Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Karl Liebknecht's Death Mask now at the IISH

A great-niece of Karl Liebknecht presented the Institute with a very special gift: Liebknecht’s death mask. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, leaders of the Spartacist Rebellion in  Berlin, were tortured and murdered by paramilitaries on 15 January 1919. Liebknecht’s body was deposited as an ‘unknown man’ at the morgue in Berlin.  

The donor of the mask, Mrs Jutta O’Connell, a granddaughter of Karl’s elder brother Theodor Liebknecht, writes us: 

“My mother was 14 years old when Karl was murdered and she remembered that her father Theodor had to identify the body and afterwards look after Karl’ s three children.
The murder of Karl Liebknecht affected the family really badly.
The  mask was in possession of Theodor, who had to leave Germany in 1933 as he was a barrister and defended people against the nazi’s. He lived with his wife in abject poverty in Switzerland, supported by Swiss friends. The Swiss did not allow him to work.
In 1933, my mother was working as a young doctor in a hospital in Mannheim and she was marched out of this hospital with two soldiers, bayonets drawn, because of the name Liebknecht. She was told she would never work again.

The mask survived the Hitler era in the possession of the family. They probably hid it, I don’t know.
This mask you have now was never loaned to an exhibition. Copies were made later by artists from the DDR, I believe.”


7 April 2017