For 90 years, admirers of Rosa Luxemburg have laid red carnations on her gravestone in Berlin’s Friedrichsfelde Cemetery. Now, forensic expert Michael Tsokos is “90 per cent certain” that he’s found the real corpse of Luxemburg in the damp basement of Charité hospital. All he needs is a DNA match.
“Red Rosa,” as the pioneering Communist and feminist was known, was murdered in January 1919, after taking part in an unsuccessful revolt. She was shot in the head and her body dumped in the Landwehr canal. Five months later, after the spring thaw, a waterlogged corpse was recovered from the canal, identified by pathologists as that of Luxemburg and quickly buried.
However, Tsokos, head of the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, recently found a cadaver—minus its head, feet and hands— in the hospital’s medical history museum. A CT scan indicated that it had been under water and that the woman, like Luxemburg, had a hip ailment, osteoarthritis, as well as legs of different lengths. In addition, the woman was between 40 and 50 years old (Luxemburg died at 47) and carbon dating confirmed that the corpse was from the correct era.
Then Tsokos reviewed the original autopsy report and noticed discrepancies, including no mention of bone abnormalities or the rifle-butt blows sustained before her murder. Plus, a second examiner wrote an addendum doubting the corpse’s identity.
Tsokos is now searching for genetic material extracted from materials handled by Luxemburg, or DNA from a close relative, to prove his theory. “A hat would be nice,” he told the BBC, because it could contain a hair. He’s also trying to find Luxemburg’s niece.
Regardless of whether the corpse is identified, Murat Cakir, spokesman for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, believes the Communist’s legacy will remain intact: “The world over she is thought of as a revolutionary forward thinker—millions visit her grave each year—and she will always be this, regardless of where her body rests.”
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.