Remigration narratives from the Workshop of Remembrance

Author: Andrea Althaus, Workshop of Remembrance. Translated with DeepL.

How do Jewish persecutees remember and narrate their (temporary) return to their "old homeland / hometown"? What experiences do they have in the city from which they were expelled or deported? And how do they interpret their remigration experiences in a biographical retrospective? These questions form the starting point for the compilation of interview excerpts presented here from the Workshop of Remembrance, the oral history archive at the Research Center for Contemporary History in Hamburg.

The Workshop of Remembrance has been collecting interviews with Jewish persecutees and their descendants for more than 30 years, so that this collection now comprises more than 700 interviews. In about 50 of them, the topic of return is addressed. A small selection of remigration narratives can be found in this dossier.

Interview with Elsa Davidsohn
“and so we decided [...] to go to Hamburg in 1958”. Elsa Davidsohn on her return to Germany in the 1950s.
Interview with Roberto Kahn-Heymann
„Ich hätte gerne nochmal hier gewohnt“. Pendeln zwischen Spanien und Deutschland, 1952-1969.
(German. English version coming soon)
Interview with Franziska Mayer
“And we thought we would always stay there.” Elsa Mayer on her Remigration from Peru.
Interview with Ruth Dräger
“That was first, at first quite strange”. Ruth Dräger on the beginnings in Hamburg after her liberation from Theresienstadt.
Interview with Esther Bejerano
„Also, das ist schon, eine [...] unheimliche Umstellung gewesen”. Esther Bejerano über den Umzug ihrer Familie von Israel nach Hamburg.
(German. English version coming soon)
Interview with Kurt van der Walde
„Wenn ich schon überlebt hab' [...] gemeinsam so arbeiten, daß die nie wieder 'ne Chance haben”. Kurt van der Walde über sein antifaschistisches Engagement.
(German. English version coming soon)
Interview with Menachem Uzai
„Meine Füße wer'n nie mehr den deutschen Boden [be]treten”. Menachem Uzai über seinen ersten Besuch in Hamburg.
(German. English version coming soon)
Interview with Rudolf Heymann
„Nun begann ein [...] traumwandlerisches Wiedererleben meiner Geburtsstadt”. Rudolf Heymann erinnert sich an der Neuanfang in Hamburg.
(German. English version coming soon)

Particular importance was given to covering a range of decisions for or against a (temporary) return as well as different forms of remigration in order to point to the subjectivity and heterogeneity that characterize this topic. Thus, four women and four men who were born in Germany between 1903 and 1928, survived the Holocaust despite being deported to various camps, or were able to flee in time into exile to save themselves, have their say. They all returned to Hamburg after the Second World War for shorter or longer periods of time and were willing to talk about their experiences. The return could take place both from exile or a new or temporary home abroad as well as after liberation from a camp, as in the case of Ruth Draeger, who came back to Hamburg from the Theresienstadt ghetto after her two-year imprisonment in 1945. The fact that the return or reflection on remigration depends on the respective circumstances of life and thus takes place at very different times is made clear by the interview with Franziska Mayer, who in 1989 remigrated from Peru, from where she had to flee after more than 50 years due to political unrest. These two examples alone show how diverse the (re)migration processes and paths presented here are. What the multifaceted narratives have in common is that they reflect on belonging, discuss changes in the city and society, and deal with personal experiences of persecution and migration. The excerpts make it clear that questions of remigration and belonging can be traced particularly well in personal narratives - in the field of tension between (family) biographical experiences and sociopolitical conditions. The answers found in each case are just as individual as they can vary according to the situation. The interview excerpts are thus sources for the interpretation of the respective life and (re)migration paths by the narrators at the time of their recording.

Anyone who would like to listen to the interviews in their entirety and work with them in greater depth is welcome to consult them in the Workshop of Remembrance.