These Special Jewish Pains Rosa Luxemburg

Rosa Luxemburg
Rosa Luxemburg (5 March 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a famous Polish-German politician who fiercely opposed both capitalism and authoritarian powers. Her enchanting quote, below, is considered one of the most memorable calls for the treatment of all humans equally, regardless of ones local in-group.

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The quote in question was made in a letter to Rosa Luxemburg’s friend and was dated February 16, 1917. This well-documented quote was written by Rosa to her friend Mathilde Wurm from prison in her response to her complaints about virulent anti-semitism sweeping eastern Europe is an arresting one made by the legendary Polish Marxist political and philosopher Rosa Luxembourg from a prison cell. The quote, in full, is below: 

What do you want with these special Jewish pains? I feel as close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putamayo and the blacks of Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play ball… I have no special corner in my heart for the ghetto: I am at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears.

She Said It. What’s the Story?

Rosa, who was imprisoned at the time, was responding to her friend’s complaints about the “virulence of anti-semitism” in Eastern Europe. Rosa, whom history is divided on, was having none of it and responded with this response which, given its unique beauty, we’ll take the rare step of repeating once more:

What do you want with these special Jewish pains? I feel as close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putamayo and the blacks of Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play ball… I have no special corner in my heart for the ghetto: I am at home in the entire world, where there are clouds and birds and human tears.

As the authors Jonathan Frankel Tamara and Saveli Grinberg point out in their book Dark Times, Dire Decisions: Jews and Communism, this was a sentiment that most Jewish Communists at the time would support. In fact, the real pull of the communist political party, at least in the eyes of Ms. Luxemburg, relied on the fact that the suffering of no particular person or group should be prioritized over another. The hope was that this would have an intuitive pull on everyone in Eastern Europe and ignite the Communist revolution that Marx had envisioned for the future of Europe (and all developed nations).

Unfortunately for Rosa, and perhaps others sympathetic to the communist cause, that did not happen. Luxemburg advocated for a Marx type uprising in the following quote which would ultimately end her political career and life: 

There is only one solution to the tragedy in which Russia is caught up: an uprising at the rear of German imperialism, the German mass rising, which can signal the international revolution to put an end to this genocide. At this fateful moment, preserving the honour of the Russian Revolution is identical with vindicating that of the German proletariat and of international socialists.

Luxemburg was summarily executed in Berlin on January 15th, 1919. She was 47 years old.

What have others said about the quote?

If you’re on this page, it probably has something to do with Christopher Hitchens‘ frequent usage of the quote, particularly in his Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. As such, we’ll give the people what they want, and embed the portion of this (also arresting) talk where he discusses the quote in question. Note if the video starts at the beginning, feel free to fast forward to 1:00:25 where the portion about Rosa begins. 

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