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Rosa Luxemburg's body likely found 90 years after murder

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Photo: DPA
17:05 CEST+02:00
The corpse of German communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, murdered in 1919 by right-wing forces, may have been in the forensic medicine department of Berlin's Charité hospital for some 90 years, weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday.

The head of forensic medicine, Michael Tsokos, told the magazine that a decapitated body without hands and feet – in possession of the hospital for almost nine decades – is likely the remains of the iconic left-wing leader.

The body shows “astounding similarities with the real Rosa Luxemburg,” he said.

CT scans of the corpse revealed that the woman was between 40-50 years of age when she died, and suffered from osteoarthritis and leg length asymmetry.

Rosa Luxemburg was 47 when she was murdered, suffered from a congenital hip dislocation and had one leg longer than the other as a result.

Tsokos told the magazine he doubts that the true Luxemburg was ever buried, substantiating his claim by outlining the numerous inconsistencies he uncovered in her autopsy report conducted in June 1919.

Tsokos' predecessors examined a corpse that was buried as Rosa Luxemburg on June 13, 1919 in Berlin's Freidrichsfelde cemetery, but he said records show this corpse did not bear her significant anatomical characteristics.

According to Der Spiegel, the coroners at that time explicitly established that the corpse they investigated had neither a hip defect nor legs of differing lengths. They also failed to find definitive evidence of rifle butt blows to the cranium or a gunshot wound – though Luxemburg is said to have been beaten to the ground with a rifle and then killed by a shot to the head.

“We hope that the identity of the body is clarified as soon as possible so that whoever it may be will finally be laid to rest,” Murat Çakir, spokesperson for The Left party's political think tank named after Rosa Luxemburg, told The Local on Friday

He added that the organisation had been deeply disturbed by the revelation. “It's conceivable that the authorities at the time made sure this would disappear, but it's also disturbing that her body could have been in a hospital cellar for the last 90 years,” he said.

Born on March 5, 1871, Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish Jew. She was also a co-founder of the Social Democratic Party in Poland and Lithuania. Along with Karl Liebknecht, Luxemburg was instrumental in founding Germany's communist party in 1918.

As left-wing activists moved towards revolution in early 1919, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were both murdered by soldiers from the right-wing Freikorps on January 15 of that same year. Luxemburg's body was not found until four months later on May 31 in the Landwehrkanal, a canal parallel to Berlin's Spree River.

“The world over she is thought of as a revolutionary and a forward thinker – millions visit her grave each year – and she will always be this, regardless of where her body rests,” Çakir told The Local, adding that the government should support a speedy clarification of the corpse's identity.

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But forensic doctor Tsokos told news agency DDP he lacks DNA samples to conduct the necessary tests.

“A hat would be nice,” he said, adding that hair left behind could clear up the mystery.

According to Tsokos, rumours that the hospital was in possession of Luxemburg's body have been circulating for years, and he himself has been searching for her DNA for two years – even testing stamps from her letters in search of saliva traces, DDP reported.

But Luxemburg apparently used water to place her stamps, forcing Tsokos to continue his search for DNA on her personal effects.

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