Gustav Noske

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Gustav Noske
Noske gustav before1918.png
Gustav Noske, c. 1918.
Defence Minister
Flag of Germany (3-2 aspect ratio).svg  Germany
In office
February 1919 March 1920
Succeeded by Otto Gessler
Personal details
Born9 July 1868
Brandenburg an der Havel, Kingdom of Prussia, North German Confederation
Died30 November 1946(1946-11-30) (aged 78)
Hanover, British Zone of Occupation, Allied-occupied Germany
Nationality Prussian
Political party Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)

Gustav Noske (9 July 1868 – 30 November 1946) was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). He served as the first Minister of Defence (Reichswehrminister) of the Weimar Republic between 1919 and 1920. Noske has been a controversial figure because, although he was a member of the socialist movement, he used army and paramilitary forces to bloodily suppress the socialist/communist uprisings of 1919.

Social Democratic Party of Germany political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany.

Ministry of the Reichswehr

The Ministry of the Reichswehr or Reich Ministry of Defence was the defence ministry of the Weimar Republic and the early Third Reich. The 1919 Weimar Constitution provided for a unified, national ministry of defence to coordinate the new Reichswehr, and that ministry was set up in October 1919, from the existing Prussian War Ministry and Reichsmarineamt. It was based in the Bendlerblock building. The Wehrgesetz of 21 May 1935 renamed it the Reich Ministry of War, which was then abolished in 1938 and replaced with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.

Weimar Republic Germany state in the years 1918/1919–1933

The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.


Early life and World War I

Noske was born on 9 July 1868 in Brandenburg an der Havel, Prussia. He was the son of the weaver Karl Noske (born 1838) and the manual labourer Emma Noske (née Herwig, born 1843). [1] From 1874 to 1882 he went to primary and secondary school (Volks- and Bürgerschule). In 1882 to 1886 he was apprenticed as a basket maker at the Reichsteinische Kinderwagenfabrik and travelled to Halle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Liegnitz as a journeyman. In 1884, Noske joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and he also became a union member. In 1892, Noske was elected chairman of the Brandenburg SPD. [2]

Brandenburg an der Havel Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Brandenburg an der Havel is a town in Brandenburg, Germany, which served as the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg until replaced by Berlin in 1417.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

Halle (Saale) Place in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Halle (Saale) is a city in the southern part of the German state Saxony-Anhalt. It is the largest city of the state and the fourth-largest of former East Germany.

He married Martha Thiel (1872-1949) at Brandenburg in 1891. They had one son and two daughters. [1]

From 1897 to 1902 Noske was politically active at the local level and worked as an editor at social democratic newspapers in Brandenburg and Königsberg (Volkstribüne). [1] From 1902 to 1918 he was chief editor at the paper Volksstimme in Chemnitz. In 1906, Noske was elected to the German Parliament for the SPD where he remained through 1918 as representative of the Chemnitz constituency. [1]

Königsberg capital city in Prussia

Königsberg is the name for a former German city that is now Kaliningrad, Russia. Originally a Sambian or Old Prussian city, it later belonged to the State of the Teutonic Order, the Duchy of Prussia, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany until 1945. After being largely destroyed in World War II by Allied bombing and Soviet forces and annexed by the Soviet Union thereafter, the city was renamed Kaliningrad. Few traces of the former Königsberg remain today.

Chemnitz Place in Saxony, Germany

Chemnitz, known from 1953 to 1990 as Karl-Marx-Stadt, is the third-largest city in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. Chemnitz is an independent city which is not part of any county and seat of the Landesdirektion Sachsen. Located in the northern foothills of the Ore Mountains, it is part of the Central German Metropolitan Region. The city's economy is based on the service sector and manufacturing industry. Chemnitz University of Technology has around 10,000 students.

Reichstag (German Empire) parliament of Germany from 1871 to 1918

The Reichstag was the Parliament of Germany from 1871 to 1918. Legislation was shared between the Reichstag and the Bundesrat, which was the Imperial Council of the reigning princes of the German States.

Within the SPD he was an expert on military, navy and colonial issues. After 1912, Noske was Koreferent of the Reichstag for the Navy budget. [1] In 1914, he published a book Kolonialpolitik und Sozialdemokratie in which he argued in favour of German colonialism. [2] He was known as a reformist (i.e. one of those in the SPD who wanted to achieve their political goals within the existing system) and as someone who was not much interested in fundamental theoretical debates. [1]

Colonialism Creation, and maintenance of colonies by people from another territory

Colonialism is the policy of a nation seeking to extend or retain its authority over other people or territories, generally with the aim of opening trade opportunities. The colonizing country seeks to benefit from the colonized country or land mass. In the process, colonizers imposed their religion, economics, and medicinal practices on the natives. Some argue this was a positive move toward modernization, while other scholars counter that this is an intrinsically Eurocentric rationalization, given that modernization is itself a concept introduced by Europeans. Colonialism is largely regarded as a relationship of domination of an indigenous majority by a minority of foreign invaders where the latter rule in pursuit of its interests.

During the First World War, Noske was part of the moderate wing of the SPD which also included Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann and which supported the war as a defensive measure. [2] Noske supported the war loans, but he also argued in favour of a stronger political position for the Reichstag. In 1916 to 1918, he was the parliamentary speaker of a commission appointed by the government to investigate military procurement and related excess profits by contractors (Kommission für die Überprüfung der Kriegslieferungen). In this function, Noske helped to shed light on the business practices involved and to expand the authority of the parliament. [1]

Friedrich Ebert 19th and 20th-century German politician and president of Germany

Friedrich Ebert was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the first President of Germany from 1919 until his death in office in 1925.

Philipp Scheidemann German chancellor

Philipp Heinrich Scheidemann was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). On 9 November 1918, in the midst of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, he proclaimed Germany a republic. Later, beginning in the early part of the following year, he became the second head of government of the Weimar Republic, acting in this post for 127 days.

German revolution and civil war

In October 1918, Noske became a member of the leadership of the SPD Reichstag group. When the Kiel mutiny started in early November, Prince Max von Baden, the new chancellor, sent Noske to Kiel to negotiate an end to the revolt. [2] The mutineers welcomed Noske and elected him as Chairman of the Soldiers' Council (later "Governor"), as they considered him—a Social Democrat—to be on their side. [1] [3] :65 Within days he had succeeded in restoring the authority of the officers and in making the mutineers who had remained in Kiel resume their normal duties. Max von Baden and his successor as chancellor, Friedrich Ebert, who was a close personal friend of Noske's, were pleased with Noske's achievement. [3] :72–73 Noske remained in Kiel until December 1918. [1]

As a result of the revolt of the Volksmarinedivision just before Christmas 1918, the representatives of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) left the revolutionary government of the Council of the People's Deputies (Rat der Volksbeauftragten) at the end of the month and Noske was one of two Majority Social Democrats who took their place on 30 December. [2] Within the government Noske was responsible for military affairs. [1]

Noske and Friedrich Ebert in the infamous "bathing suit picture", 16 July 1919. Noske.jpg
Noske and Friedrich Ebert in the infamous "bathing suit picture", 16 July 1919.

In January 1919, Noske and the Freikorps under his command were instrumental in putting down the so-called Spartacist revolt. Today, Marxist historians see this event more as an attempt by the Berlin workers to regain what they thought had been won in the November revolution and what they now seemed to be in the process of losing. The trigger was a trivial event: the head of the Berlin police, a member of the USPD, refused to accept his dismissal. [3] :155 The USPD called for a demonstration of solidarity but was itself surprised by the reaction as hundreds of thousands, many of them armed, gathered in the city centre on 5 January. They seized the newspapers and railway stations. Representatives from USPD and KPD decided to topple the Ebert government.

The next day, however, the gathered masses did not seize government buildings, as the expected support from the military had not materialized. Ebert began negotiations with the leaders of the uprising, but simultaneously prepared for a military response. Noske was made commander of the Freikorps and Ebert worked to mobilise the regular armed forces of the Berlin area on the government's side. [3] :162 From 9 to 12 January, on Ebert's orders, regular forces and Freikorps successfully and bloodily suppressed the uprising. [3] :163–168

A few days later, on 15 January 1919, members of the FreikorpsGarde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision led by Hauptmann Waldemar Pabst abducted and murdered the socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Previously, Noske had personally ordered that Liebknecht's telephone line be monitored and Liebknecht's every movement be reported to Pabst. [3] :176

On 19 January 1919 elections to the Nationalversammlung (national assembly) were held. It met in Weimar and on 13 February 1919 the newly elected president Ebert appointed a new government, led by Philipp Scheidemann. Noske became Reichswehrminister (defence minister). [4]

Over the first half of 1919 Ebert and Noske repeated what they had done in Berlin throughout the Reich. Left-wing uprisings were crushed by brutal military force, employing both regular army and paramilitary Freikorps. [3] :183–196

As Reichswehrminister in the governments of Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Bauer, who succeeded Scheidemann as chancellor in June 1919, Noske oversaw the initial reorganisation of the military after the collapse of 1918. Despite substantial misgivings, he ultimately supported signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which severely curtailed the ability of Germany to maintain an effective military. [2] [5] Beginning in the summer of 1919, there were plots by the Reichswehr leadership to seize power in a military coup. Noske was drawn into these discussions. Although he refused offers to serve as a dictator after a putsch, he never took any steps against the officers who made these offers and failed to report their activities to his fellow members of government. [3] :216

On 20 January 1920 the Treaty of Versailles came into force, restricting the German army to 100,000 men or less. On 28 February 1920 Noske, following orders of the Interalliierte Militärkontrollkommission, which oversaw Germany's compliance with the Treaty, dissolved the Freikorps Marinebrigaden "Ehrhardt" and "Loewenfeld". The highest ranking general of the Reichswehr, Walther von Lüttwitz, refused to comply, resulting in what became known as the Kapp Putsch. [2]

To restore order, Noske asked the chief of the Truppenamt in the Reichswehr Ministry , General Hans von Seeckt, to order the regular army to put down the putsch. Von Seeckt refused and the government was forced to flee from Berlin. However, a general strike called by the unions, the Social Democrats and the government, as well as the refusal of the bureaucracy to recognise the new (self-declared) chancellor Wolfgang Kapp, resulted in a quick collapse of the coup. [3] :223–229

As one of the conditions for ending the general strike, the unions demanded the resignation of Noske as Reichswehrminister. Moreover, some within the SPD were unhappy with his conduct during the crisis and deemed him to have been lacking in energy dealing with the putsch. [5] He resigned on 22 March 1920. [2] Otto Gessler succeeded him. Noske would be the last Social Democrat in this position during the Weimar Republic.

Later career and death

Noske was Governor (Oberpräsident) of the Province of Hanover from 1920 on. He became more conservative and supported Paul von Hindenburg in the elections for Reichpräsident in 1925 and 1932. [1] However, as a Social Democrat he was first relieved of his duties in the spring of 1933 and then dismissed on 1 October by the Nazi government. Noske then moved to Frankfurt. In 1944 he was arrested by the Gestapo under suspicion of involvement in the 20 July plot against Adolf Hitler and imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. [2] Noske was freed by advancing Allied troops from a Gestapo prison in Berlin.

He died in Hanover on 30 November 1946 from a stroke while preparing for a lecture tour of the United States. He is buried at Stadtfriedhof Engesohde in Hanover.


Noske has been called "one of the most forceful and at the same time controversial personalities of his time". [5] For some, Noske had the courage to be (in his own words) "the bloodhound" and prevent Germany from falling into chaos and then tyranny of the type previously experienced by Russia after the Bolshevik October Revolution. [5] Other historians have called him "a primitive brute, who conducted policy according to a simple friend-foe-pattern" and someone who was "unable to differentiate, in love with violence, who from his whole mentality would have fitted better into the NSDAP than into the SPD". [3] :185


SPD politician Johannes Kahrs, a leading contemporary representative of the moderate wing of the SPD, has described Gustav Noske as one of his political role models. [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "Biografie Gustav Noske (German)". Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Biografie Gustav Noske (German)". Deutsches Historisches Museum. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Haffner, Sebastian (2002). Die deutsche Revolution 1918/19 (German). Kindler. ISBN   3-463-40423-0.
  4. Schulze, Hagen. "Das Kabinett Scheidemann, vol. I, Introduction". "Akten der Reichskanzlei. Weimarer Republik” online. German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv). Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Herzfeld, Hans (ed) (1963). Geschichte in Gestalten:3:L-O (German). Fischer, Frankfurt. pp. 231–232.
  6. "German Social Democrats meet in the shadow of the financial crisis - World Socialist Web Site". Retrieved 2016-10-24.