Film About Widow of German Jewish Painter Max Liebermann in Nazi-Occupied Berlin to Be Released Next Year
by Shiryn Ghermezian
The true story about the widow of world-renowned German Jewish impressionist painter Max Liebermann and the difficult decisions she faced while living in Nazi-occupied Germany is the focus of a new film whose North American distribution rights have been acquired by Menemsha Films, The Algemeiner has learned exclusively.
Martha Liebermann — A Stolen Life will be released in theaters in the US and Canada in early 2024 after being shown at international film festivals, according to a representative with Menemsha Films.
Liebermann, best known as a leader of the impressionist art movement in Germany, died in 1935 in Berlin at the age of 88 from natural causes. The film takes place in Berlin in 1943 where Martha, then 85, was forced to decide if she should continue to hope for an exit permit from the Nazis or escape to Switzerland with the help of a German resistance group to avoid being deported to a Nazi concentration camp. The anti-Nazi group was led by Johanna Solf, the wife of a German diplomat.
German actress Thekla Carola Wied plays the titular character in the German-language film, giving a “tour de force performance” that made the project a “must-have” acquisition for Menemsha Films, which has represented five Oscar nominations five years in a row.
The film was directed by Stefan Bühling, with a screenplay from Marco Rossi, and produced by Regina Ziegler and Tillman Geithe through the Germany-based production company Ziegler Film. The project won the award for best TV film and Wied won best actress at the 61st Monte-Carlo Television Festival in June 2022.
“Every producer has a passion project. Martha Liebermann is one for us,” Ziegler and Geithe told The Algemeiner in a joint statement. “First, in our observation, the history of resistance against the Nazi regime is in the public perception almost exclusively a story of men. Yet resistance was also a matter for women. Women resistance fighters acted courageously and imaginatively — by no means merely passively or as moral supporters of their men. In the film Martha Liebermann, it is Johanna Solf and her daughter Lagi von Ballestrem, in addition to several men, who selflessly and boldly risk their lives to save Martha.”
Martha’s story is also “significant and moving at the same time,” Ziegler and Geithe added. She explained, “After the Nazis came to power, this woman was systematically oppressed, marginalized and exploited. Like so many, she could never have imagined being caught in the Nazis’ crosshairs simply because of her confession” about her Jewish background.
As well as a successful artist, Max was the founder and president of the Berlin Secession, a German art movement, and was president of the Academy of Arts in Berlin until the Nazis forced him to resign from his position in 1933 because of his Jewish heritage. The Nazis also ordered that all his artwork be removed from museums and seized from private collectors. He reportedly created roughly 1,500 paintings, studies and drawings, during his lifetime, about one-third of which disappeared during World War II.
In 2021, a decade-long battle regarding a portrait he made of Martha that was stolen by the Nazis from her Berlin apartment in 1943 ended with a financial settlement given to the artist’s heirs for the painting as well as two other works from his art collection.
Watch a trailer for Martha Liebermann — A Stolen Life below.