Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3


Eine Leiche im Landwehrkanal

Klaus Gietinger
Eine Leiche im Landwehrkanal: Die Ermordung der Rosa L
Decaton Verlag, Mainz 1993, pp. 109, DM 14

IN January 1989 Süddeutsche Rundfunk, a West German television station, showed Dieter Ertel’s TV drama from 1969 about the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, in spite of a court ruling of 1971 prohibiting it. Fascinated by the drama and the story of its prohibition, scriptwriter, director and producer Klaus Gietinger set out to write his own drama.

His research led him to uncover the murderers and how the deeds were done, as well as how it was possible to obscure it all, and who was ultimately responsible. His efforts are documented in an impressive set of notes taking up a third of this book – the title translating as A Corpse in the Landwehr Canal: The Murder of Rosa L – where the protagonists are briefly detailed. In the case of the murderers, their unsavoury deeds in the Weimar Republic and their fortunes in the Third Reich are recorded. In some key cases, the survivors were able to fill in the gaps in the story.

Gietinger operated like a detective, checking earlier trials, accounts, and the press and literature covering the events, and his story unfolds in a gripping manner as he follows different leads. But this is not fiction. He was able to see archives previously closed to researchers, and material from the murderers known only to a few people.

Having sorted out how the deeds were done, and how it was possible to avoid finding the culprits, Gietinger found that times had changed since Ertel’s drama was commissioned and produced, and that TV companies were not interested in putting out his work. He therefore sent his findings in the form of an historical essay to the respected journal of labour movement history, Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, in which it appeared in 1992 (Volume 28, nos. 3 and 4). The Decaton edition is partially rewritten and a bit shorter.

The court martial of the suspected murderers in May 1919 is described by Gietinger as ‘one of the most shamelessly untruthful trials in German legal history’ (p. 31), and whilst reading it I was reminded of the Stalker affair and the supposed ‘shoot to kill’ tactic. By not asking the right questions to the right people, by conspiring to obscure who did what, by an assortment of tricks, and in this case by getting the right judges and prosecutor, it was easy to scapegoat a few minor figures, and to let those in charge get off.

It would spoil the story if I were to name names and give the game away, so I will restrict myself to revealing that Gustav Noske gave a nod and a wink, but nothing in writing, for the murders. There is no evidence that any other leading Social Democrats were involved. One can hold against them their timidity in dealing with the military, and in particular their ignoring of popular pressure for a proper civil trial, and their failure to campaign for a new trial after the court martial had been discredited. In the postwar period, the SPD has continued this shameful policy by upholding the discredited 1919 verdict. This has prevented the true facts from coming to light, and was used in the case against Ertel.

Surely the continued interest in the personality, ideas and deeds of Luxemburg, and the attraction of her and Liebknecht, both heroic giants of the international labour movement, will lead to an English language edition of Gietinger’s book being produced. I hope that somebody will get together with him to put on his drama. It would make a great film.

Mike Jones

Updated by ETOL: 21.9.2011