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22.06.2020, Mainz, Jena (Germany)

The end of the war brought the deepest cut in company history

SCHOTT celebrates the legendary “Odyssey of 41 Glassmakers” 75 years ago
On June 25 and 26, the international specialty glass manufacturer SCHOTT will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the so-called “Odyssey of the 41 Glassmakers” from Jena to Western Germany. This measure that was ordered by the American military leadership in Europe in the summer of 1945 after the end of World War II ended with the opening of a new main plant in Mainz in 1952 and, analogous to the division of Germany, also brought about the division into East and West for SCHOTT. It was only the reunification of Germany that enabled the company to overcome the decades of division.

“The Odyssey of the 41 Glassmakers and the subsequent splitting was the deepest cut in our more than 130-year company history,” explains Dr. Frank Heinricht, Chairman of the Board of Management of SCHOTT AG, in reference to the anniversary.

World War II and the reign of terror of National Socialism ended at SCHOTT’s founding location with the arrival of the American troops in Jena on April 13, 1945, just a few weeks before the official end of the war. However, because the Allies had previously agreed that Thuringia should be part of the Soviet occupation zone after the end of the war, the US troops had to withdraw from the region again. And yet the Americans wanted to secure SCHOTT’s know-how as one of the leading specialty glass manufacturers worldwide for themselves and the West. Following the motto “We take the brain,” they therefore decided without further ado to take the management and a group of experts with them to the West. The respective individuals had no choice and had to obey the order of the American headquarters.

On June 25 and 26, 1945, two treks with American military trucks set off for an unknown destination. On board were 41 SCHOTT employees and their families, a total of 145 men, women and children. This included the Managing Director Erich Schott, the son of the company founder Otto Schott. The American soldiers first brought the “41 glassmakers” to a camp in Heidenheim an der Brenz in Württemberg, from where they were later brought to villages in the surrounding area.

“Today, we can only guess what this meant for these employees and their families at the time. Although they had survived the war and National Socialism, they now had to leave their homes, their homeland, relatives and friends, and had a completely uncertain future ahead of them. That must have been an extremely difficult time for them,” says Heinricht.

A period of uncertainty and provisional arrangements began for the “41 glassmakers” in Heidenheim who initially had at least the hope of being able to return to Jena. Starting in the summer of 1946, they gradually resumed glass production at the SCHOTT plants in Zwiesel, Mitterteich and Landshut in Bavaria. 

After the Americans had withdrawn from the region, Soviet troops had taken command in Jena. They ordered important parts of the SCHOTT plant to be dismantled and transported to the Soviet Union. They also forced SCHOTT employees to leave Jena. 14 specialists were taken to the Soviet Union, where they had to help rebuild the dismantled production facilities from Jena.

In 1948, when the parent company in Jena was finally expropriated and converted into a state-owned company and one year later the two German states were founded, not only Germany was divided, but also SCHOTT. With this development, it became clear to the “41 glassmakers” in the West that a return to Jena was out of the question. As a result, the management under the leadership of Erich Schott decided to build a new main plant in the west of Germany. With the ceremonial opening of the new plant in Mainz in May 1952, “The Odyssey of the 41 Glassmakers” had reached its final destination after seven years.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the “Iron Curtain” in 1989 and the national reunification of Germany in 1990 also offered SCHOTT the opportunity to overcome the division. The company took advantage of this: SCHOTT in Mainz acquired the shares of the parent company in Jena and turned the old plant into a future-proof location for the SCHOTT Group.

SCHOTT is a leading international technology group in the areas of specialty glass, glass-ceramics and related high-tech materials. With over 130 years of experience, the company is an innovative partner to many industries, including the home appliance, pharma, electronics, optics, life sciences, automotive and aviation industries. SCHOTT has a global presence with production sites and sales offices in 34 countries. In the 2018/2019 fiscal year, the group generated sales of EUR 2.2 billion (US$ 2.54 billion) with over 16,200 employees. SCHOTT AG has its headquarters in Mainz (Germany) and is solely owned by the Carl Zeiss Foundation. This is one of the oldest private and largest science-promoting foundations in Germany. As a foundation company, SCHOTT assumes special responsibility for its employees, society and the environment.

Presse contact:
Dr. Jürgen Steiner
Manager Corporate Communication
Phone +49 (0)6131/66-4335