What is the Alsatian heritage

Contemporary witness project Bismuth is a secret

In the 1990s, historiography and the public focused on the shining legacies of the Wismut such as the "Pyramids of Ronneburg", gigantic spoil heaps that shape the cityscape. Journalists report on polluted streams, destroyed landscapes, villages and cities demolished for uranium plants. Historians research the history of that unique construct of a "Soviet-German stock corporation". It was founded in 1946 under German company law with the aim of supplying the Soviet Union with uranium. There is never any mention of nuclear weapons. The official task of the SDAG is the search for non-ferrous metals such as bismuth. 30 years later, there is hardly anything left of the material legacy of the "bismuth" in the Ore Mountains and Thuringia. But the memories of the "bismuth" are still there.

Identification with home and uranium

"The identification with the region is particularly strong among men," explains the historian Astrid Mignon Kirchhof, "with the Ore Mountains, then with the uranium mining itself and with the bismuth." The motivation for the interviewees seems to be the attitude "I don't want my life's work to be ruined".

I don't want my life's work to be ruined!

Frequently heard statements in the eyewitness interviews

Several hundred thousand men and women have worked for Bismut in the past 45 years. 50 have now been interviewed for the contemporary witness project of the Saxon Academy of Sciences. The researchers were initially surprised by the willingness to talk about their lives for several hours. In retrospect it is clear that there is a very solid biographical reason for this. "I want the history of Wismut and the history of the GDR to be presented a little differently than it has been up to now," said Astrid Mignon Kirchhof, summarizing the motives of her interlocutors. "I can't find myself in the historiography or how people talk about the GDR."

"Pechblende "spoil heaps and muddy rivers - environmental protection in the bismuth

It is about environmental protection, for example. For a long time, media coverage of the Wismut has focused on the ecological consequences and legacies of uranium mining. In an interview with contemporary witnesses, Dr. Rudolf Daenecke of the beginnings of environmental protection in Wismut in the mid-1980s, when the technical director of the mines in Schmirchau, Thuringia, himself first noticed how massively uranium mining affects rivers, air and soil. Publication like Michael Beleites' "Pechblende" at that time forced the Wismut to act "a little more consistently" in environmental issues, recalls Rudolf Daenecke, until then "the successors were meaningless for the mining industry."

In 1988 the peace and environmental activist Michael Beleites published an underground book about the until then largely unknown uranium mining in the south of the GDR and its consequences. For years he had secretly researched and tried to get an idea of ​​the secret activities of the Soviet-German uranium mining company SDAG Wismut. Under the umbrella of the Protestant Church, he was able to publish the results of his research in the brochure "Pechblende - Uranium mining in the GDR and its consequences".

Don't take a critical look at the bismuth

There are no opponents or at least skeptics of uranium mining among the interviewees, also no one who is seriously ill and blames bismuth for this. The search for interview partners, however, went in all directions and critical reports would have been welcome. After the interview experience, however, the mates' narrative was different: "I lived well and was able to offer my family a good life." Environmental historian Kirchhof finds it understandable that the risk of radiation damage is being suppressed. After all, "no one wants to let their life's work be ruined or talked about. That affects Bismuth and all of us."

I lived well and was able to offer my family a good life.

Buddy about her time at the bismuth.

"The Friends "weren't friends

Between 30,000 and 150,000 Soviets worked at the bismuth. These extremely different numbers alone show how little we know today about Soviet engineers, geologists and laboratory technicians. In doing so, they determined the day-to-day work, as they were in management positions at Wismut. The traditional association "Fathers and Sons of Wismut" has existed in Russia since 2008. From him the Berlin historians received 80 written memories of their time at Wismut; 600 pages in total that have yet to be translated.

Of the 50 eyewitness interviews, four were conducted in Russian, with six more to follow. A discrepancy in memories is already noticeable. The Soviet Bismuth workers talk about a wide variety of contacts, tell of friendships that extended beyond the end of 1991. The German Bismuth employees emphasize that there were no private contacts and that these were also not wanted. Ultimately, the uranium extraction was subject to strict secrecy.

Treasure trove for historians and social scientists

The historians at Humboldt University were surprised by the interest in telling their own - positive - Bismut biography. With more time and money, they could have done far more than the 50 interviews. These videos and texts already tell of memories of a unique company. They are therefore an important part of the culture of remembrance, which must be preserved, just like the winding towers, the green heaps and the exhibition mines.

The Saxon Academy of Sciences wants to collect the eyewitness interviews on a website, supplemented by links to archives, pictures and collections of bismuth art. If you want to know what the legacy of bismuth is, you will find answers there. And maybe those interested will also find them in the theater in post-Corona times. There are first ideas to bring the eyewitness reports onto the stage.