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John H. Noble

John H. Noble while giving a speech in Nossen, Germany

John H. Noble (September 4, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American survivor of the Soviet Gulag system, who wrote two books relating to his experiences after being permitted to leave the Soviet Union and return to his native United States.


  • Early life 1
  • Imprisonment 2
    • Soviet Special Prison 2.1
    • Vorkuta 2.2
  • Later life 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life

Noble had been born in Detroit, Michigan. His father, born in Germany, came to the US as a Seventh-day Adventist missionary in 1922. Finding contradictions in church teachings, he eventually left the church. His mother, a photographer, worked in a photo-finishing company in Detroit and then his father became the owner of this company. The Nobles eventually built the company to become one of the top ten photo-finishing companies in the US. His father was an acquaintance of a German camera manufacturer who wanted to emigrate to the USA and offered to trade his camera factory in Dresden for the Nobles’ company. The German company, which would later and already without the family's influence create landmarks, such as the Praktica, would become a major international brand, employing 600 workers at the business’ peak.

The Nobles stayed in Germany during World War II and survived the controversial firebombing of Dresden in February 1945.


Soviet Special Prison

In late 1945, 22-year-old American-born Noble was arrested together with his father by Soviet occupation forces in Dresden, Germany and incarcerated in a former German concentration camp that was then under Soviet control. The arrest came about after a newly appointed local Soviet commissar decided to appropriate the Noble family's Practica brand Kamera-Werkstaetten Guthe & Thorsch factory and its stocks of quality cameras. A trumped-up allegation of spying against the Soviets was levelled against the two male members of the family.[1] However, subsequently, the commissar did not provide sufficient numbers of the cameras to his superiors, and he also found himself a fellow prisoner. The concentration camp was the former Buchenwald, now renamed Soviet Special Prison Number 2.

Unlike his father Charles A. Noble, who was released in 1952, John was sentenced to a further 15 years in 1950 and transferred to the Soviet Gulag system, when Special Prison Number 2 was closed by the Soviets in early 1950.


During his transfer through Russia he saw the English phrase scrawled on a cell wall reading "I am sick and don't expect to live through this - Major Roberts". The inscription was dated in mid-August 1950 and believed to have been written by the American soldier Major Frank A. Roberts who is recorded as missing in action during World War II. Soon afterwards, Noble's journey continued and he was sent to the Vorkuta Gulag, at the northernmost Urals railhead in Siberia.

Filling a variety of menial jobs during his imprisonment, the highest being a uniformed lavatory attendant for the staff, he took part in the Vorkuta uprising of July 1953 as a prominent leader. According to Noble the Vorkuta camp and many others nearby had been previously taken over by the inmates, including 400 purged Soviet ex-World War II military men who opted to desperately march their way several hundred miles west to Finland. Apparently making it half way en route, those inmates were intercepted and either killed in battle or executed immediately afterwards.[2][3] All the camps soon returned to state control.

Noble eventually managed to smuggle out a postcard loosely glued to the back of another prisoner's. The message addressed to a relative in West Germany was passed to his family, who by then had returned to the United States. The postcard was passed to the U.S. State Department who formally requested the Soviet government to release Noble. He was finally released in 1955, together with several American military captives, after the personal intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.[4]

Later life

By the mid-1990s, Noble was again residing in Dresden, Germany, where he had originally been taken prisoner 50 years earlier. The factory, but not the trademark "Praktica", which had been created independently, had been restored to family ownership. He died on November 10, 2007 after a heart attack.

Noble wrote the following three books about his ordeal:

  • I Found God in Soviet Russia, by John Noble and Glenn D Everett (1959) (Hardcover).
  • I Was a Slave in Russia, by John Noble (Broadview, Illinois: Cicero Bible Press, 1961).
  • Amerikanetz, by John Noble (Faith & Freedom Forum, 1986).
  • Verbannt und Verleugnet (Banished and Vanished), by John H. Noble (Ranger Publishing House, 2005).

See also


  1. ^ I Was a Slave in Russia, by John Noble.
  2. ^ I Was a Slave in Russia, by John Noble.
  3. ^ According to Russian sources, the uprising was contained within the camps on August 1, 1953; no mass escape ever happened.
  4. ^ An American Survivor of the Post-war Gulag

External links

  • The Gulag Study - U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs
  • , 16 November 2007The Daily TelegraphObituary,
  • John H. Noble; Survived, Denounced Soviet Captivity
  • John H. Noble
  • Noble: Although Never Charged With any Crime, He Was Kept on a Starvation Diet for Seven Months
  • Sir [sic] John Noble and Dresden, An American Survivor of the Post-war Gulag, Hugh S. Galford, Personality, Washington International (
  • I Was a Slave in Russia: An American Tells His Story online ebook.
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