, BERLIN, Jan 13 – It\’s a 90-year-old murder mystery that dates from the turbulent aftermath of Germany\’s defeat in World War I and the birth pangs of social democracy: what happened to Rosa Luxemburg\’s body?
The communist icon\’s corpse was buried in a tomb in Berlin where every year thousands of sympathisers have honoured her fight for a workers\’ paradise.
Or so everyone thought.
It turns out an unidentified body found two years ago in a wooden coffin in a basement room at Berlin\’s Charite hospital could be Luxemburg, according to the head of the institution\’s forensic medicine department.
Michael Tsokos says the body, which is without arms, legs and head, bears "astonishing similarities" to Luxemburg, indicating her last resting place was not, in fact, in a grave at a cemetery in the German capital later vandalised by the Nazis.
But his claims are fiercely disputed, and have generated an intense debate in Germany around the fate of a woman still widely respected on all sides of the political spectrum.
On Sunday several thousand people, mainly from Germany\’s Left Party, again gathered at the memorial to pay tribute to her struggle just ahead of the anniversary of her death.
Luxemburg\’s life was also the subject of a 1986 film by Margarethe von Trotta which won Barbara Sukowa a best actress award at the Cannes film festival.
Born into a Jewish family in Russian-controlled Poland in 1871, Luxemburg was a philosopher and activist who sought to incite the working classes into the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist regimes.
She argued communist theory with Lenin, agitated in the press and in public for direct action, and was jailed in Germany for opposing World War I.
Luxemburg was freed in 1918 amid Germany\’s humiliating defeat and, in the ensuing chaos, she and close friend Karl Liebknecht co-founded the Communist Party of Germany and led a violent attempt to set up a workers\’ republic.
They were arrested by militia troops on January 15, 1919 and executed, and her body thrown into Berlin\’s Landwehr canal. She was 47.
Tsokos, citing abnormalities in the 1919 autopsy report, has said that he doubts Luxemburg was ever buried at Berlin\’s Friedrichsfelde cemetery.
When the body in the basement was discovered, German prosecutors opened a probe into suspicion of a non-natural death and ordered a new autopsy.
However, it has been unable to confirm the identity.
Carbon dating indicated a death in the early part of the 20th century, but although Tsokos has uncovered a distant relative, it\’s too tenuous for a DNA analysis.
He says tests show that the body, which had remained under water for some time, was that of a woman of 40 to 50 with arthritis and a hip complaint, who limped because one leg was shorter.
Those indicators all match Luxemburg.
Tsokos\’ theory roused Klaus Gietinger, a writer and amateur historian who published a tome on Luxembourg in 2008, to issue a new book insisting she was indeed buried at Friedrichsfelde.
Volkmar Schneider, Tsokos\’ predecessor at the Charite\’s forensic medicine department, is also dismissive.
He said the story was "a desperate publicity stunt" to publicise a book by Tsokos on amazing forensic cases.
But Tsokos has a supporter in Joern Schuetrumpf, publisher of Luxemburg\’s letters. "The 1919 autopsy report was falsified," he says, adding it was done on the orders of authorities.
The mysterious body in the basement is due to be buried shortly with little sign of an imminent end to the debate over its identity.