Rosa Luxemburg Mystery DNA of Great-Niece May Help Identify Headless Corpse

In May, doctors in Berlin discovered a headless corpse that they believe might belong to left-wing icon Rosa Luxemburg. A long-lost relative has now been found in Israel whose DNA might help solve the mystery.


One of Germany's most puzzling historical mysteries may soon be solved. Earlier this year, locals were shocked to hear that the body of left-wing heroine Rosa Luxemburg -- fondly known as "Red Rosa" -- may have been found, though authorities were struggling to find a way to positively identify it. After a wide search, a great-niece has been located in Israel who can provide DNA samples that might help prove that the corpse is really hers.

In late May, reports emerged that Michael Tsokos, the head of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences at Berlin's Charité hospital, had located a headless, handless, footless torso in the cellar of the hospital's medical history museum. A number of the corpse's anatomical details, as well as some suspicious irregularities in the medical examiner's report, led him to take a closer look at the body and to ultimately conclude that it very well might be Luxemburg's.

Despite these educated guesses, the best way to prove the body is Luxemburg's is through DNA testing. Her grave wouldn't hold the solution because Nazis had desecrated it in 1935 and caused the remains in it -- whoever they belonged to -- to vanish. At first, Tsokos' team had been hoping to find some DNA on old postage stamps that Luxemburg had licked, but it turned out that Luxemburg used to wet her stamps with a damp cloth. So the team turned its search toward finding a blood relative.

On Sunday, the tabloid Bild am Sonntag reported that a great-niece of Luxemburg's has been found. Irene Borde, 79, is the granddaughter of Luxemburg's brother, Josef. A professor of engineering, she was born in Latvia and grew up in Russia, but nobody knew of her family ties until now because her family reportedly played down the Luxemburg connection. The honored activist's brand of communism had been different from the Soviet style, and the name was a "disadvantage," Borde told the newspaper.

Borde, who moved to Israel in 1973, has now handed over some strands of hair that Tsokos can use to compare her DNA with that of the corpse. "Please clear this up as quickly as possible so I can sleep," Borde told the paper. "Dispense with all these rumors."

Still, Tsokos has warned against betting too much on the results of any DNA testing. "If we can isolate the DNA of a great-niece and her presumed great-aunt, at best, we can still only be 60-70 percent sure that they were related."

Luxemburg was beaten and shot to death by right-wing paramilitaries during a wave of leftist protests in 1919, shortly after she and Karl Liebknecht founded Germany's Communist Party (KPD). Her body was thrown into a canal and only recovered five months later, after the winter ice had melted. After an autopsy was performed, she was allegedly buried in Berlin.

For over 90 years, the post-World War I revolutionary and feminist icon has so inspired Germany's left wing that the grave with her name on it has become a shrine of sorts, with devotees making annual pilgrimages to Berlin's Friedrichsfelde Cemetery to leave red carnations.

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