The demographic development of the Jews in Hamburg during the National Socialist regime
The racist-categorizing system after Nuremberg Laws
New beginnings: to stay or to leave
According to a nationwide census carried out in 1925, there were about 20,000 “religious Jews” [Glaubensjuden] in the city of Hamburg. Thus they accounted for 1.7 percent of the city's overall population. The Prussian town of Altona, which was separate from Hamburg at this time, counted about 2,400 “religious Jews” [Glaubensjuden]. The nationwide census of 1939 showed that the share of Jews in Greater Hamburg had decreased to about 10,130 of whom 8,434 were “religious Jews” [Glaubensjuden]. The Gestapo demanded that the Jewish congregation keep detailed records of the number of Jews resident in Hamburg. This proved to be technically difficult, however, as the National Socialist system gradually changed the Jewish communities' organizational structures. In spring 1938 Jewish congregations lost their status as entities under public law. In summer 1939 all Jews were forcibly declared members of the Reich Association of the Jews in Germany Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (RGBl. I p. 1097). All Jews who were either German citizens or stateless and were residents or had a permanent dwelling in Germany thus became members of the Reich Association Reichsvereinigung. This also included Jews who did not belong to any Jewish congregation, the so-called “Jews by race” [Rassejuden]. The Reich Association Reichsvereinigung, controlled and directed by the Reich Main Security Office Reichssicherheitshauptamt, used the Jewish congregations as local branches in order to carry out its work. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had created the Reich Main Security Office Reichssicherheitshauptamt on September 27,1939 by merging the Security Police Sicherheitspolizei and the Security Service Sicherheitsdienst. Department IV B 4 of the RSHA was where SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann organized the bureaucratic part of the ”final solution to the Jewish question.” When deportations began in late October 1941, the number of Jews living in Hamburg decreased steadily. Until the end of 1942 the Hamburg congregation had a relatively accurate overview of the Jewish population's size. At this point there were 1,805 Jews living in Hamburg. This knowledge about the community resulted from the continued existence of its bureaucratically intact basic structures. Therefore we must assume that the congregation's data were shared with both the Gestapo and the Reich Association Reichsvereinigung. The existing sources do not indicate that the Gestapo carried out its own investigations into the matter.
On June 10, 1943 the RSHA issued a decree dissolving the Reich Association of the Jews in Germany Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland. This also affected Hamburg's Jews. The same day, the Hamburg Gestapo occupied the offices of the “Regional Branch Northwest Germany of the Reich Association of German Jews,” Bezirksstelle Nordwestdeutschland der Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland previously the Jewish Religious Association Jüdischer Religionsverband. The head of the regional branch, Dr. Max Plaut, was informed that all Jews remaining in Hamburg would be deported to Theresienstadt. The dissolution proved to be merely a formal act, however. The National Socialist state intended to declare itself “free of Jews” [judenrein], yet Jews continued to exist in Hamburg. In June 1943 there were about 1,300 so-called “full Jews” [Volljuden], some of whom lived in “mixed marriages” [Mischehen]. Continuing to keep records of them proved to be difficult due to the devastating air strikes on Hamburg. When the Royal Air Force carpet bombed the city during Operation Gomorrah (July 24 to August 3, 1943) the Jewish congregation's records were destroyed. This meant that the Gestapo no longer had access to up-to-date records in order to gather information on the number of Jews still living in Hamburg at any given time.
As a means of organizational control over Hamburg’s remaining Jews, the Gestapo appointed Jewish physician Dr. Corten as “liaison officer” in August 1943. His task was to maintain a minimum of organizational structures. To this end Corten presumably had to precisely record the number and status of Jews living in Hamburg among other things. In summer 1943 Corten assumed that 287 Jews who could not be located had either been killed during the air strikes or had used those chaotic days in order to go into hiding. The number of Hamburg Jews who went into hiding is estimated at between 50 and 80 today. It was only about six months later that Corten was able to give an approximate count of Jews remaining in Hamburg at this point: 918 Jews were recorded. Their number continued to decrease due to further deportations. The last deportation transport scheduled for February 14, 1945 could not be completed. The Gestapo had issued deportation orders for 161 Jewish men and 115 Jewish women for this transport to Theresienstadt. According to a medical assessment, 17 men and 24 women were too ill to be transported. Once again, Jews committed suicide to avoid deportation. The beginning decline in power also becomes evident in the fact that about 30 Jews did not obey the deportation orders and the Gestapo apparently no longer had any means to enforce them.
The statistic records each individual's family status. The list also reflects the National Socialist system's racial politics. This racist-categorizing system assigned Jews different types of “legal status.” Until the so-called Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935 were passed, those who were members of a Jewish congregation were considered “religious Jews” [Glaubensjude]. Someone who was not a “religious Jews” [Glaubensjude] but a converted Jew, for example, was called a “Jew by race” [Rassejude] in “Third Reich” language. At first their number was not statistically recorded by the National Socialist state. The same was true of so-called “half Jews” [Halbjude] or “quarter Jews” [Vierteljude], referred to as “mixed blood” [Mischling]. This status became significant when someone had to prove their so-called “Aryan status” [Arierstatus]. Those descended from “non-Aryan” and especially Jewish parents or grandparents were themselves considered “non-Aryan.” It was enough for one parent or grandparent to be “non-Aryan.” This was indisputably assumed in particular if one parent or grandparent had been a member of the Jewish faith. On this issue the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service [Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums] of April 7, 1933 was decisive.
When the Nuremberg Laws were passed the categories changed once again. The laws contained a ban on “mixed marriages” [Mischehe]. At the same time, the terms “full Jew” [Volljude and “legally Jewish” [Geltungsjude] were precisely defined by executive orders: a “full Jew” [Volljude] was anyone descended from at least three grandparents considered “full Jew” [Volljude] based on their race. A grandparent was considered a “full Jew” [Volljude] if they had at any time belonged to a Jewish congregation. Also included among those considered Jews were those of “mixed blood” [Mischling] who were only descended from two grandparents who were “full Jew” [Volljude] yet who were members of a Jewish congregation at the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed or who joined one afterwards, or those who were married to a Jew when the laws were passed or who married one subsequently (so-called “legally Jewish” [Geltungsjuden]). The same status was assigned to children of an unmarried Jewish mother if the father was unknown. The above-mentioned statistic does not specifically list this group. The document does name two other distinctions, however, namely “mixed marriages” [Mischehen] and “bearers of the star” [Sternträger]. “Bearers of the star” [Sternträger] described those Jews who as of September 19, 1941 were obliged to wear a yellow star on their clothing from the age of six. This obligation was based on the Police Decree on the Identification of Jews [Polizeiverodnung über die Kennzeichnung der Juden] of September 19, 1941 (RGBl. I p. 547). Only those of “mixed blood” [Mischling] and Jewish spouses living in “privileged mixed marriages” [privilegierte Mischehe] were excluded from this.
Marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew that had taken place before the Nuremberg Laws were passed were categorized as “mixed marriages” [Mischehe], and further distinctions were made during the course of the National Socialist rule. In the statistic this distinction is reflected by the terms “regular” and “privileged mixed marriage” [privilegierte Mischehe]. It was mandatory for the Jewish spouse only to be a member of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany. This applied to “regular mixed marriages” [einfache Mischehe], if the husband was the Jewish partner and there were no children or no children who were considered Jewish.
Membership was not mandatory for Jews living in “privileged mixed marriages” [privilegierte Mischehe]. This definition applied whenever the wife was Jewish (regardless of whether there were children) or if the husband was Jewish but there were children who had not been raised as Jews. These Jews could voluntarily join the Reich Association. If they did not, their names were nevertheless entered into its records as non-members of the Reich Association. Regardless of how their “mixed marriage” [Mischehe] was categorized, anyone who had previously belonged to a Jewish congregation automatically became a member of the Reich Association Reichsvereinigung.
The privileged status first appeared in a law on renting housing to Jews issued on April 30,1939. The practical application of decrees categorizing “mixed marriages” [Mischehe] resulting from it remained inconsistent, however. Since 1942 / 43 “non-privileged married couples,” and soon also married couples where the husband was Jewish, were forced to vacate their apartments and were instead housed in cramped “Jewish houses” [Judenhäuser]. Hamburg's Jews living in a “privileged mixed marriage” [privilegierte Mischehe], received normal food rations, which were reduced for all Jews elsewhere. However, deportations happened in Hamburg if the non-Jewish spouse had died even before they were ordered elsewhere in 1944. In case of divorce the temporary protection through the non-Jewish spouse was generally lost. In a “privileged mixed marriage” [privilegierte Mischehe] the Jewish spouse was exempted from the obligation to wear the yellow star while Jewish husbands in a childless “mixed marriage” [Mischehe] were forced to wear the yellow star. Female Jewish spouses had to wear the star if there were children from this marriage who were considered Jewish. The statistic shows four “mixed marriages” [Mischehe] to which this applied. When out of 13 unmarried “full Jews” [Volljuden] only eight are listed as “bearers of the star” [Sternträger], it is safe to assume that five of them were younger than six years of age. This means that officially only eight adult “full Jews” [Volljuden] survived in Hamburg.
According to this statistic of late April 1945, a total of 647 Jews were “registered” in Hamburg at the end of the National Socialist rule. A few days later, on April 3, 1945, British troops occupied Hamburg without resistance. As previously mentioned, Hamburg's Gestapo had an interest in declaring the city practically “free of Jews” [judenrein] by means of the data it had obtained. The documents compiled biweekly survived even though the Hamburg Gestapo destroyed nearly all of its records towards the end of the war. Therefore this statistic for April 1945 can be considered a chance find. One question that might suggest itself, namely whether Corten manipulated the data he passed on to the Gestapo, cannot be answered authoritatively. His efforts to investigate the whereabouts of those Jews who could no longer be located after Operation Gomorrah seem to suggest otherwise. The only means to verify these data, at least in theory, were records of “Jewish” residences. Meanwhile we need to keep in mind that after 1943 the Gestapo no longer had sufficient personnel resources to carry out extensive investigations. Naturally it is surprising that those in charge of the Jewish congregation still compiled a statistic for the Gestapo on April 30, 1945 when the Gestapo was already disbanding.
After the end of the war the number of Jews in Hamburg increased continuously. For June 1945 we can assume a number between 700 and 800 based on the definitions of Jewish religious law. Adolph G. Brotman, secretary of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Harry Viteles (European Reconstruction Department of the Joint Distribution Committee) recorded a number of 1,509 Jews in Hamburg in 1946, of those 1,294 had been born in Germany. Appointed the “Control Commission's Advisor for Jewish Affairs” by the British occupation forces in March 1946, Colonel Robert Bernhard Solomon estimated the number of “religious Jews” [Glaubensjuden] living in Hamburg in October 1947 at about 1,400. This seems realistic. In a population and occupation census carried out in Hamburg on October 26, 1946, there were 953 residents who identified as German citizens of the Jewish faith according to Jewish religious law. An internal statistic compiled by Hamburg's Jewish congregation lists a membership of 1,268 in March 1947; of those 1,047 had German citizenship. 831 community members were married, and of those 671 lived in a “mixed marriage” [Mischehe]. That means that there were only 80 marriages where both partners were Jewish, which clearly reflects a structure continuing from the National Socialist period. Those Jews who had decided to enter a “mixed marriage” [Mischehe] and thus once seemed to represent the beginning of assimilation now and in future years proved to be the pillars of a religious Jewish community. Its members decided to remain in Germany – the “land of the perpetrators” – and to rebuild a new Jewish congregation.
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Jörg Berkemann, Prof. Dr. jur. Dr. phil., born 1937, is a former judge of the German Federal Administrative Court. He is honorary professor for public law at the University of Hamburg and teaches at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. His focus of research is: public construction and planning law, environmental law, procedural law and union law, constitutional history as well as German-Jewish history.
Jörg Berkemann, The Number of Jews in Hamburg on April 30, 1945 (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, June 01, 2018. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-7.en.v1> [April 01, 2023].