The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg

Written by Klaus Gietinger Loren Balhorn (trans.)
Review by Georgia Rose Phillips

It is the post-WWI period, and Germany is in the slouch of defeat. A revolutionary air is passing through the country. The radical Spartacists (breakaway Communist members of the Social Democratic Party) leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, are spreading their vision of reform. The sailors’ uprising in Kiel spills into other German coastal cities, signifying a revolt inside the armed forces. This leftist insurgency takes the imperial leaders by surprise, and they search for ways to contain the uprising. The Socialist Democrats (SPD) give the Freikorps the quiet order for Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s executions; however, who pulled the trigger remains a mystery that Klaus Gietinger, German screenwriter, film director and historian, solves in The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg. This nonfiction work was originally published in German in 1993 but has now been translated to English by Loren Balhorn to commemorate the centenary of Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s assassinations.

The book begins with the Freikorps, the right-wing parliamentarians of the GKSD, a conservative paramilitary unit, setting up their headquarters at the luxurious ‘Hotel Eden’ that becomes the backdrop of Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s grim final hours in Berlin. Then, it reconstructs their last movements on the sinister night of the 15th January 1919, that has continued to haunt the public imagination. As Gietinger proceeds to reconstruct the court trial that followed, he embarks on the ambitious project of sifting through the deep web of political lies, deceit and conflicting testimonies that clouded the farcical trial to uncover the real culprits. As Gietinger writes, the murder became a “curiously synchronized and yet, disjointed operation” capturing the essence of both the trial and the book he has written. It is complex. Deeply political. Fragmented. Meticulously detailed and brimming with suspense, whilst being wrapped in layers of secrecy. The scope of the research and his attention to detail are his largest achievements. However, as he strives to clarify the interior nuance of politics behind the murder, the broader significance of this crime is treated as assumed knowledge. I deeply enjoyed the specificity of this whodunnit-style read; however, it is more focused rather than comprehensive, making it best suited to those already interested in this period.