On May 29, head of forensic medicine at Berlin’s Charité hospital Michael Tsokos sparked a media frenzy when he said that a decapitated body without hands and feet – in possession of the hospital for almost nine decades – was likely the remains of the iconic left-wing leader.
Luxemburg was murdered in 1919 by right-wing Prussian soldiers, but after conducting tests on the 90-year-old corpse, Tsokos said he was convinced that the wrong woman was buried in her place.
Now Berlin authorities have taken on the case in a bid to solve the mystery.
“There are signs of an unnatural death,” Berlin state prosecutor’s office spokesperson Martin Steltner told The Local. “Therefore the state prosecutor has taken up an investigation to clarify whether the person was murdered. It has been surmised that it’s Luxemburg’s body – but nothing has been solved.”
Forensic doctor Tsokos put out a call for possible samples of Luxemburg’s DNA in June, but Steltner said he was uncertain whether any of these would be compared to the corpse in the investigation.
Tsokos has said that the mysterious body found at Charité shows “astounding similarities with the real Rosa Luxemburg,” citing matching physical ailments and inconsistencies with her autopsy report.
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 and suffered from a congenital hip dislocation and had one leg longer than the other as a result.
Tsokos said that he doubted the true Luxemburg was ever buried, substantiating his claim by outlining 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 Friedrichsfelde cemetery, but he said records show this corpse did not bear her significant anatomical characteristics.
According to news magazine Der Spiegel in May, 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.
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.
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.
The state prosecutor’s office does not plan to release the autopsy results until after the winter holidays.
“We’re trying to see if at some point the body can be cleared for burial,” Steltner said.