Cousin Rudi, the Murderer

A distant cousin of mine, Rudolf Liepmann, committed one of the most infamous murders in German history.

In 1919 in Berlin's Tiergarten park, “cousin Rudi” shot the famed socialist leader Karl Liebknecht in the back, killing him. Astonishingly, he got away with it. The German courts of the time were famously sympathetic to conservative killers and coup plotters. (One might draw a line between Rudi’s acquittal and the weak punishment given to then-corporal Hitler for his treason of the Beer Hall Putsch — 5 years, of which he served 9 months.)

Who was Rudolf that he would do this? A German Jew like other Liepmanns, he earned the Iron Cross in the first World War as a cavalry officer. After the war he joined a paramilitary “Freikorps”. Obsessed with German nationalism and anti-communism, he worked as a right-wing extremist to overthrow the Weimar government.

Our homicidal kin's anti-communism turned on him. The tides of history saw German nationalists grow into the National Socialist movement. As a Jew, Rudi's place in the right wing became untenable. His one-time accomplices slowly turned their malevolent attention on him. Rudolf lost his public job as a lawyer in '36 with the anti-semitic Nuremberg laws. He escaped the Holocaust late, fleeing to Shanghai in '39. After that we have only fanfiction.

So, how are we related to him? Our shared ancestor is Louis Liepmann the lace manufacturer and merchant, my Ur-ur-Großvater (great-great-grandfather), making Rudolf my first cousin twice removed.

Rudi shot Karl in a placid and beautiful spot of the sprawling Tiergarten park in central Berlin. There is a small memorial there, a ten-minute walk from the memorial for his socialist comrade Rosa Luxemburg on the Landwehr canal.

Dave Liepmann, 05 May 2023