“Now I would like to ask you most politely whether it makes sense to return to Hamb[ur]g?”

Author: Jenny Kotte, Hamburg State Archives. Translated by Erwin Fink.

Henry Cohen (born in Hamburg in 1892) addressed this question to the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg in December 1946. His letter is now part of a file entitled “Rückwanderung nach Deutschland” [“Remigration to Germany”] Together with other documents of the Jewish Congregation, the file is kept in the Hamburg State Archives. In these holdings, they form Collection 522-2, which includes documents from 1945 onward. The collection has been deposited; the finding aid and the documents may only be viewed with written permission by the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg. Currently, this collection has a volume of 82 linear meters, with the last delivery to the State Archives having taken place in 2012.

Henry Cohen had emigrated to Shanghai in 1939. After the end of the Second World War, he sought information in preparation for his return to Hamburg. However, he also considered other countries, such as the USA and Australia.

Occupational Questions of the Returnees from Shanghai
Undated overview of the professional experiences and wishes of returnees from Shanghai
Rückkehrer aus China in Bremerhaven
Artikel in der Nordsee-Zeitung, 17.11.1950
(German. English version coming soon)
Henry Cohen to the Hamburg Jewish Congregation
Henry Cohen to the Hamburg Jewish Congregation, Tientsin, December 29, 1946
Reply letter from the Jewish Congregatio to Henry Cohen
Reply letter from the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg to Henry Cohen, February 10, 1947
Rückwanderung nach Deutschland
Rundschreiben, Hendrik George Van Dam, Eilshausen bei Herford, 30. Mai 1947
(German. English version coming soon)
undatierte Statistik der Rückkehrer in dem Zeitraum 1945 – April 1952
(German. English version coming soon)
Status of the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg
Report on the Status of the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg, November 17, 1952

If one looks at the places from which the “remigrants” returned to Hamburg, Shanghai obviously took the first place in the initial years after the end of the war: According to an undated list, in the period from 1945 to October 15, 1952, out of a total of 168 remigrants, 27 came from Shanghai, followed by Palestine / Israel (26), England (19), France (15), and Belgium (13).The list numbers 25 countries plus Shanghai.

These and other statistical documents can be gathered from another file in collection 522-2. Among other things, they provide information on the names and occupations of the remigrants as well as the date of their return. In addition, the file contains a report dated November 17, 1952, on the situation of the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg: “[...] However, in the last two years in particular, a substantial number of remigrants have come to Hamburg, most of them completely destitute, who hope to be able to live here on restitution payments, while they would be dependent on support abroad.”

The file mentioned at the beginning also contains informative compilations about the Shanghai returnees, including their addresses before and after emigration, occupations held before and during emigration, their plans for Hamburg, and assessments of their respective language skills.

Henry Cohen had concrete ideas about his possible professional future in Hamburg: “For my part, it could only materialize if I managed to bring along my small stock of new and worn shoes, some stock of leather for shoe manufacture, as well as the associated material such as nails, etc. Would there be perhaps the possibility of getting store premises as well as sufficient rations?”

Henry Cohen is not recorded in any return emigrant list of the Jewish Congregation in Hamburg: He emigrated to the USA in 1947 and died there on December 30, 1967. Why he had decided against returning to Hamburg is not documented, but this could be related to the reply by the Jewish Congregations to his letter: “[...] Furthermore, considering the extraordinarily poor nutritional situation and the practical impossibility of procuring raw materials, we can only strongly advise you, under the given circumstances, against entertaining the idea of emigrating back to Germany.”

Not all Shanghai emigrants were given the chance to immigrate quickly to the USA or another country of their choice after the end of the war. Dr. Hendrik George van Dam described, for example, the returnees as late as 1951 as a group “first forced to emigrate from Germany and Austria, then deprived of their freedom in Shanghai, and now the majority of them – six years after the end of the war – is living in camps.” Accordingly, the disappointment of the persons involved must have been great. An example is the description of the Shanghai remigrants in the Föhrenwald camp in the same year: “Understandably, there is deep dejection, in individual cases even despair, that after the long journey from Shanghai, not only inadequate living and nutritional conditions were encountered, but also any monetary support has failed to materialize.” A third file in Collection 522-2 contains reports on their situation.


The files presented cover the period from 1946 to 1952 – from the first contact with the Jewish Congregation in the old homeland to the situation after the return. The two files listed first provide information about who is returning, where the returnees were accommodated in Hamburg, and what their wishes were for their professional future. The documents in the third file come from Norbert Wollheim. They point beyond Hamburg by referring to supraregional networks and initiatives to support returnees.