Assembly

The Minox timeline:




1936 - VEF Prototyping

On the 06. October 1936, VEF, Walter Zapp and Richard Juergens signed the agreement that would eventually distribute the Minox camera through out the world. VEF immediately filed patent protection and the first applications were submitted in December 1936.

However, the serial production of the Minox was a huge task. They only had 1 prototype, the Ur-Minox. This camera may have convinced the director of VEF but it was far from perfect. Even if it would have been perfect, the prototype was assembled by hand using hand made parts. To produce several hundred or even thousand cameras, all  parts needed to be economically on masse in house. These parts all required
precicion-engineering, specialised machinery and labour. VEF never made cameras, a huge hurdle as the production line had to be assembled from scratch, machines trialed, people trained, etc. Developing the serial prodction process must have been the biggest challenge.

In the first phase, a team of more than 60 individuals tried to adapt the Ur-Minox design for large scale production. Therefore a lot of key changes were made to the orginal design. Either they were made to improve the camera or better adapt it for serial production. They include:

The alterations ment that the VEF Minox camera became slightly larger than his Ur-Minox which disappointed Walter Zapp a little.

One finish source mentioned that VEF was able to produce a small asignment of cameras by 1937, (likely still very early prototypes) and exhibited them during the world famous trade fair "Leipziger Fruehjahrs Messe" (28.02.1937-08.03.1937) in Germany. I was not able to confirm this yet. It seems so early that I wonder if VEF may only had the Ur-Minox to show at that time.



P
rototyping continued all throughout 1937 and only in April 1938 was VEF confident enough to start serial production. On the 08. April it was anounced throughout Latvia that the  sale was almost imminent. The pictures and advertisements already show a camera which has all the features of the later production camera. It is prototype No.0113. It is thus likely that no more than 120 prototypes may have existed.
 

Prototype No.0113 (Turning Point)

Due to the nature of prototyping, there is no fixed number of finished cameras. It is believed that the Ur-Minox but none of the VEF prototypes survived intact. Masaharu Sahito mentiones another prototype. As it is listed in his book with technical features, it could actually have survived (see below). Both (No.0025) and (No.0113) are listed with 5 digits but I assume that was a mistake. I am also sure No.0113 is still lost but due to the good photographic evidence he included it in his list.


Minox 8x11 Masaharu Sahito 2002



1938 - VEF Production

Serial production of the VEF Miox was announcement in April 1938 in all latvian newspapers.

Despite the huge publicity, the production must have run into serious problems. The first factory-produced VEF Minox was only assembled 6 month later in October 1938 and handed to the latvian President in November 1938.

However from October 1938 till Februray 1939 the serial production of the Minox was far from running smoothly and was still pain stakingly slow. Initially VEF was able to only assemble 2 cameras a day. It took another 5 month to officially anounce the sale of the VEF Minox in Latvia. A considerbable delay of 9-10 month. And even then, the newspaper reports the imminent sale of "a few" Minox cameras, so they were unable to build up big stocks yet. Production soon improved and by mid-1939 VEF was able to manufacture 180 Minox cameras per month (source?). The Latvijas Kareivis newspaper reports a higher output. According to the article published on the 8th August 1939 the production output was 300-400 cameras a month. Cameras were exported to the neighbouring countries. VEF set up headquaters in England and Switzerland. The depandance in Norway, Finland and USA were also in preparation. In late 1939, the Sowjet Union pressurised the Latvian government to allow sowjet troops to be stationed within the contry for "protection"


Soon the sowjets started to take over positions in politics and industry. The beginning of the end. Non-complient latvians including several VEF employees are said to have been send to russian forced labour camps for "re-education".




Under Russian occupation

In the summer of 1940 Latvia "joined" the sowjet union as one of its newest republics. From now on everything was labelled "Made in USSR". Minox cameras and parts already engraved Made in :Latvia were re-engraved.


After that time all old parts were used up and true Made in USSR cameras appear on the market

There are several batches of cameras which are not labelled Made in USSR. Why I dont know (yet). They contain metric and imperial versions. Duing the russian occupation, it appears that the export of cameras continued but the production of imperial export cameras was almost stopped.

So, we can say that at least all True Made in USSR engraved cameras were made during the russian occupation. These total ca. 1100 cameras (No.9300-10400). 

The occupaion became increasingky worse and in early 1941 several leading VEF staff members were deported to Siberia and
Walter Zapp fled on one of the last trains to Germany.


Under German occupation

Not soon after the german army turned against russia and moved into Latvia in the Spring of 1941. They were at first celebrated as liberators, as Latvians hoped that they had now regained their independence. Many latvians even fought alongside the german army. In the first few month the germans were quiet but meticolous as they are got organised and with the beginning of 1942 took full control of latvia, occupied the country and suppressed the  people.

Minox cameras were -officially- only made from July till November 1941, in this brief period of percieved freedom.



 
The germans are always precice, accurate and record everything! So it did not take me long until I found the german statistics. In total 1720 cameras were made. They also show that the production already came to a halt in December 1941 :

On the 21. January 1942 VEF became a part of the german conglomerate AEG and was renamed AEG Ostlandwerke. In addition the german army officially shut down all Minox production with an executive order on the 04.03.1942 (Heeres-Verordnungsblatt 1942 Vol.24 Part 3 Page 150 Point 185 Minox-Photoapparate).

So what was the final -official- german occupation Minox?

All this while Walter Zapp was in Germany but he returned to Latvia at the end of 1941 beginning of 1942 when the Minox production was about to be shut down. He must have been unable to convince the new directors to continue with the production and he soon left Riga again and went back to his new exile in Germany. Before leaving, he was able to get his Ur-Minox back which he had to leave behind in early 1941. In germany he tried to convince several camera manufacturers to restart the Minox production but ultimately remained unsuccessful.
What happened after the german army ordered the shut down of all minox production? (1942-1944)

Immediately Minox cameras became rare. The local classifieds are full of ads searching for a Minox to purchase, such as the one below in the Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland 18.01.1942 (Minox camera wanted to buy urgently. Offers under L.1927).


The german occupation got increasingly worse, in addition WW2 was in full swing. AEG maximised the profits at VEF and used forced labour within the factories. VEF even maintained their own forced labour camp, most inmates were local jews. An internal AEG document unemotionally records that 3/4 of the current workforce earned less that the local minimum wage. A neutral statement hiding an ugly truth.

During that time, Minox cameras were assembled in secret by VEF workers and showed up on the black market. With the shut down, hundreds of Minox cameras were left in an almost finished state. It was easy to finish them and as they were small, smuggle them out of the building and use the Reichsmark to support their family.

The german occupation came to an end in the Spring of 1944 when the sowjet army entered Latvia. German companies such as AEG were ordered earlier to evacuate any essential equipment out of latvia. AEG documents show that they evacuated VEF goods with an insurance value of 9,2mio Reichsmark. This consisted of 1,2mio was assigned for machines, 8mio for parts, models, technical drawings and documents. To legimise this transfer AEG send a last minute money wire to the trustees of VEF in Latvia. It remains speculation if this was an accounting trick as the trustees of VEF in Latvia were in turn AEG directors.

In March 1944 a german convoy was registered by the US Airforce. This convoy also included 93 VEF specialists including Francis Ferts (partcipated in the Minostigmat design) and Oskar Grindgergs (Walter Zapps assigned designer). October 1944, the transfer was complete. In 1946, the newspaper Janas News (07.08.1946) recounts that the only items that could be found after the germans left were 1x metal lathe, 1x 10meter power cable, and 1x steam boiler. At the time several latvian VEF workers emigrated to Germany in 1944 and some Germany to restore Minox production after 1945.