Under the cover name Staatliche Aktiengesellschaft der Buntmetallindustrie “Wismut” (AG Wismut, state corporation for the non-ferrous metal industry), mining of the rich uranium ore deposits began in the old mining fields as well as in new, deep shafts in the western part of the Erzgebirge. The Saxon Erzgebirge therefore experienced an unusual mining period from 1946 with the mining of uranium ore. These mining activities, which were unique worldwide, took place in densely populated areas of the Erzgebirge and employed hundreds of thousands of miners. They had a long-lasting effect on the region. For the third time in history, thousands of people came to the Erzgebirge to start a new life. In the early years political prisoners and criminals were forced to mine for uranium, but benefits such as better supplies of food and consumer goods, higher wages and better health care from AG Wismut soon also drew many workers of their own free will to the Saxon Erzgebirge. Under the control of AG Wismut, a “state within a state” developed within the new German Democratic Republic with its own party and state security organisations and its own transport system and health care facilities.
Whereas only 15.7 tonnes of uranium were produced in 1946, a year later it was already 145 tonnes. On 29 August 1949 the first Soviet atom bomb was detonated, which was only possible due to the uranium ore mined in the Erzgebirge. AG Wismut became the most important uranium producer in the USSR’s sphere of control. Initially, the centres for uranium mining were mainly the historic mining areas near Johanngeorgenstadt, Schneeberg and Schlema. Johanngeorgenstadt became one of the most important uranium mining areas in the German part of the Erzgebirge. The intensity of mining activities resulted in many of the deposits being exhausted after a short period of time. New uranium ore deposits were then exploited. In Thuringia, near Ronneburg, Wismut geologists discovered uranium ore deposits that could be mined from the surface. Slowly mining shifted from the Erzgebirge to neighbouring Thuringia. AG Wismut was transformed from a Soviet into a Soviet-German corporation (SDAG) in 1954. Until 1953 the profits of AG Wismut were paid to the Soviet Union as reparations. In this time around 10,000 tonnes of uranium were mined.
With the end of the GDR and the reunification of East Germany with the FRG, SDAG Wismut’s mining activities came to an end after 1990. On the one hand uranium ore was no longer needed in large quantities, and on the other it became unprofitable for Saxon uranium mining to continue on the free market. Following the political changes, the now federally owned Wismut GmbH was responsible for cleaning up the remains of uranium mining and the uranium ore dressing industry. Once again, this transformation is without precedent. Uranium ore mining only continued until 1990 in Schlema and Pöhla. Altogether AG Wismut mined 231,000 tonnes of uranium ore in the GDR. A large part of this came from deposits in the Erzgebirge.
Following the end of the Second World War, the re-establishment of Czechoslovakia let to the displacement, expulsion and emigration of German inhabitants from the Bohemian Erzgebirge and the settlement and immigration of Czechs to this region. Directly after the war, all mines were nationalised, and private companies were forbidden from operating in this industry. In the 1950s and 1960s most of the well-known deposits in the Bohemian Erzgebirge were explored again, and in some areas, mining activities actually restarted.
Uranium ore mining had a very specific role in mining activities after the war. In May 1945 the Jáchymov mines (Joachimsthal) were once more seized by the Czechoslovakian state. But on 11 September 1945 they were occupied by Red Army soldiers. The whole operation was organised by the Red Army’s headquarters in Annaberg, Germany. Along with Jáchymov, the areas around Annaberg and Johanngeorgenstadt were also affected.
After intense recruitment drives, miners began to arrive in Jáchymov, as well as new residents from across Czechoslovakia. At the end of 1947 around 3,750 people were employed here. But even this increase in manpower was no guarantee of meeting the increasing demands of the Jáchymov Commission. As early as February 1948, German prisoners of war, transported here from the USSR, started their “work” in the state-owned corporation Jáchymovskédoly (in total 12,000 people; from the beginning of 1949 they were slowly “expelled” to Germany). Prisoners’ camps were erected near the mines, whose internal organisation, all the evidence they produced and other organisational matters were monitored by the employees of the Soviet security services.
From February 1948, following a government takeover by the communist regime, a boom in ore mining never seen before in the Jáchymov mines occurred: it is unprecedented in the history of Bohemian mining. Sufficient manpower for Jáchymov was now secured from concentration camps and prison camps that were set up directly next to the uranium shafts. The Red Tower of Death remains as a witness to this period in mining.
As a result of the mining activities in the whole history of these ore fields more than 8,000 tonnes of uranium ore were mined, of which 7,200 tonnes was mined under the state-owned corporation Jáchymovskédoly. Prospecting for radioactive materials shortly after the Second World War was not restricted to the Jáchymov ore fields, which included Abertamy (Abertham), but was also conducted in several other ore fields, such as Boží Dar (Gottesgab), Měděnec (Kupferberg), Přísečnice (Preßnitz), Přebuz (Frühbuß) and Oloví (Bleistadt). However, these endeavours had little success.