Karl Artelt was born on 31 December 1890 in the German village Alt-Salbke (later suburbanised into Magdeburg), Repkowstr. 12, the son of an engine operator 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 (source 9, see below).
In 1908 he became a member of the SPD (Socialdemocratic Party of Germany) and later joined the USPD (Independent Socialdemocratic Party of Germany)(9). In Spring 1919 he was one of the founders of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in Magdeburg and in 1946 he joined the SED (United Socialistic Party of Germany).
In 1908 he was hired by the Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG, an international shipping line) and spent amongst others some years as a stoker on board of ships, which were used to buy and move copra in the South Seas (3, 7, 9). 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 (3, 7, 9). In September 1913 he returned to Magdeburg as reservist and resumed his job at the Wolf factory (9).
|Artelt on board the „Gneisenau“
1912 (lower row 2nd right and detail); the board between the
sailors reads: master pump personnnel SMS „Gneisenau“,
Amoij, China 1912;
Click to magnify.
When the first world war broke out he had to rejoin the navy, this time as an administrative clerk for the the 1. Werft Division at Kiel-Wik (7, 9).
|Karl Artelt, 1. Werft-Division,
left, (enlarged detail right), together with comrads of the
1. Torpedo-Division in Kiel-Wik, September
1914; family property (Karl Artelt, grandson); click to magnify.
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 (7). 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 (12, pg. 37). Karl Artelt was one of the strike leaders (7). 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 1450 workers from the Howaldt shipyard and 4000 workers from the Germania shipyard downed tools (12, S. 40). Artelt was a member of the strike committee (9). 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-Strelitz in Upper Silesia (1).
Artelt in April 1917 when he was tried by extra ordinary court martial in Kiel; the photo was sent as a post card on 2 November 1917 from the fortress prison Groß-Strelitz to his brother in law Walter Heinke in Magdeburg-Salbke; family property (Karl Artelt, grand son); click to magnify.
Living together in the prison with different officials from the workers movement had a sustainable influence on him (9). In one photograph (below) he can be seen together with Prof. Dr. med. Krahn from Antwerp (middle) and Joseph Verlinden, president of the metal workers' union and leader of socialdemocratic party of Antwerp (right).
Groß-Strelitz 18 October 1917; explanation see above; family property (Karl Artelt, grand son); click to magnify.
When released from prison he received marching orders to Flanders, where he had to join the punishment battalion of the 2. Marine-Pioneerbataillon (7). 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 the doctor ascertained his nerves were perfectly healthy (7). Soon thereafter he was transported back to Germany by express train (3, 2). In mid of May 1918 he sent a postcard from a navy hospital in Hamburg to his mother (11).
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 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 torpedo boats repair yard. Other sources wrongly indicate the torpedo workshop in Kiel-Friedrichsort (see note 1 below) (2, 3). As a specialist of pumps he had to supervise a group of shipyard workers who had to work for the navy (2, 3). He used his job to secretly re-establish the navy shop stewards system, which had been smashed in 1917 (7, 2) (see note 2 below).
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 (12) and founded the first soldiers' council 4 November 1918. As a representative of that council he was asked by Governor Souchon to meet him for negotiations. Together with other sailors' represenatives 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 (12).
This photograph kept in the town archive Kiel depicts most likely part of the march to the cemetry where the burial service for the victims of the revolution in Kiel were to take place on 10 November 1918 (click to magnify). In the front row there are five persons, some suggested the one on the left as probably being Karl Artelt. His grand son, also Karl Artelt, however, is absolutely sure that his grand father is the person next to him (second left in the first row). He argued that his grand father was of rather small to middle height and that he, because of a problem with his eye sight, did not carry a rifle by that time but a pistol; siehe note 3 below.
„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).“ (3)
Despite severe political antagonism also Gustav Noske, who came to Kiel to stop the rising, 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 troup (7) - the balance of power had changed rapidly i.a. through the demobilisation - and he stepped back as chairman of the Supreme Soldiers' Council on 5 January 1919 (12).
Artelt went back to Magdeburg and stayed temporarily in Alt-Salbke 93 at a friend's flat (13). There he joined founding members of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in mid February 1919 (7) 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 Freicorps Maercker (7, 8). He gave a speech from the balkony of the Government building in the Dome square addressing the workers on strike (11). After the fighting ceased he went into hiding - first under an assumed name - in Nebra an der Unstrut (9).
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 1921 in Mittel-Deutschland. He was imprisoned and only released on 22 August 1921 from the Naumburg jail (7).
As party secretary in Düsseldorf-Mörs, he was apprehended by the Belgian occupation authority and tried before an extra ordinary court martial in Aachen because of political agitation against the occupation. He was put into the detention camp Rhein Dahlen. He was then extradited by the allied commission to the Supreme Imperial Attorney (7)./p>
During the following years he functioned as district secretary of the the German Communist Party in Bielefeld and Kassel (9).
In the year 1924 aged 34 he became chairman of the works council of the company Schneider in Nebra. The firm was closed down after salary demands were declared justified by the social courts of Naumburg, Jena and Berlin. When later the company was re-established the workers' representatives were not re-employed (7).
In the mid 1920s he became a sales agent. He subsequently opened his own small business and worked until the end of 1943 as an independent trader in Nebra (7).
Artelt was apprehended in 1933 and was supposed to be imprisoned. However, when the officer in charge recognized 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 . Also there he was put under Gestapo surveillance (7).
After the end of the second world war Artelt became an initiator of the KPD and SPD merger into the SED (Socialistic United Party of Germany) in the district Querfurt. He became 1st district secretary (7).
Karl Artelt as first secretary of the KPD respective SED of the district Querfurt/Saxony-Anhalt, second half of the 1940s; family property (Karl Artelt, grand son); click to magnify.
From 1948 to 1949 he was district chairman and thereafter became first district secretary of the peoples congress, which was later re-named the National Front (7).
ln November 1948 Artelt held speeches with the consent of the Soviet and English occupational authorities at seven large rallies in Kiel and its surroundings. This was to comemmorate the 30th anniversary of the Kiel mutiny(7).
In the 1960/70s he became highly decorated and gave lectures in factories, schools etc. about his wild revolutionary past in Kiel and other parts of Germany (9).
Karl Artelt as „Roter Admiral (red admiral)“, 1964;
family property (Hans-Holger Artelt, grand son); click to magnify.
|Karl Artelt on lecturing tour;
left: 1958 in Stralsund, family property (Karl Artelt, grand son);
right: ca. 1965, family property (Hans-Holger Artelt, grand son); click to magnify.
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 (9). In June 2012 the gravesite at the cementary in
Nebra was made a honorary grave by decision of the municipal council
According to Dirk Dähnhardt, Revolution in Kiel (p. 56) Artelt worked in the Torpedowerkstatt Friedrichsort. It seems Dähnhardt made a mistake here: those sources which he refers to and in a report from the Bundesarchiv (see below) show definetely that Artelt worked in the Torpedobootsreparatur-werkstatt or -werft (ship workshop or yard for the repair of torpedo boats) in Kiel Wik. Robert Rosentreter, Blaujacken im Novembersturm (p. 32) seems to have just copied Dähnhardt's information, although he claims to refer to Artelt's statements from 1960.
Also Hermann Knüfken describes in his book „Von Kiel bis Leningrad (From Kiel to Leningrad)“ (Verlag BasisDruck, Berlin 2008) the re-establishment of the shop stewart system within the navy (p. 32 ff.).
The grand son Karl Artelt is quoted as saying: The sailor third from right wearing a coat and a sabre is my grand father. He was short or maybe of "medium height".
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the marines' mutiny in Kiel I was asked - by then I was a student at the literature institute "Johannes R. Becher" 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 i.a. that he carried during the time of the mutiny a pistol 08, because it was difficult for him to handle a rifle (he had an inherent eye problem).
Because in 1945 he also received as 1st secretary of the KPD from the von der Soviet military administration a pistol 08, we later talked about this weird coincidence.
The sailor in the middle identified by others as Karl Artelt is out of 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 photo taken six years later marching through Kiel. When I was ca. three years old I started to conciously recognize the face of my grand father 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 Magedburg I visited him very often. We had long talks, also on politics and history.)
A little episode: As first district secretary of the KPD he possessed a pistol 08. Sometimes it laid 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 clerk - private, I. Werft division in Kiel-Wik, August to December 1914.)
So: […] That, what I know for sure is, that the man in the middle, wearing a coat, is my grand father Karl Artelt. One hundred percent!
From: Klaus Kuhl, Gespräche mit dem Enkel Karl Artelt, 2010 unpublished.
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Last updated 4 July 2012