Rosa Luxemburg, Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, 1915
On 18 February 1915, Rosa Luxemburg began a twelve month sentence in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison for an anti-war speech delivered to workers at Fechenheim, near Frankfurt.
In her Fechenheim speech (delivered before the war, in September 1913) Luxemburg had called on German workers to refuse to shoot their French brothers in the event of war. As a result, she was charged with ‘inciting public disobedience’ and put on trial in Frankfurt in February 1914. Declared a flight risk by the public prosecutor, Luxemburg famously replied:
‘Sir, I do believe that you would run away. A Social Democrat never does. A Social Democrat stands by his deeds and laughs at your judgements. Now sentence me.’
The judge did indeed sentence her- to twelve months in prison, but the trial was a propaganda success and made Luxemburg a hero of the anti-war left and villain of the right-wing press. The implementation of her sentence was delayed while Luxemburg underwent hospital treatment, but on 18 February 1915 she was suddenly arrested and informed that her sentence would begin immediately.
Luxemburg served her entire twelve months in Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison and was released on 18 February 1916. As a result of her continued anti-war work, she was arrested again on 10 July 1916 and placed under ‘protective custody’ (ie. imprisonment) for the rest of the war, held first in Wronke Fortress and then Breslau Prison. During her incarceration, Luxemburg produced some of her most important works, including the anti-war Junius Pamphlet (1915), the economic work The Accumulation of Capital: An Anti-Critique (1915) and her analysis of events in Russia, The Russian Revolution (1918).
The Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison, Berlin