soviet Union, but this did not
prevent them from setting up house in marriage-like relationships. But Soviet
authorities did not allow friendships or romantic relationships between Germans
and Soviets until at least 1951 or 1952. If there appeared to be a romantic interest
between a German man and a Soviet woman, the woman was moved to another
job. However, there seem to have been enough German women along to provide a
pool of possible partners, at least in Agudseri and Suchumi.28
While the men appeared content with their domestic set-up, the wives felt differently. In her memoirs, Irmgard Gröttrup depicted the lives of the women who went
along to the Soviet Union as arduous and full of self-sacrifice. Getting and preparing food was exhausting work, involving on at least one occasion a two-hour march
in minus-forty degree weather to an open-air market. Caring for her children was
also difficult, particularly given her son’s poor health and the lack of good medical
care. As a “poor female creature without intellect,” hardly ever seeing her workaholic husband, she suffered from depression and constantly longed to return to
Heinz Barwich, unlike most of the men, gladly escaped an unhappy marriage in
the Soviet Union, leaving his wife in Suchumi (on the Black Sea) and moving to a
job in Kieferstadt, an industrial town in Siberia. He discovered that the few available women there were off limits to him because they were Soviet citizens. Although
this made a relationship with a woman he had met at a ballroom dance class impossible, he seems not to have minded very much because he was happy in the egalitarian, work-centered environment of Kieferstadt. This deprivation was also made
more bearable by the belief that it was a fact of life for many: The living conditions
were such that none of the single men (who shared living quarters) seemed to have
a sex life. Barwich was happy that Germans were treated the same as Soviets there,
and could freely move around in the town and its environs. There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie among his plant’s employees: “We often got together with
the Russians in the evening for casual social gatherings. We drank tea and vodka,
ate cookies and candies, chatted, sang and danced to records.” Thus for him, the
company of men (temporarily) replaced conventional family life.30
One of the ways that the Germans sought to re-create the Heimat in the Soviet
Union was through a romantic escape into nature—a predilection of middle-class
Germans. Hartmann portrays Agudseri as a semi-tropical paradise. The main house,
a former sanatorium that had once been the fifty-room summer home of a wealthy
businessman, looked out over the Black Sea. The gardens were filled with palm and
mandarin trees, camellias, bamboo, magnolias, eucalyptus trees, box trees, and
agaves. However, taste and temperament varied, as did the circumstances under

The “Great Eastward Trek”


which individuals were forced to live and work. Barwich preferred life in Siberia to
that in Suchumi: “Here, I found not just the work, but also life more romantic.
Perhaps I was enchanted by the Siberian winters, with their great masses of snow
and temperatures down to minus forty degrees Centigrade. In that clear air, one
could breathe better and more deeply than in the humid climate of the Black Sea
coast.” At Gorodomliya, the Germans related to the natural beauty of the island in
ways typical of the German bourgeoisie. They set up a tennis court and parallel bars
for gymnastics, went skiing and swimming, sunbathed in the nude (discreetly), and
camped out. However, many of the Germans probably lived under far more difficult circumstances. According to Riehl, in Elektrostal entire German families lived
in single, bug-infested rooms. German engineers and scientists working for the
Soviets while interned in POW or other camps were particularly badly off. Industrial physicist Kurt Berner found these camps an improvement over the prison camps
in Soviet-occupied Germany, where he (a former Nazi Party member) had spent over
two years. However, hunger and deprivation were part and parcel of the hard lives
of rocketry researchers in Berner’s camp in the Soviet Union. For German such as
these, the Heimat remained at the far horizon.31
Dealing with Communism, Encountering Russia
German memoir writers tend to depict the Soviet system and Russian culture as two
distinctive entities, and their accounts of the two reveal interesting things about the
strategies they developed in trying to deal with the power the Soviets had over
them and in coming to an understanding of their place in that system. These memoirists had few illusions concerning the nature of the Stalinist system, although they
saw some positive aspects to Soviet-style socialism. Hartmann and other Germans
knew of the persecution in the Soviet Union of those who disagreed with the biologist Lysenko. They were also shocked and dismayed to learn that quantum mechanics (as developed by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and others) was officially
rejected. Riehl (figure 1.1), who grew up in St. Petersburg as the son of a German
father and a Russian mother, rejected the Soviet system on a profound level: “I was
free from illusions from the start. As a firsthand witness to the October Revolution
in 1917 and of the first years of Soviet communism, I knew the devastation Communism inflicted on the living standard.” During his time in the Soviet Union, Riehl
worked with two Soviet scientists who had been sent to a gulag during the Second
World War. Of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago Riehl writes, “I can
confirm the accuracy of his descriptions and evaluations both from my own experiences and from those of many individuals mentioned in the book whom I have


Chapter 1

Figure 1.1
Nikolaus Riehl during his stay in the Soviet Union. Photo credit: Chemical Heritage

The “Great Eastward Trek”


By contrast, Barwich, a non-Communist socialist from childhood, went to the
Soviet Union with vaguely positive feelings and a desire to get to know “the
grandiose historical experiment of building socialism according to a theoretical
plan.” Barwich comments positively on some aspects of the system, such as free
medical care, but is more critical of the economic system, which he saw as wasteful and inefficient, although he was very impressed by the effectiveness of the Soviet
atomic program and the highly motivated people who worked on it. Nonetheless,
he became bitterly disillusioned with the Soviet system because of what he saw as
its basic dishonesty. (Soviet rivals succeeded in discrediting his work through unjustified accusations of “moral failings.”) He was also perturbed by what he saw as a
pattern of lies on the part of the authorities in their dealings with the Germans. He
indicates that the other Germans at Agudseri had come to see things in a similar
way: “Of the seventeen German scientists at the institute in Agudseri, not one later
became a member of the German Communist Party. And those from the other
institutes who today loudly proclaim themselves to be Communists—most of these
are former Nazi party members or collaborators—do not really believe Soviet
promises.” Barwich felt more profoundly disappointed than other Germans because
he had positive feelings toward the Russians, and had not come to the USSR expecting the worst, as they had.33
Despite these overwhelmingly negative perceptions regarding the nature of the
Soviet system, many German experts became convinced that they could function
within this system. One reason is that they were convinced that the Soviet authorities treated technology and politics as two separate categories, not allowing politics to impinge on technical rationality: “When the Soviet government sets itself a
technological goal, it sets politics aside. One knows that one cannot ‘build power
plants with ideology.’ ”34 As far as ideology is concerned, most Germans were left
alone, although a few groups were subjected to political indoctrination. Germans