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Karl Artelt (31 December 1890 - 28 September 1981) was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.

Birth and education

Karl Artelt was born on 31 December 1890 in the German village of Salbke, at Repkowstr. 12, which was later suburbanized into Magdeburg, the son of an engine operator called August Artelt and his wife Marie. He attended the eight-classes primary school and thereafter did an apprenticeship with the machine production company R. Wolf in Magdeburg and became a qualified engine fitter. There, he worked together with Erich Weinert, later a well-known poet, who taught him the basics of Marxism.[1]

Party memberships

In 1908 he became a member of the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and later joined the (USPD (Unhabhänige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands).[1] In spring 1919 he was one of the founders of the (Kommunistishe Partei Deutschlands) in Magdeburg and in 1946 he joined the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands).


Karl Artelt on board the "Gneisenau" 1912 (lower row, second from right and detail enlargement); the board between the sailors reads: Pumpenmeister Personal SMS "Gneisenau", Amoij, China 1912 (master pump personnnel SMS "Gneisenau", Amoij, China 1912)

In 1908 he was hired by the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft – HAPAG, an international shipping line and spent some years amongst others as a stoker; these vessels were used to move copra in the South Seas.[1][2][3] Two years later he was conscripted into the German navy, serving as a stoker and later as a pump specialist on board the armoured cruiser Gneisenau of the German East-Asia fleet in Qingdao (Tsingtau). He became a contemporary witness of the Bourgeois revolution in China led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.[1][2][3] In September 1913 he returned to Magdeburg as a reservist and resumed his job at the Wolf factory.[1]

First World War

Karl Artelt, 1st Werft-Division, left, (enlarged detail right), together with comrades of the 1st Torpedo-Division in Kiel-Wik, September 1914.

When the first world war broke out he had to rejoin the navy, this time as an administrative clerk in the 1. Werft Division at Kiel-Wik.[1][3]

At the beginning of 1915, he was detached to the Germania shipyard in Kiel as an engine fitter. After some months he was elected shop steward for the German metal workers union for the shipyard.[3] In mid May 1916 the general war situation and the food supply in Kiel had deteriorated to such an extent that on 14 June, when the first early potatoes were distributed, there were assaults on sales points and storage halls. The following morning large numbers of the Germania shipyard workers went on strike.[4] Karl Artelt was one of the strike leaders.[3] During the winter the food supply situation worsened. At the end of March 1917, it was announced that bread rations were to be reduced. In protest 1,450 workers from the Howaldt shipyard and 4,000 workers from the Germania shipyard downed tools.[4] Artelt was a member of the strike committee.[1] He was apprehended because of these activities and tried at a court martial, where he was sentenced to six months in a fortress prison, which he had to serve at Groß-Strehlitz in Upper Silesia.[5]

Artelt in April 1917 when he was tried by extraordinary court martial in Kiel; the photograph was sent as a postcard on 2 November 1917 from the fortress prison at Groß-Strehlitz to his brother-in-law Walter Heinke in Magdeburg-Salbke

Living in the prison with different officials from the workers movement had a sustainable influence on him.[1] In one photograph he can be seen together with Prof. Dr. med. Krahn from Antwerp and Joseph Verlinden, president of the metal workers' union and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Antwerp.

When released from prison he received marching orders to move to Flanders, where he had to join the punishment battalion of the 2. Marine-Pioneerbataillon.[3] When later Artelt protested against a leaflet of the military newspaper An Flanderns Küste, which according to his statement, "heavily insulted" the striking ammunition workers in Germany, he was sent to a mental home in Bruges. However, after six weeks of medical observation, a doctor ascertained his nerves were perfectly healthy.[3] Soon thereafter he was transported back to Germany by express train.[2][6] In mid May 1918, he sent a postcard from a navy hospital in Hamburg to his mother.[7]

He was ordered back to Kiel as a much-in-demand specialist. After reporting to the division commander, there were difficulties in detaching him: his former unit sent him to the “Matrosen Division” (sailors’ division). However, he was rejected. Through a Captain Ludolf, who knew him from his case in 1917, he was eventually placed in the Torpedo Division (barracks in Kiel-Wik), where he worked in the torpedoboat repair yard. [2][6] Other sources wrongly indicate the torpedo work-shop in Kiel-Friedrichsort.[8] As a specialist of pumps he supervised a group of shipyard workers who had to worked for the navy.[2][6] He used his job to secretly re-establish the navy shop stewards system, which had been smashed in 1917.[3][6][9]

Kiel mutiny

Lothar Popp and Karl Artelt became the leaders of the sailors' mutiny in Kiel in November 1918. Artelt was the first to raise political demands[4] and founded the first soldiers' council on 4 November 1918. As a representative of that council, he was asked by governor Souchon to meet him for negotiations. Together with other sailors' representatives they travelled by car from Kiel-Wik to the Marinestation Ostsee carrying a large red flag. Artelt personally confronted those troops who came to quell the uprising and convinced them to either move back or to support the mutineers. On 10 December 1918, Artelt became Lothar Popp's successor as chairman of the Supreme Soldiers' Council in Kiel.[4] A photograph kept in the town archive in Kiel depicts most likely part of the march to the cemetery, where the burial service for the victims of the revolution was to take place on 10 November 1918. Karl Artelt is probably also in the picture.[10] There are five people in the front row, and it was suggested Karl Artelt could be the one on the left. His grandson, also Karl Artelt, however, is absolutely sure that his grandfather is the second left in the first row. [11]

"Well into the Hitler war" a memorial plaque made of bronze was said to have been attached to the barracks building of the fifth company of the I. Torpedobootdivision in Kiel Wik, which read: Hier brach am 4. November 1918 unter Führung von Karl Artelt die deutsche Revolution aus; ("Here started the German revolution on 4 November 1918 led by Karl Artelt").[2]

Despite severe political antagonism even Gustav Noske, who had come to Kiel to bring the uprising to an end, treated Artelt with respect; Noske wrote in "Von Kiel bis Kapp" (p. 52) about Artelt: "....he [Lothar Popp], was replaced by the inactive senior stoker Artelt, a personally honest man, who lost influence rapidly however, when he started to propagate spartakistic ideas." Artelt did not succeed with his request for an effective revolutionary troop[3] - the balance of power had changed rapidly because of demobilisation - and he stepped back as chairman of the Supreme Soldiers' Council on 5 January 1919.[4]

Weimar Republic

Alt Salbke 93, Karl Artelt found temporary accommodation at a friend's flat here, photo 2010

Artelt went back to Magdeburg and stayed temporarily in Alt-Salbke 93 at a friends flat.[12] There he joined founding members of the KPD in mid February 1919[3] and was elected into the workers' council in March the same year. He was involved in the fighting for a council republic and against the Freikorps Märcker.[3][13] He gave a speech from the balcony of a Government building in the Dome square, addressing the workers on strike.[7] After the fighting ceased he went into hiding - first under an assumed name - in Nebra an der Unstrut.[1]

As secretary of the KPD in Merseburg/Querfurt, he organised the struggle to counter the Kapp-Lüttwitz-Putsch in 1920. A year later he took part in the March fighting in 1921 in “Mittel-Deutschland”. He was imprisoned and only released on 22 August 1921 from Naumburg jail.[3]

As party secretary in Düsseldorf-Mörs, he was apprehended by the Belgian occupation authority and tried before an extraordinary court martial in Aachen, because of political agitation against the occupation. He was put into the detention camp at Rheindahlen, Mönchengladbach. He was then extradited by the Allied commission to the Supreme Imperial Attorney.[3] During the following years he functioned as district secretary of the German Communist Party in Bielefeld and Kassel.[1] In 1924 aged 34, he became chairman of the works council of the Schneider company in Nebra. The firm was closed down after salary demands were justified by the social courts of Naumburg, Jena and Berlin. When the company was re-established, the workers' representatives were not re-employed.[3]

The Nazi era

In the mid 1920s he became a sales agent. He subsequently started his own small business and worked until the end of 1943 as an independent trader in Nebra.[3] Artelt was apprehended in 1933 and was supposed to be imprisoned. However, when the officer in charge recognised him as a former navy comrade, he refrained from doing so. Artelt nevertheless had to report to the police daily at noon and he was not allowed to leave Nebra. Every now and then he was apprehended and questioned but released afterwards. At the end of 1943 he had to carry out military service at the Lützkendorf mineral oil company. He was also put under Gestapo surveillance.[3]

After 1945

After the end of the second world war, Artelt became an initiator for the KPD and SPD merger into the SED in the Querfurt district. He became 1st district secretary.[3] From 1948 to 1949 he was district chairman and thereafter became first district secretary of the peoples congress, which was later renamed the National Front.[3]

ln November 1948 Artelt held speeches with the consent of the Soviet and British occupational authorities at seven large rallies in Kiel and its surroundings. This was to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the sailors' mutiny in Kiel.[3] In the 1960s and 70s he became highly decorated and he gave lectures in factories, schools and so on, about his wild revolutionary past in Kiel and other parts of Germany.[1]

From the middle of 1980 until his death on 28 September 1981 he lived in the "Clara Zetkin" old people's home in Halle/Saale.[1] In June 2012 the gravesite at the cemetery in Nebra was declared an honorary grave by decision of the municipal council.[14]


  • Lothar Popp assisted by Karl Artelt: Ursprung und Entwicklung der November-Revolution 1918. Wie die deutsche Republik entstand (Beginning and development of the November revolution 1918. How the German republic was established), Behrens, Kiel 1919, Reprint als Sonderveröffentlichung 15 der Gesellschaft für Kieler Stadtgeschichte, Kiel 1983

References and annotations

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 CVs written by the grandson Karl Artelt: one unpublished, the other see webpage of Magdeburg university:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Peter Kast, Der Rote Admiral von Kiel (The Red Admiral from Kiel), Verlag des Ministeriums für nationale Verteidigung, Berlin 1958
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 Karl Artelt, CV written by himself in 1960, unpublished, family property: Karl Artelt, grandson. (Similar to SAPMO-Bundesarchiv (German Federal archive), Sign.: SGY 30/0022)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Dirk Dähnhardt, Revolution in Kiel, Wachholtz Verlag, 1978, pp. 37, 40, 56, 71, 136, 137.
  5. Gegen die Militärdiktatur (Against Military Dictatorship) - Reichstagsrede des Abgeordneten Dittmann am 11. Oktober 1917 Nach dem amtlichen Stenogramm, in Zwei Reichstagsreden, Oktober 1917
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Karl Artelt, Mir der roten Fahne zum Vizeadmiral Souchon (With the Red Flag to Viceadmiral Souchon), in: "Vorwärts und nicht vergessen“ - Erlebnisberichte aktiver Teilnehmer der Novemberrevolution 1918/1919, Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1958, S. 88-100.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Klaus Kuhl, Gespräche mit dem Enkel Karl Artelt (Conversation with the grandson Karl Artelt), 2010 unpublished.
  8. According to Dirk Dähnhardt, Revolution in Kiel (p. 56), Artelt worked in the Torpedowerkstatt (torpedo workshop) Friedrichsort. It seems Dähnhardt made a mistake here: those sources which he refers to and in a report from the Bundesarchiv (see below) show definitely that Artelt worked in the Torpedobootsreparatur-werkstatt or -werft (torpedo boat repair yard) in Kiel Wik. Robert Rosentreter, in Blaujacken im Novembersturm (p. 32) seems to have merely copied Dähnhardt's information, although he claims to refer to Artelt's statements from 1960.
  9. Hermann Knüfken also describes in his book Von Kiel bis Leningrad (From Kiel to Leningrad) (Verlag BasisDruck, Berlin 2008), the re-establishment of the shop steward system within the navy at that time (pp. 32 ff.).
  11. The grandson Karl Artelt is quoted as saying:
    The sailor third from the right wearing a coat and a sabre is my grandfather. He was short or maybe of 'medium height'. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the sailors' mutiny in Kiel I was asked - by then I was a student at the "Johannes R. Becher" literature institute in Leipzig - to write two full-page articles for weekend editions of the Magdeburg newspaper Volksstimme about this historic event. By then we naturally also talked about "secondary issues". That is why I remember very vividly, that he told me that he carried a '08 pistol during the time of the mutiny, because it was difficult for him to handle a rifle (he had an inherent eye problem). In 1945 he also received as 1st secretary of the KPD from the von der Soviet military administration a '08 pistol, we later talked about this weird coincidence. The sailor in the middle identified by others as Karl Artelt is out of [the] question. Whoever is still having doubts should compare the photographs showing Artelt on board the Gneisenau in 1912 with the Artelt wearing a coat in the photograph taken six years later marching through Kiel. When I was ca. three years old I started to consciously recognize the face of my grandfather and we were all in all 39 years closely associated (living ten years in the same house, eight years nearby his place in Nebra and many weekends spent together. Later when I stayed in Magdeburg I visited him very often. We had long talks, on politics and history.)
    A little episode: As first district secretary of the KPD he possessed a '08 pistol. Sometimes it lay on a chair in the kitchen and when I looked curiously at it grand ma said: "Hot, don't touch!" - In later years when I raised that issue he told me: "Such a weapon I also had in Kiel." - "No rifle?" - "A rifle I had only 1914." (By that time he was a clerk - private, I. Werft division in Kiel-Wik, August to December 1914.) What I know for sure is, that the man in the middle, wearing a coat, is my grandfather Karl Artelt. One hundred percent!"
    From: Klaus Kuhl, Gespräche mit dem Enkel Karl Artelt (Conversation with the grandson Karl Artelt), 2010 unpublished
  12. according to a police Karthotek dated 17 December 1919 "Radikale in der Provinz Sachsen".
  13. Thesis Martin Gohlke: Die Räte in der Revolution von 1918/19 in Magdeburg, 1999. - VI, 289 Bl. – University of Oldenburg. See:
  14. Dieter Jäger: Ratsbeschluss - Ruhestätte von Karl Artelt ist nun Ehrengrab. In: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung, 2. Juni 2012

Additional literature

  • Karl Artelt (junior); in Magdeburger Biographisches Lexikon, Magdeburg 2002, ISBN 3-933046-49-1
  • Festschrift zum 40. Jahrestag der Novemberrevolution, Hg. von der SED-Bezirksleitung Magdeburg
  • Im Feuer geboren. Zum Kampf der KPD im Bezirk Magdeburg-Anhalt (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Stadt und des Bezirkes Magdeburg. Hg. von der SED-Bezirksleitung Magdeburg 1978)
  • Quellensammlung zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung im Bezirk Magdeburg. Teil II 1917-45
  • Erinnerungsbericht Karl Artelts SAPMO-Bundesarchiv (Recollection report by Karl Artelt, German Federal archive), Sign.: SGY 30/0022

See also

  • German Revolution

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