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J. D. B. News Letter

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Two noted German Jews, specialists in unrelated fields recently celebrated their 60th birthdays. They are Privy Councillor, Professor Richard Willstaetter, famous chemist and Nobel Prize winner and Legation Councillor, Professor Moritz Sobernheim, famous Orientalist and Rapporteur on Jewish political affairs in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Professor Willstaetter, who was born on August 13th, 1872 at Karlsruhe, in Baden, received the Nobel Prize in 1915 for his researches in the chemistry of chlorophyll. “It is no exaggeration to say”, an authority has written, “that with the possible exception of Fischer’s work on the chemistry of proteins, Willstaetter’s chlorophyll researches belong to the very best work in the whole domain of organic chemistry. Today he is easily the foremost organic chemist in Germany. Willstaetter has done much pioneering work on the chemistry of the plant alkaloids, on the blood pigment, and on the plant pigments. His work is an excellent example of the application of chemistry to the elucidation of botanical and physiological problems”.

At the age of 24, Professor Willstaetter was appointed Lecturer at Munich University, where he afterwards, in 1915 — the same year that he was awarded the Nobel Prize, became Ordinary Professor in Chemistry in succession to his teacher, Adolph von Bayer, a position that had previously been held by the great Liebig. In between he had been—in 1905—Ordinary Professor at the Technical High School in Zurich and—in 1912—Professor at Berlin University and Director of the newly-created Kaiser Wilhelm Chemical Institute in Dahlem-Berlin.

In 1925, the anti-Semitic students at Munich University started disturbances, demanding Professor Willstaetter’s removal because they refused to sit at the feet of a Jew. Professor Willstaetter promptly resigned, in spite of the unanimous insistence of the Munich University authorities that he should remain.

We have been proud, the Rector of Munich University wrote to him at the time in his official capacity on behalf of the Senate, to number so internationally famous a figure among us, and we shall never forget how you have always devoted your genius to serving your fatherland, and during the war by your discovery of methods of utilizing chemistry for the protection of our troops and for the extension of the sources of food supply for our people at home you won for German science the respect and admiration of the world.

Professor Willstaetter is the holder of many foreign honors, including an honorary doctorate of Oxford University.

He takes an active interest in Jewish affairs and belongs to the Liberal Jewish movement. He was one of the speakers at the 1930 Conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which was held in London, when he took as his subject “Jews in the Modern World.”

Mankind, he said, has a deep longing for something higher, nobler, for eternal values. I look to Judaism to oppose the exaggeration of material interests and of sport, and to work for ethical values. We need better bridges and connections than technical knowledge can construct if we are to overcome divergencies and boundaries of countries and ocean; let us seek them in the works of art and science, in ethics and religion.


Professor Sobernheim, who was born in Berlin on August 13th, 1872, holds high office in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where he is Rapporteur on Jewish political affairs. He is also a famous Orientalist, being secretary of the Near Asia Egyptian Society and an outstanding authority on Semitic Epigraphy. He was a member of the Baalbek Expedition of the Prussian Government, and has made many visits to Palestine and Syria on behalf of the

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