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DECEMBER 30, 2009 11:03AM

Rosa Luxemburg "floater" released for burial after 90 years

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IT'S TAKEN NINE DECADES, but the unclaimed female torso that was fished out of Berlin's Landwehr Canal in the spring of 1919 has finally been released for burial. It had been kept on display in the pathology department of Charité Hospital as a classic example of a water corpse or "floater" until 2007, when Dr. Michael Tsokos, the department's director, noticed it and determined that it probably belonged to the murdered German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg.

Rosa Luxemburg 
Patron saint of the German Left:
Rosa Luxemburg, 1871-1919

Tsokos announced his discovery to the press last spring and promptly issued a call for genetic material in order to confirm his suspicions (I have already written about this case here and here). But after over a year of study and nine months of media overkill, Tsokos has finally laid down his scalpel. "There are indications that it could have been Rosa Luxemburg," the public prosecutor's office told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Monday, "but they have not been enough to provide conclusive proof." DNA extracted from the hair of a living relative in Israel did not match that belonging to the cadaver - Tsokos himself stated last summer that the chances of a match stood at only forty percent anyway. Now the remains will finally be buried at an undisclosed location. Testing will continue on tissue samples, however, and a positive identification cannot be ruled out in the future.

Michael Tsokos 
German star pathologist and best-selling
author Michael Tsokos

But none of this should surprise us. Yes, the identification of Tsokos's "floater" as the mortal remains of Luxemburg, who was murdered by government troops at the end of the Spartacist Uprising on January 15, 1919 and then thrown into the canal (the body later interred in Berlin's Central Cemetery probably belonged to another woman, Tsokos concluded after examining contemporary reports), would have represented a very bright feather in the media-savvy doctor's cap. But even without proof, he nevertheless captured the headlines several times in 2009 and gave both his new best-selling book and his forensics exhibition at the Charité's medical-historical museum a mighty boost. So we need shed no tears for Tsokos - but a few might be appropriate for the thousands of victims of the German revolution of 1918/19 and the years of unrest that followed, whose cruel fate is symbolized by the Charité floater, whoever she may have been.

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Fascinating story, Alan.
Alan, I remember your first story about Rosa Luxemburg in May. Thanks to you I have learned about this case from your multiple posts here. It's an interesting story.
Thanks for the follow-up to your previous post. It would have been an incredible coincidence if it actually was Rosa Luxemburg. But I guess the doctor got his 15 minutes. And we got an interesting reminder of her story - so who's complaining?
Good coverage of this...xox
The Germans keep fastidious records of everything. I'm surprised that wasn't in a ledger somewhere.
Fascinating story, Alan.
Really interesting. I remember discussing her impact on history with some friends when we visited Rosa Luxemborg Platz in Berlin a few years ago.
that is weird. I just saw a picture of her.
Let her rest in peace. I think she and the Sparacists were misguided, but so are lots of people, which is not usually a good reason for them to be executed by the state.
so rip rosa luxemburg
Oh, all of you -- hello. I am, just now, both old and sad; but not only those. "Rosa Luxemburg" was a knee-jerk catchword of the then-called "left" during my earlier years. First of the self-styled "theoretical Marxist" undergraduate college friend of mine back [?"sorry guys"? ;-)] about a half a century ago when the college administration had to debate whether to let him graduate with his earned Highest Honors degree because he'd written a thesis that wasn't, those days, "politically correct". [He, like me, is now in his eighties though he, unlike me [;-)] is a retired Yale professor.]

My next encounter with the Rosa Luxemburg thread was the time I was (one-time-only!) on tv as a fellow Vietnam-era "tax refuser" with Noam Chomsky. We were just the sort of the us then and there (Brookline, MA) "doing our thing". One Barbara Deming (I doubt anyone here has heard of) had given what was for me, any way, a heartbreaking and heart-opening talk in her public stand and commitment against the war in Indochina. She confessed how shy she was and how hard it was for her to do that.

I, for my part (older, I'm quite sure by now, than almost anyone else posting to OS), had initially been moved to take pretty personally-drastic steps of protest against the US military involvement in Indochina when I saw that famous picture of the napalmed naked girl screaming/running. And when Noam Chomsky and I (for perhaps frivolous, but perhaps not, reasons) were on tv together, after the mikes were off, he and the tv-ers got into confab. Bear in mind, he was pretty young then (as was I!).

So now here we are -- us OS-ers -- all these long years later. And I'm typing a comment into OS that probably won't (to my partly young and partly weary ?mind?) make much sense.

But, as one of my family members likes to say (variant on Archie and Mehitabel?) "wotthehey"?!

Tomorrow is a full ("blue" -- i.e. 2 in one month) moon, lunar eclipse. And tho' many folk feels it's ?"loony"? to take the myths and tales about this sort of thing seriously, many quite seriously and responsibly empirical studies have shown that ... well, yes, people [and in my experience, also animals ... and who knows what all else?! :-)] do get ... well, a little bit ?"off"? in these conditions and circumstances?! ;-)

So "forgive me", if necessary ... there's a lot about Rosa Luxemburg herself I'd love to exchange notions with you about ... after the moon lunacy won't leave me posting into my around-now midnight computer ....... and, hey, sorry to be so longwinded.

Blame the "blue" (scheduled for eclipse) moon, o.k.?

Will be checking in as I can and thanks everyone!

I hate that(Three advertisements in a row will possibly prevent anyone from noticing my post)!

My question is: why the burial in an undisclosed location? Is it because this might just really be the person we mostly all thought it was? As somebody else noted that there already is a Rosa Luxemburg Platz, the undisclosed location could not be because she is entirely a verboten topic. Or is undisclosed, for an unidentified "floater", just another name for " Potters Field" ?

I saw the film made by Margarethe von Trotta(1985) with Barbara Sukowa and Otto Sander (who also appeared in Wings of Desire, with Bruno Ganz) and more usually this film describes Luxemburg as a democratic-socialist although she is also recently identified emphasizing the Spartacist revolution. This film is an insight into the post-World War1 Germany and in particular the end scene of her murder and being dumped into the canal underlines the trend toward Naziism in that era. Is this possibly why the downplaying by burial in an undisclosed location?
Wonderful post. Thank you for keeping s informed of this story.
Very interesting...how many headless women corpses would have been floating in the canal???
@Ralph Tingey
It seems that five female corpses were pulled out of the canal around that time, and this is the only one that wasn't identified. These were tough times, with a revolution, civil war, starvation, and murder rampant throughout the country. For more details, check out my other posts (cited above).
Great story and very well written, too.