Professor Max Liebermann, the president of the Berlin Academy of Art and one of the greatest living painters in the world, has reached his 84th birthday.
Professor Liebermann, who belongs to one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Germany, is a brother of the late Professor Carl Liebermann, the famous chemist, and of the late Professor Felix Liebermann, the historian and authority on English Constitutional history, who died in 1925. He is also a cousin of the late Walter Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister, who was assassinated by anti-Semites in 1922.
He is the dean of German painters and the greatest representative of German impressionism. He was a great friend of Joseph Israels, the Jewish painter in Holland, who was known as the “Rembrandt of the Nineteenth Century,” on whom he has written the most authoritative work. He has written a number of other important essays on art, which are collected in a volume of “Collected Writings.”
A few weeks ago, the National Gallery in London acquired one of his works from the famous Cassirer Collection in Berlin.
During the monarchy in Germany, Liebermann was denied all official recognition because he was a Jew. His election as president of the Berlin Academy of Art was vetoed by the Kaiser. When the Republic was established, however, the Academy again elected him as its president, and although the term of office of the president is limited by law to three years, the law has been specially suspended by Act of Parliament in his favor.
When Professor Liebermann celebrated his 80th birthday in 1927, the occasion was one of nation-wide observance. The President of the Republic, Field-Marshall von Hindenburg, sent him a message in his own handwriting through the Federal Minister of the Interior, who brought him at the same time the Order of the Shield of the Eagle of the Empire. “Your life-work,” President Hindenburg wrote, “is of undying importance in the history of art. You have opened up a new road for a whole generation of artists, who follow in your steps. In token of the great debt which the German people owes you, I hereby confer on you the Shield of the Eagle of the Empire.”
“I was born a Jew, and I shall die a Jew,” Professor Liebermann has declared in a statement published in the C.V. Zeitung, the organ of the Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith. “The other day,” he went on, “I looked out at the old Jewish cemetery in the Schoenhauser Allee, and as I looked out at I said to myself: It is a very fine thing to know that your grandparents and your parents lie there, and that you too, will lie there.
“Do you know how many years it is since I was offered a post as the head of an Academy, and the letter containing the offer went on to say that I should go and be baptized at once? I replied to these people that if it will make me paint better, I might consider being baptized.
“I have often spoken with Professor Einstein about the Jewish question,” Professor Liebermann continued, ”and I used to talk about it frequently with the late Dr. Paul Nathan. It is a very painful question, he said, but the solution is not simple. Zionism is attempting to find a solution. Zionism is a very noble and ideal movement, but it is not for me.
“Do you think that my cousin, Walter Rathenau, would not have been murdered if he was not a Jew?” he asked. “There is no man who can say that. Unfortunately, Erzberger, too, was murdered, and he was not a Jew.
“When I became President of the Academy I received an anonymous letter threatening that if I did not retire within three days I would be removed. I threw the letter into the waste paper basket.
“Jews should be told that they should not segregate themselves,” Professor Liebermann concluded. “A certain amount of self-consciousness, if one is something and can do something and has the right amount of tact to go with it, will not harm anyone.”
In a letter dealing with the question of anti-Semitism which was published some time ago, Professor Liebermann wrote that “anti-Semitism has become dangerous only since it has infected the so-called scholars, since it has invaded the universities. Honors appear to be given to individual Jews only so that the mass of Jews should be the more insulted. I consider it the greatest insult to which I consider it the greatest insult to which I can be subjected when a Christian says to me: If only all the Jews were like you! I always answer: If only all the Christians were like me!”