“I decided to have them killed… I maintain that this decision is morally legitimate”: Captain Waldemar Pabst

Captain Waldemar Pabst, Austria, c. 1925 (Photo: Austrian Archives)

Waldemar Pabst was the Chief-of-Staff of the Horse Guards Division (Garde-Kavallerie-Schuetzen-Division), the Freikorps group which was responsible for the arrest and murder of Rosa Luxemburg, as well as several other leading Communists and left-wingers. He was not only central to ordering Luxemburg’s murder, but played a key role in organising the series of cover- ups and rigged trials which protected the murderers (Pabst himself included) and denied justice to Luxemburg’s family, friends and supporters.

The murders

At 8.45pm on 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg was brought to the headquarters of the Horse Guards Division at the Hotel Eden (Kurfurstendamm, Berlin). She was interrogated by Captain Waldemar Pabst. Afterwards, Pabst and several other senior officers ordered soldier Otto Runge to “kill K. Liebknecht and R. Luxemburg by hitting them with the butt of the rifle.” A few minutes later, the officers brought Rosa Luxemburg out to the front door of the Hotel, where Lieutenant Kurt Vogel pushed her violently towards soldier Runge. As ordered, Runge then rifle-butted Rosa Luxemburg in the head and shoulder, knocking her to the ground, before she was taken out to a car and shot in the head by Lieutenant Vogel.

After the murder, Captain Pabst repeated the official story (perhaps invented by him) that Rosa Luxemburg was killed by an ‘angry mob’ outside the hotel, while his soldiers were trying to escort her to the Moabit Prison. Much later, in 1962, he frankly admitted:

“In January 1919, I attended a KPD [German Communist Party] meeting where Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were speaking. I gathered that they were the intellectual leaders of the revolution, and I decided to have them killed. Following my orders, they were captured. One has to decide to break the rule of law…

This decision to have them killed did not come easy to me… I do maintain that this decision is morally and theologically legitimate.”

Once the real story came out, several months after the murders, Pabst ensured that the court-martials of Lieutenant Kurt Vogel and soldier Otto Runge were thoroughly rigged, through his army connections. Pabst himself was never court-martialled or put on trial, despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

Captain Waldemar Pabst, 1931, Austria (Photo: Austrian Archives)

His career did not end in 1919. Captain Pabst was a leading figure in the failed Kapp Putsch of 1920, which sought to overthrow the new Weimar democracy. After this, he lived for some years in Austria, where he organised the far-right Heimwehr paramilitaries. During the Nazi period Pabst lived in Germany, although he did not join the Nazi party. He left the Third Reich in 1944, for neutral Switzerland, where he worked for an arms manufacturer until 1955, when he returned once again to Germany- now the German Federal Republic. From then until his death, he was active in German far-right and neo-Nazi groups. Breaking his silence in 1962, Pabst gave an account of the 1919 murders to a German newspaper, including the attempted justification above. Somewhat surprisingly, the German Federal Republic’s Press and Information Office released a statement supporting Pabst’s account and further stating that the murder of Rosa Luxemburg was:

“an execution in accordance with martial law.”

This statement- and Pabst’s account itself- provoked much opposition from the left. It also prompted Sonja Liebknecht, widow of Karl Liebknecht, to announce legal proceedings against the West German Information Department for ‘glorifying murder’.

Waldemar Pabst died in 1970, aged 89, in his home in Dusseldorf, never having been tried for his crimes.


About rosaluxemburgblog

I was awarded a PhD in History by Swansea University for a thesis on Rosa Luxemburg (2016). I am currently co-editing the fourth volume of 'The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg' and am a member of the Advisory Board of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society.
This entry was posted in 15 January 1919 Murders, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “I decided to have them killed… I maintain that this decision is morally legitimate”: Captain Waldemar Pabst

  1. Pingback: The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times

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