Rosa Luxemburg Mystery Continues Berlin Authorities Seize Corpse for Pre-Burial Autopsy
A mystery emerged in May when a doctor in Berlin discovered a torso stored for decades in his hospital's basement that appeared to belong to left-wing icon Rosa Luxemburg. Berlin authorities have now seized the corpse to perform a final autopsy before placing it in the grave that has borne her name since 1919.
Berlin authorities have seized what is believed to be the corpse of the post-World War I German communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, according to a report published in Thursday's edition of the mass-circulation daily Bild. The public prosecutor's office reportedly took possession of the headless, handless and footless torso of "Red Rosa" after a judge ordered an autopsy that will allow the body to be buried.
Investigators told Bild that a "formal investigation of the cause of death" will be conducted "by Friday, at the latest."
In an ironic twist, it was an autopsy report that originally led to speculation that Luxemburg's body had never left Berlin's Charité hospital in June 1919 in the first place. In May, Michael Tsokos, head of the hospital's Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences department stated his belief that a corpse he had found in the hospital's cellar might belong to Rosa Luxemburg. When examining the medical examiner's report associated with the corpse, Tsokos noticed a number of suspicious irregularities in both the details of the report and the way one of the originally examining physicians added an addendum in which he distanced himself from the conclusions of his colleague, which Tsokos called "a very unusual occurrence."
Suspicious, Tsokos had a number of elaborate tests, such as carbon dating and computer tomography exams, performed on the corpse. The tests determined that it had been waterlogged, had belonged to a woman between 40 and 50 years old at the time of death, that she had suffered from osteoarthritis and that she had legs of different lengths.
As Tsokos told SPIEGEL in May, he concluded that the corpse bore "striking similarities with the real Rosa Luxemburg."
At the time of her death, Luxemburg was the 47-year-old co-founder of Germany's Communist Party (KPD). She suffered from a congenital hip ailment that left her with a permanent limp, which in turn caused her legs to be of different lengths. And after her violent death at the hands of right-wing paramilitaries in January 1919, her body was thrown into Berlin's Landwehr Canal.
Even the missing hands and feet fit with Tsokos' theory. When the revolutionary was thrown into the canal, eyewitnesses say weights were tied to her ankles and wrists with wire. During the months her corpse spent under water, they could have easily severed her extremities.
In the spring, when the canal thawed out, Luxemburg's body was recovered and taken to Charité hospital for an autopsy. Soon thereafter, a body -- though presumably not hers -- was placed in a grave with her name on it in Berlin's Friedrichsfelde Cemetery. The site has been visited every year by a procession of old communists and young left-wing activists, who march through the streets of the former East Berlin to lay red carnations on her gravestone and honor her as a martyr to the communist cause. The remains that were once placed in that grave could not be used in resolving the mystery because they disappeared after virulently anti-communist Nazis attacked and plundered the graves in 1935.