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After Dresden: the migration of the Contax to Jena and Kiev

Over the years, I have seen much speculation on what happened to the Zeiss Ikon production of cameras after the Second World War. There was certainly a loss of production at all locations for a variety of reasons: the conversion from war materials manufacture was difficult to reverse, there was bomb damage at almost all locations but most seriously in Dresden and Berlin and the "Demontage" or dismantling and expropriation of their facilities in Dresden and Berlin by the Russians as war reparations. I have seen recent books and articles about the Kiev camera which while very thorough did not address many issues. This was because they were based on observation of the products and advertising. The fact that Zeiss Ikon went out of the camera business in 1972 and the remnants of post war Zeiss Ikon in Dresden were dispersed into a series of various "kombinats" under an East German communist government have left pretty much next to nothing in terms of adequate historical documentation. Since this happened 55 years ago, the people directly involved with those events are not here to talk about it. Therefore, I resolved to attempt to make an earnest attempt to summarize what I knew and what I could find out about some of these mysteries. To this end, I made a true pilgrimage to Germany to search out what could be found.


Early examples of the Zeiss Ikon Contax made in Dresden.  These are the black Contax I and the later chrome Contax II.First, I visited Dresden and Jena. In Dresden, I found that almost all of the buildings of the former Zeiss Ikon had been demolished with only two buildings of the Ernemann location at the corner of Junghans and Schandauer Streets left standing. The main building and "building 59" had been turned over to the various postwar camera entities that we can best now call VEB Pentacon. The outside of the building had been stripped of all of the trademarks of Ernemann and Zeiss Ikon. The interior walls of the offices inside had been covered with nearly a quarter inch thick layer of white paint to obliterate any visual references to the capitalistic past. The main building, which is now the home of the Dresden Technical Museum, has occupied the former office area on the first floor and has stripped away that white paint and restored the Ernemann offices to their near original condition. The marble floor still has the old Ernemann trademark in the middle of the entrance floor. The walls have been returned to the dark green with white trim of earlier times, the beautiful hardwood paneling has been restored and a bust of the founder, Heinrich Ernemann is now in the lobby of the building. Over each of the office doors is a large brass inlaid Ernemann trademark of a camera shutter. The city of Dresden is trying very hard to bring the museum to life but there are little surplus funds for the museum. However, it does house several interesting technical exhibits including photography and is well worth a visit. In November 2000, a distinguished colloquium was held on the history of Zeiss Ikon.

I could find no records in Dresden to speak of but on my visit to the Carl Zeiss archives in Jena, I did find some solid information. These were mostly with regard to the post war activities of the Russians to take the assets of Zeiss Ikon and Carl Zeiss to begin their own optical and camera industries. On my return, I reviewed past articles by member Sam Sherman in both our and other publications. Since I now have very specific Contax and Kiev information from the archives in Jena, I reviewed my conversational notes and letters exchanged with the late Zeiss Ikon designers, Hubert Nerwin and Hans Padelt, both of whom had come to the US after the war. I have reviewed the other known books on the subject and some of the work (in German) of Bernd Otto and Kurt Jüttner, and Mr. Jüttner's has kindly supplied his detailed lifetime listing of his observations of Jena Contax cameras. Now, I submit the following summation of the facts, as I understand them.

This 1935 advertisement shows three of the famous Zeiss Ikon 35 mm model cameras from the mid-1930s.

I will start with the Contax. The prewar Contax production was solely done in the former Ica facility at 76 Schandauer St. in Dresden. The Ernemann buildings were primarily used to manufacture amateur and profession cinematic apparatus and darkroom equipment. The production of the Contax II & III was greatly curtailed starting in 1938 and during the war years with most all of the small number of cameras going for governmental purposes. In the last two years of the war, the heavy Allied bombing of Dresden destroyed key parts of the Ica facility and the damage to the Contax rangefinder production was so complete that it was not possible to be continued without reconstructing the production line. The bombing was so severe that the company safe, which was located in the basement, was destroyed. This was were all of the models and drawings for prototypes were kept. The production line on the upper floors could not be reconstructed during the war.

In 1945, as part of their war reparations, the Russians demanded that the production of the Contax camera be totally transferred to a factory in the USSR. This "new" camera was initially to be called the Volga. As a result of this, Contax rangefinder production was forever ended in Dresden. It is not totally clear if this is was a condition of the reparation agreement but it certainly seems to be. Why would the Russians permit direct competition in a location that they controlled. One point that must be made is that this confiscation of the Contax seems to have been quite well conceived since it was implemented as soon as the Russians came to Jena and Dresden. The management of the Zeiss companies understood their situation and immediately fell into line to accomplish the task.

Contrary to prior writings, the Russians were quite specific and thorough in their demands. They demanded complete blueprints/technical drawings. In addition, since there was no Contax production line then in operation, they demanded that the production line be started in East Germany. This was to insure the quality of the transferred materials and Russia's new camera. It was to produce a certain number of Contax and other photographic products and accessories before the production equipment and materials would then transported to the "Volga factory. Zeiss Ikon supplied staff and materials to this end to Carl Zeiss. Remember that Zeiss Ikon was a subsidiary of Carl Zeiss but the Russians wanted Carl Zeiss to be the agent of producing the assembly line.

Jena Contax II (top) and III (bottom) showing the rare logo from Carl Zeiss Jena instead of Zeiss Ikon DresdenI was able to review a book thick with such detailed drawings that still exists in the Betreib Archiv Carl Zeiss (BACZ) in Jena. It is a mixture of technical drawings down to each and every component part and part groupings. Each drawing is dated and most of them fall into the immediate postwar years, although there are just a few prewar and war time drawings. Most of these drawings are marked Carl Zeiss Jena while, again, only a few are marked Zeiss Ikon (Dresden). This seems to confirm the fact that this was not identical to the prewar Dresden Contax. I looked carefully through this collection of technical drawings and I did not see a bezel trademark design for the Kiev or the Volga but from the tenor of the accompanying documents I had clearly expected the name of the trademark to be Volga and not Kiev.

The documents state that the production line was not in Jena proper but rather in Saalfeld which is about an hour's drive from Jena. This would be the site where the Werra cameras from VEB Carl Zeiss Jena would later be manufactured. It would seem that the Jena Contax, associated lenses and accessories were all manufactured there. It is my strong certainly that it is these Contax cameras from this pre-Kiev production in Saalfeld were to become known as the Jena Contax. (See C. Barringer's article from Spring 1999.)

As early as November of 1945, the Russians stated that they wanted Carl Zeiss (not Zeiss Ikon) to provide them with sufficient knowledge, technical drawings, and instruction for the Russians in Kiev. The production machinery and design process were to be designed to produce 5,000 cameras per month in that Russian location. They required 8 complete sets of drawings and a set number of complete samples of the camera and each of the lenses and accessories.

The specific lenses that they wanted to be able to manufacture were also to have the same number of drawings and samples. The specific lenses and accessories named in the Soviet requirements were these ten:

1. Biogon 1:2.8/ 3.5 cm, 2. Sonnar 1: 2.8/ 18 cm, 3. Sonnar 1: 2/ 5 cm, 4. Sonnar 1: 4/ 30 cm 5. Sonnar 1: 1.5/ 5 cm, 6. Fernobjektiv 1:8/ 50 cm, 7. Sonnar 1: 2/ 8.5 cm, 8. Tessar 1:8/ 2.8 cm and 10. Sonnar 1: 4/ 13.5 cm

Based on detailed research from Charles Barringer, the rare Carl Zeiss Herar lens for the Contax seems to have traveled with this material or was sold almost exclusively to the countries associated with the Eastern bloc but there was no interest in manufacturing it. Not all of these lenses ultimately appeared to be manufactured in Russia but the plans were supplied in any case.

They also wanted the universal finder, the Flektoskop, most Contax accessories as well as projection and darkroom equipment. Now, it is not clear that the Russians finally decided to make each and every of these items. In fact, the evidence suggests that they did not. Based on the clear organization of the taking of the reparations and the Germans acceptance of it, the general process seems to have been done as planned and to a schedule. The stories of equipment rusting in train yards in various Russian and Polish locations seem to be mythological at least in respect to this camera. There were other products demanded as well. These included reproduction devices, cinematic cameras and projectors, darkroom equipment and a number of slide projecting apparatus. The process was overseen by a Russian officer, Major Turuegin.

The front bezel from the 1947 Kiev shows a rare script logo that was used only in the very early Kiev cameras from the USSR.It is clear that Zeiss Ikon in Dresden never again manufactured a rangefinder Contax and, instead, concentrated on the newly designed Contax SLR as finalized by Wilhelm Winzenburg based on the work of Hubert Nerwin and others from 1938-1946. Winzenburg was not a member of the prewar camera design team for Zeiss Ikon. In the prewar years, he was the team leader for those who designed darkroom equipment. The swift construction of the Contax SLR suggests that the tool and die manufacturing facility in the old Wünsche (a pre-Zeiss Ikon and pre-Ica company) plant located in Reick on the outskirts of Dresden was not damaged or was able to be activated soon after the end of the war. Pre war Zeiss Ikon had used this location to manufacture almost all the machinery, tools and dies for its own assembly lines before the war. I have been fortunate to find two different catalogs devoted to this unfamiliar line of Zeiss Ikon businesses.


If you look carefully, the old Contax trademark is still visible on the reverse side of the camera bezel.According to a February 26, 1946 internal memo, the Saalfeld works were to make cameras at an accelerated rate: 300 each in September and October and 500 each in November and December 1946 and 700 in January, 800 in February and 600 in March 1947. This same memo shows specifically, which machines by type and number were to be transported to Kiev. This would mean that 3800 Jena Contaxes were scheduled to be made. The actual production could have been lower or higher.


So, the Saalfeld location did construct the Jena Contaxes and the facility was moved in its entirety to the "Volga" plant in Kiev. Then, the East German government devoted its resources to restocking Carl Zeiss locations in Jena and Saalfeld after the "Demontage" when 98% of all the production equipment in every factory was physically taken to Russia. Dr. Hemscheidt was a prominent participant in this process although he headed the Zeiss Ikon plant at the old Goerz locations in what was West Berlin. I found a telegram from the director of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen, Heinz Küppenbender, regarding the "Kontaxgruppe" shows that he was fully aware of these activities. It specifically said to get on with supporting other Zeiss products and forget about manufacturing the Contax rangefinder in Dresden.

The Russians did take a good number of Carl Zeiss and Zeiss Ikon technicians and managers with them to assure the startup of the new operation. I did not find any direct indication of whether Winzenburg was taken to Russia, remained in Dresden or came to Jena. Remember, while Zeiss Ikon was a subsidiary of the Carl Zeiss firm, it was run independent of Carl Zeiss Jena. Their records were separate and only correspondence between them on lens design, optical finders and how their cameras would be used on microscopes or telescopes would have been retained in the firm's records. Unfortunately, I did not have time enough to get into those matters on this trip.

1947 Kiev camera which is probably from German parts taken from Jena and Saalfeld.So, the Kiev began to be manufactured in the "Volga" factory as scheduled in 1947. The name Kiev was used instead of Volga. Many of the early Kiev cameras have markings that were clearly originally marked Contax originally. This means that the transfer to Kiev from Saalfeld included the stock of individual components of many of the cameras. These had already been prepared to be assembled in Kiev with the trainee Russian craftsmen under the tutelage of the German technicians who were taken there. Indeed, many of the early Kiev lenses seem to have serial numbers in the same series as Carl Zeiss Jena lenses.


The new Contax SLR camera from Zeiss Ikon in Dresden came to market in almost this same time frame since they had the asset of the Reick factory to produce the assembly lines. However, the West German products from Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart were far behind. The designers had to go forward without technical drawings and started the design of the camera, the tools and the production line from the very beginning. Remember also that they did not have the Reick plant to supply the components or the tools as they had before the war. The y had to content with other suppliers in the most difficult days after the war when materials were scarce. These suppliers were not dedicated to Zeiss Ikon as Reick had been and so there was no prior association or experience. In addition, Stuttgart had not made any 35 mm cameras before the war, their main products were the roll film cameras such as the Nettar, Ikonta and the Super Ikonta. They had to resupply the Berlin locations of Zeiss Ikon. The Contax IIa & IIIa came several years later in 1951. A few years later, the new Contaflex 35mm SLR came as well. These were very successful product lines and, with regard to the Contaflex, in spite of its technical limitations.

The Stuttgart Contax had a modified metal shutter similar to the prewar version but improved. The small 35 Ikonta/Contina/Contessa cameras came to market first and were designed in detail by Nerwin before he left for Rochester, NY in 1947. These cameras clearly show the design elements of a typical Nerwin camera: compact, fits nicely in the hand and innovative in construction.

From observations, it is clear that there were significant internal differences in the prewar Contax and the Jena Contax and the resulting Kiev as well. From the exterior, there is little of this to be seen but there are differences internally based on a review in Jena and the new drawings before starting the new production line. I found an accounting of what Carl Zeiss properties were sent to Russia that was sent to the East German government. This was to assist the East German government to replace the removed equipment and restart these as new businesses in Jena and Dresden. However, at the same time, I know that the West German Carl Zeiss was sending specific machinery from locations in the non-Russian Allied Zones to Jena and Dresden. These were mostly from the Winkel location in Göttingen and the Hensoldt location in Wetzlar. I would expect that the Zeiss Ikon Reick facility would be active in East Germany and was able to supply to both companies. I am not certain that the other Zeiss owned firms in what would become West Germany were able to help. These were Deckel (Compur) in Munich and Gauthier (Prontor) in Calmbach. They could have supplied such equipment but I would presume that they were looking for paying customers as well. These shutter-making firms also were very active in the manufacturing of machine tools. It should be noted that Deckel had also suffered significant bomb damage.

In the two recent books on this camera ( Peter Hennig's Historien Om Contax - in Swedish and Minoru Sasaki's Contax to ????) there is information that has not appeared in these pages before. Most of it deals with the internals of the early Kiev cameras. As I have stated there are distinct internal differences between the early Kievs. Some reflect the parts of the Zeiss Ikon Contax but most reflect the Jena Contax. This probably means that parts from Zeiss Ikon Dresden were sent to Jena and used there as training materials for the Russian technicians either in Saalfeld/Jena or in Kiev. This can best be seen in the pictures in these two books of the dismantled front plate of a Kiev. It is not the familiar Kiev with both Cyrillic and Latin letters nor the block Cyrillic print (????) but rather a script version that was new to me. On the internal side of the front plate, it is clear that the Contax trademark had been there well before the Kiev. However, it seems that many Dresden parts were used up into 1948. If we want to carry Peter's analogy forward we can call some of the early Russian cameras "Dresden Kievs. This means many activities are possible from training vehicle in both places or just judicious use of every single available part in the era of little raw materials. It is clear that this materials shortage led to many strange cameras and lenses during and immediately after the war. However, another point of interest from Hennig is that the relationship between his native Sweden and Germany during the war years was different from any other. The Swedes made the best ball bearings in that day and had ample iron ore. As a result, there was open trade between the two counties and the Swedish market was able to buy almost anything from Germany. He says that it was possible for a Swedish citizen to buy a new Contax II camera with the wartime T coated lenses during the war up until 1946.

The Carl Zeiss records also indicate that the Russians wanted other products as well. There was the movement of Carl Zeiss microscope facilities to the area near St. Petersburg. This new firm named "LOMO" is active in microscope manufacture to the present day. I know that famous Zeiss scientist Dr. A. Sonnefeld spent 5 years in Russia building a facility with regard to Astronomy. The Zeiss Ikon specialist in photocells, Paul Görlich, also spent five years in Russia and returned to work in Jena and not in the Dresden photographic kombinats. Clearly, there were Russian binocular manufacturing locations that were aided by the reparations from Carl Zeiss.

The East German Zeiss Ikon produced this highly advanced SLR Contax camera in 1949 which revolutionized the industry in spite of difficulties in manufacturing and distributing.  Later, the trademarks of Zeiss Ikon and Contax would be lost and the camera became known as the Pentacon (Pentaprism Contax) in the Western countries.The lens designs were pretty static in the years immediately after the war because most of the world famous Carl Zeiss designers went separate ways. Ludwig Bertele had moved to Steinheil in 1943 and left Germany to go to Wild in Switzerland in 1945. Robert Richter and Willy Merte went to Heidenheim with the US Army. Soon after, Merte and several of the lower level designers accepted American military contracts to go to the US. Ernst Wandersleb was quite advanced in years and had been forced outside of the Zeiss plant in Jena since before the start of the war due to his Jewish wife. Hans Sauer would become the leader in Western Germany and soon began a new era of greatness for Zeiss in lens design (see the Kämmerer article in this issue). A new personality, Harry Zöllner who had earlier apprenticed at Zeiss returned to Jena from a position Voigtländer after the end of the war to become the long term head of the Carl Zeiss East German lens design effort.

I did not find any documentation on the movement of the Super Ikonta like camera named the Moskva to Russia. However, the Reick plant would have had all of the blueprints and materials to transfer. Seemingly, Zeiss Ikon Dresden did not try to duplicate the Super Ikonta which supports the no conflict of business with the Russians. I welcome any additional information that anyone might have on this subject. I still highly recommend the Minoru Sasaki publication (From Contax to Kiev) which I reviewed in our last issue to see the best definition of these cameras and their differences.

Summary: Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart was able to resume production rather quickly of the bellows style cameras such as the Ikonta and Super Ikonta and within 3-4 years the bellows based Ikonta/Contina/Contessa family was well. The New Contax IIa and IIIa camera to market in 1951 and a few years later the Contaflex SLR. Zeiss Ikon Berlin was able to produce the Box Tengor, the Ikoflex cameras and resume the production of key/lock security systems and calculators in the late 1940s. Zeiss Ikon Dresden handed off the Contax rangefinder camera to Carl Zeiss Jena who in turn handed it off to the Arsenal factory outside of Kiev in 1947. It used the Reick facility to set up a production line for a bellows camera very similar to the Ikonta named the Ercona and initiated production of the prewar 35mm Tenax I camera with a newly formatted F/3.5 Tessar 37.5 cm. The SLR Contax was produced originally using the Zeiss Ikon logo and after the 1954 West German court verdict (where they lost the ability to use that trademark), they moved to the Ernemann tower logo with the letters ZI and later the ZI was dispensed with. The Contax trademark was also lost in 1954 but was used in certain parts of the world and not in others. This Contax trademark was changed to Pentacon, which stood for Pentaprism Contax.

I thank many people who contributed to this new information and welcome any other pictures, data or opinions in this very interesting area of Zeiss history.

Larry Gubas - Zeiss Historica, Spring 2001

An update to this article with some corrections to this material appears in the Fall 2002 edition of Zeiss Historica Journal

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