Post-war years and life as a Volkseigener Betrieb

A few weeks under American administration were followed by the Soviet occupation, which began on the 1st of July 1945. While the Spinnerei’s buildings and machines had suffered only slight damage during the war, reparations to the Soviet Union fundamentally weakened the business, as the Soviets appropriated the Spinnerei’s large and productive machines. Half of the Spinnerei’s machines were removed between March and May of 1946.

In the summer of 1946, the Spinnerei became a Volkseigener Betrieb (a publicly-owned company) belonging to the region of Saxony. Due to severe food shortages, it was a long time before production could begin again. A cynical slogan coined by the SED – “First work more, then eat more” – did not prevent people from trading possessions for food in the surrounding villages. Steady production eventually resumed thanks to re-establishment of social services, such as a factory canteen, a company co-operative branch and a holiday complex, as well as an improved supply of essential foodstuffs.

The struggle to increase production and exceed planning targets was impacted on by 80 percent of the workforce being women, many of whom had families to care for alongside their jobs. The setting up of a “Kinderwochenheim” 
and a “Kinderwochenkrippe” in 1954, where children and infants lived and were looked after during the working week, was a milestone in this respect. The aim was to relieve the women of much of their traditional workload, and they were duly provided with food from factory canteens, shopping opportunities and help with housework.

Working conditions, however, were hard. The women had to bend down constantly to retie threads, the machines were very loud, the air was hot, dusty and sticky and the working day was very arduous and monotonous.

For its first post-war generation in particular, the Spinnerei was a formative, integrative and social place that was more than a workplace and source of wages – it was a socio-political institution. As well as work, social support and independence, it provided free time and cultural activities for all the family. For many, it provided improved qualifications or a step up on the career ladder – albeit with ideological conditions such as entry into the SED attached.