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Gunmaking in Suhl from 1945 to 1990 in the DDR Years

Deutsche Demokratische Republik - German Democratic Republic, By Dietrich Apel

Gunmaking came to an absolute standstill when American troops occupied Suhl, to be replaced by Russian troops three months later. It is also known that a few guns were still finished to make bartering deals for food and cigarettes. After most of the machines from the factories had been crated and shipped to Russia, all but the smallest gun shops were taken over by the Russian occupiers and later turned over to the Communist Government.

The small makers came under the supervision of the Bühag (Büchsenmacher Handels Gesellschaft), a cooperative that handled all sales and deliveries. No direct sales were permitted, and many guns were shipped to Russia as war reparations. Exports to foreign countries were promoted in order to obtain badly needed hard currency of the free world. We know that many of the best Merkel over and under shotguns were exported to a prominent dealer in Switzerland. Some guns came to America, but since 50% duty was charged for products coming from an Iron Curtain country, the prices were reduced to overcome this and this was not profitable for Suhl or the East German Government.

Our thanks to Gary Herman for donating all the following photos.

A shipment to Moscow is almost ready to go.

Richard Schüler and his son Hans from the former August Schüler Company.

Final inspection of the finished guns.

The grips of a target pistol are fitted to Erich Krempel, Silver Medal winner at the Olympics in Berlin 1936 Gold Medal winner at the Olympics in Luzerne 1939.

Inspecting the engraving.

A Master with his apprentice.

I still shy away from writing about these years in Suhl. Only those who lived there really know how it was. Perhaps we can learn more when we visit Suhl. When asked, the older people will admit that their life was easier during these years,but that there was really no good future for the younger ones. I still remember the dreary conditions in Suhl on my first visit after the Wall came down. The air was terribly polluted by heating with soft coal, and the water coming out of a spigot was brown and not very appetizing. Buildings were neglected and gray, not seeing any paint since the beginning of World War II. Although Suhl is alive and colorful now, the unemployment rate is still very high; many people had to move away to find work and the town is struggling to make ends meet.

The Suhl gunmakers deserve our respect and admiration for keeping the tradition alive under very difficult circumstances. Although we search in vain for new ideas and inventions from this period, the skills of the craftsmen did not get lost. Suhl will never again be what it once was, but it will be counted for having some of the best gunmakers of the world.

This gun is part of the history that reminds us of the cold war years.

A present for Prime Minister Khrushchev of Russia.

Suhl: A thumbnail history
Then and now, By Jon Spencer

When a man picks up a hammer in Suhl, he is making a connection with other former residents of the area which dates back five thousand years. Some of these in the last two thousand years may be his blood relatives. From the Bronze Age, humans exploited the metal-bearing ores found in the area and fashioned them into weapons, utensils, and ornaments. The area benefited not only from the availability of ores, particularly iron, but also fuel from the forests to smelt and a fast moving stream of water for motive power. One of the ancient trade routes that linked the Mediterranean Sea to the Baltic, which transported the two principal trade goods of the era, salt and metal wares, runs just to the east of Suhl and is yet today a popular trail for hikers.

Around the beginning of the Christian era, Germanic folk moved into the region, displacing or assimilating the Celts who had, in turn, displaced the even earlier residents. These "residents" were somewhat nomadic and subsisted by farming, animal husbandry and the crafts needed to bring metal wares to market. As the population increased, civil society coalesced along feudal lines, and by the sixth century A.D. permanent settlements with fortifications appeared in the area.

It wasn't until 1300 A.D. that the name of Suhl appears in a document. By 1365, Suhl possessed two hammer forges. In 1437, another followed in Schlauchgarten Strasse. At this time the production of arms and armor was in full bloom. By 1445, a "Council of Twelve" sworn citizens, mostly arms makers, governed the community. Craftsmen now also produced firearms. From contemporary records, it is estimated that the mines then employed eight hundred men. The city itself, the "Armory of Europe," had a population of seven thousand.

Because of the practice of supplying arms to either side of a conflict, the city suffered total destruction in 1634 during the Thirty Years War at the hands of the Croatian General Isolani. Fires also destroyed large parts of Suhl in 1509, 1590 and 1753.

In 1718, Suhl became part of Saxony, resulting in diminished mining and military arms production. The resilient citizens, as a result, turned to weaving cloth and producing and embellishing sporting arms, which once again brought prosperity to the city. Museums around the world hold elegant examples of these arms. Between 1756 and 1760, the gun makers of Suhl sold 25,000 firearms to the government of Prussia, which took possession of the city in 1815. The firm that would become Sauer and Son was founded in 1751 as Germany's first manufacturer of complete firearms.

Nineteenth century industrialization brought rapid growth and wealth to the city. The Haenel arms and bicycle factory opened its doors in 1840. Simson, which later gained fame for its production of arms and motor vehicles, was founded in 1856. The Schlegelmilch porcelain factory began operations in 1861. In 1882, the railway connected Suhl to the rest of the world and by the end of the century it boasted a population of 13,000.

In the First World War, arms production employed nearly 12,000 workers, but after the war, conditions quickly deteriorated for everyone in the region. Suhl strongly felt the effects of the attempted overthrow of the Weimar government by elements of the army, the terrible currency inflation and the worldwide economic crises of the 1920's and 30's. Only with the re-armament in the years leading up to the Second World War did Suhl once again enjoy prosperity as an arms producer. During this time the city nearly doubled in population.

On April 3, 1945, American troops entered the city and ended the war for the residents of Suhl; and then, with subsequent Soviet troop occupation, nationalization of business enterprises began. Firms such as Krieghoff, Anschuetz, and Sauer and Son left and resettled in West Germany.

In 1952, with the re-organization of the government, Suhl became a county seat and the population grew to nearly 25,000. The growth, with construction of modern high-rise apartments, changed forever the appearance of the city. In later years, Suhl built a public zoo, an observatory, a modern shooting sports center, a revitalized arms museum, and an industrial park that attracted many firms.

In 1990 Suhl, along with the rest of the east, re-united into one Germany.

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Page last modified June 22, 2008.