The Rosa Behind the Platz

If you live in Berlin you probably passed by Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. It is where you can find Volksbühne, Babylon cinema, many cool bars and trendy restaurants, and also the house of the German left party ‘Die Linke‘ in Karl-Liebknecht-Haus. 

The Platz was named after the communist leader and philosopher Rosa Luxemburg. It got its name during the GDR (DDR), first only named Luxemburgplatz in 1947 and later renamed Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in 1969. Behind this peaceful square hides the bloody story of a powerful woman – Rosa Luxemburg. She was a Polish Marxist, philosopher, economist, anti-war activist, and revolutionary socialist, who became a German citizen at the age of 28 and died a tragic death when she was only 47. 

Rosa Luxemburg was born in Poland to a Jewish family in 1871. She spoke Polish, German and Russian. When she was 13 years old, she attended a prestigious secondary school (The Zweite Frauengymnasium) that rarely accepted polish applicants and even rarer still accepted Jewish applicants. When she was only 15 years old she joined the Polish left-wing Proletariat Party. In 1889 she moved to Switzerland, where she attended university and studied philosophy, history, politics, economics, and mathematics. There she also completed her doctoral dissertation named “The Industrial Development of Poland”. Again she stood out, as not many women had a doctorate at that time.

a woman stand in front of U-Bahn station

In 1983 Rosa and Leo Jogiches co-founded the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL). However, for Rosa it wasn’t enough, she wanted to move to Berlin in order to be in the center of the party struggle. She was able to move to Berlin in 1898 after she married Gustav Lübeck (1897) to gain German citizenship. Their marriage was only for reasons of convenience and they officially got divorced 5 years later.

After Rosa moved to Berlin she became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The party stood for the liberation of the industrial working class and all minorities and they believed it could be achieved only by revolution. During the time before the First World War she spoke passionately to prevent the coming war. Her idea to unite all European workers’ parties in an attempt to stop the war was accepted at the Socialist Second International Congress in Stuttgart in 1907. However, in reality, it did not happen and SPD agreed with the government not to strike during the war. As a result, Rosa left the SPD and founded the ‘Spartacus League’. They mainly wrote and distributed illegal anti-war pamphlets. She and Karl Liebknecht were imprisoned for two and a half years Due to their anti-war actions. Imprisonment did not make her stop writing her opinions, and with the help of her friends she managed to publish them.

Rosa was freed from prison in 1918, just in time for the German revolution. The first wave resulted in the replacement of the monarchy with a democratic republic and the USPD and SPD assumed power. However, Rosa, the ‘Spartacus League’ and others were not happy with the leadership of Friedrich Ebert. On the first of January 1919 Karl and Rosa founded the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). On the 8th of January she published a statement to suggest the impeachment of Friedrich Ebert. As a response the German Chancellor Ebert ordered the Freikorps to destroy the left-wing revolution. A few days later Rosa and Karl were captured, tortured and executed. Rosa was shot and flung into the Landwehr Canal. Their death inspired a new wave of violence in Berlin and across Germany. Her body was found only 4 months later, and she was buried in Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde (in Lichtenberg).

In life and in death Rosa inspired many. Lenin praised Luxemburg after her death as an “eagle” of the working class. The GDR (DDR) idolized her as a communist martyr, and she is still idolized today by the current left party ‘Die Linke’. Brecht even wrote a poem about her.

Red Rosa now has vanished too,
And where she lies is hid from view.
She told the poor what life's about,
And so the rich have rubbed her out.
May she rest in peace.

Written & illustrated by Adi G.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.

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