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  • Michael Laxer

At the grave of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg



On this date in 1919 the great Marxist thinkers and revolutionary leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were killed in Berlin by rightest militiamen after an abortive attempted uprising. This was a mere fortnight after they had participated in the founding of the Communist Party there.


In January, 1922 the US Communist newspaper The Daily Worker published a piece by Morris Backall -- an American Communist militant -- about his visit to their grave in Berlin. We republish it here in full.


Text:


I've seen the Aedon Hotel in Berlin where the two revolutionary leaders were assassinated. Dumb stands that aristocratic structure, casting enfearing shadows on those who pass It by. I look at it and feel as if the very stones would cry out of the agony the two noble-heroic rebels suffered before they breathed out their last.


On one of the clays during which the revolutionary world honors the memory of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, I went to pay homage to their graves.


Friedrick's field is an old cemetery with lofty trees thru the barren branches of which played a soft wind that broke thru the thickly overhanging clouds. Human faces draped In black are here and there. White flowers hang over graves. A lot of flowers are there, flowers not all living but they create atmosphere. Asphalt byways lead on and on. Here in a corner, at the end of the fence are rows of graves hemmed in by young trees.


These are the 38 graves of the fallen heroes of the Spartacan uprising in 1919. It is they who dyed our struggle with their own blood. In three rows is the little cemetery in a cemetery laid out. Two rows of 13 martyrs and one of twelve. In the center, a bit separated are the hillocks under which lie Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. On the grave of the first lies a placard of the Italian comrades "We honor the memory of the martyrs of the revolution."


One's mood becomes depressed, casting his eyes from grave to grave, unknown names; silent heroes, who knows their age; who knows what lives were extinguished.


There in a corner is a grave with fresh flowers thereon, a token of love of someone who cherishes the spot where the fallen hero lies. A symbol of the eternal light that radiates from one's heart to the one that has "given all."


A pain runs thru my limbs, I can't stand on my feet. I fall to the grave of Rosa, the holy, great revolutionist. A poetic soul was she and a world of knowledge has she possessed. There she is. I can see her looking out from behind the bars and listening to the thrilling carols of the birds. She converses with these birds: she writes here notations on life, character of birds, here she reads Galsworthy and communicates her impressions to Sonyia, wife of Liebknecht; discusses the problems the British author embodies in his works.


Rosa Luxemburg lies here, beneath this mound of dirt, beside this boulder -- and we, we are at our comfortable homes, at our work -- how petty is the old world in connection with this grave.


My hand stretches out. l have a desire to tell how loyally "The Communists of America honor the memory of our holy martyrs." No sooner was the epitaph written, when doubts began to bow my mind. Are we worthy enough? Earnest enough? Consequent enough? Not only to live like they lived, but even die like they died? Are we capable to carry on the work for which these martyrs sacrificed their lives?


My heart feels lighter now. As if from the bosom of the earth Rosa's comforting glance penetrated it. New hopes were kindled. new energy was poured in.


What reverence do these graves call forth. Thirty-eight lives were extinguished on the altar of capitalism for an ideal. But we don't value enough these graves. Seven years elapsed and yet without monuments. None were even ordered. The struggle of the German Communists is so bitter that they are incapable to do it. They are being bled white. They have no material means to buy adequate marks for their dead.


The Communists of the world should create the necessary funds. The American Communists, especially our youth should take a live interest In the monument fund. This will be a rich addition to our own traditions which beautify our ideal.


Postscript: By 1926 sufficient funds had been raised to erect a monument to the fallen Communist leaders. It was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This monument, pictured above, was destroyed by the Nazis in 1935.



Portrait from The Daily Worker, January 12, 1922


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