Biografische Recherchen zu Rosa Luxemburg
Janus-Verlag, 2002
ISBN 3 7185 0188 0

Since the decade of the 1970s, when a spate of nontraditional biographies appeared in German bookstores (including peter Härtling's Hölderlin, Adolph Muschg's Gottfried Keller, Wolfgang Hildesheimer's Mozart and Hans J. Fröhlich's Schubert), the reader has been treated to various innovative approaches to this nonliterary genre. Ingeborg Kaiser's recent report of her investigations into the life of Rosa Luxemburg (1871 - 1919), which is, incidentally, achronological in form, extends the range of possibilities within the genre by introducing an unrelated individual, a real-life soldier (identified only as Rehn), who has no connection to Rosa L. (as the biographer calls her). Kaiser makes use of the wartime experiences Rhen recounted in an uncompleted and unpublished memoir to counterbalance the biographee's necessarily passive existence during the tumultuous years of World War I, when she was held in protective custody. Rehn's unemotional report of trench warfare, his injuries, and the devastations he witnessed serves also to remind the reader why Rosa L. repeatedly called for a nonmilitary response to provocation.

Rosa L. became politically active in 1893, when she helped found the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP) with her then-lover, Leo Jogiches. In Kaiser's book we encounter the harsh life of this relentless activist for workers' rights, who spoke passionately against violence, anti-Semitism, and militarism. After earning a doctorate in jurisprudence in Zürich in 1897), she joined the Social Democratic Party in Berlin, travelled extensively on speaking engagements, and was one of the founders of the Spartacus Group in Berlin in 1916. As a result of her tireless zeal she was imprisoned for several months in 1906, again in 1907, and in 1914 she was sentenced to a year in Prison for her public denunciation of war. In 1916 she was placed in protective custody until November 1918 and was arrested again on January 1919. She was beaten and then drowned that same night. Karl Liebknecht, who was arrested with her, was killed at another location.

Kaiser writes authoritatively with respect to the activist's published political, ideological, and economic views, but she is also an unusually empathetic investigator into the life of her subject, drawing comparisons at times with her own life. Her interest in Rosa L. began when she read a collection of letters written from prison to Sonja Liebknecht, wife of a colleague. "Dort klagt sie nicht. Sie erzählt, sie tröstet, und zwar in einer höchst poetischen Sprache," Kaiser, a poet herself, explains in an interview at the front of the book. In her poem "zeittasten," a vivid account of the "Kreuzweg" of Rosa L's imprisonment and murder, Kaiser allows her outrage (held in check in the biography) full expression. (Se "zeittasten", Gedichte, Zürich, orte-Verlag, 2002, pp. 37 - 43).

die kolbenschläge die schüsse im
hotel eden das unparadies der
mordgesellen nachtdunkel
der himmel schweigt tränenlos.

Kaiser began her research in a bleak, wintry Berlin at a symposium organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Gesellschaft, and also toured the locations where Rosa L. lived, worked, and was killed. From there, she travelled to Warsaw, Krakow, the fortress Wronke in Posen, a massive prison in Breslau, and the little town in southeast Poland where Rosa L. was born. In a chapter for each location, she brings us a dimensional image of a woman who, on the one hand loved art, poetry, her comfortable apartment, her cat Mimi, and, on the other hand, quietly accepted the privations of prison and the hardships of travel, and ignored her physical ailments because she was ineluctably dedicated to a campaign for what she believed was a humane way of life.

This book with its close examination of the life and travails of a pivotal figure in the movement will enhance scholarly study of the Communist movement in pre-World War I Germany, but it is certain to attract a much wider readership by reason of the quality of narration. Kaiser retains her - notably in the sections dealing with Rosa L.'s private life - her novelistic penchant for ellipses (in "Mord der Angst" and "Den Fluss überfliegen", for example) and (in her poetry) synaesthesis, which invite reader participation in the situations that will reveal Rosa Luxemburg's passion for her cause, her frustration as a woman in a masculine enclave, and the full extent of her sacrifice. Her life and death deserve renewed evaluation and admiration, and Kaiser's book is in the vanguard.

Patricia H. Stanley, Florida State University

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