Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 17:50 UK

German corpse 'may be Luxemburg'

Rosa Luxemburg (undated file image)
Luxemburg's official grave may have contained the wrong body, experts say

An unidentified corpse found in the basement of a Berlin hospital could be that of murdered revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, say German authorities.

A pathologist at Berlin's Charite hospital told Der Spiegel magazine the headless corpse bore "striking similarities" to the left-wing icon.

Ms Luxemburg was murdered by right-wing paramilitaries in 1919 at the age of 47 and thrown in an icy canal.

Months later, a body thought to have been hers was retrieved and buried.

The grave, in Berlin's Freidrichsfelde cemetery, has since become a place of pilgrimage for communists, feminists and left-wing activists.

But Michael Tsokos, head of the hospital's Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensics Science department, told Der Spiegel that he doubted the identity of the corpse that was buried there.

He pointed to several inconsistencies in the post mortem examination his predecessors at the hospital had carried out on the interred body, which made him question its conclusions.

We hope that the identity of the body is clarified as soon as possible so that whoever it may be will finally be laid to rest
Murat Cakir
Rosa Luxemburg Foundation

These included the fact that the pathologists made no mention of the hip defect and differing leg lengths which made Luxemburg limp all her life.

The body also showed no sign of the rifle butt blows Ms Luxemburg is known to have received to her skull nor of the bullet in the head which is believed to have killed her.

In contrast, the body which Mr Tsokos found two years ago showed clear signs of having been waterlogged, said Der Spiegel.

Further tests showed the corpse was a woman aged between 40 and 50, who had suffered from osteoarthritis and had legs of different lengths.

The missing extremities could be explained by anecdotal evidence that weights were tied to Ms Luxemburg's hands and feet before she was thrown into the canal, said Mr Tsokos. When the water froze, it could have separated them from the body.

The corpse, said Mr Tsokos, bore "striking similarities to the real Rosa Luxemburg".


The grave for Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin (file image)
The Luxemburg grave is visited by millions every year

Mr Tsokos told the DDP news agency there had been rumours for many years that Ms Luxemburg's body was actually in the hospital.

He said he had been searching for DNA samples to test against the body since he found it - stamps used by Ms Luxemburg had given no insight so he was hoping to be able to find samples of her clothing.

"A hat would be nice," he said, as it could contain strands of her hair.

Murat Cakir, a spokesman for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, told the Local paper it was "conceivable that the authorities at the time made sure [the body] would disappear".

"But it's also disturbing that her body could have been in a hospital cellar for the last 90 years," he said.

"We hope that the identity of the body is clarified as soon as possible so that whoever it may be will finally be laid to rest."

Tests on the body buried in Berlin are not possible, as the grave was desecrated in the Nazi era and the remains removed.

But Mr Cakir said that when and if the identity of the corpse was discovered, Ms Luxemburg's legacy would not be affected.

"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," he said.

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