Opened in 1966 near the campus of the University of Hamburg, the Institute for the History of the German Jews (IGdJ) was initially the only academic institution in the Federal Republic to do research on German-Jewish history. Since then, not only has the field developed and become differentiated in terms of methodology and disciplinarity, but the profile of the IGdJ has also expanded. While the historical focus remains, Jewish life in the present, current questions of remembrance and commemoration, as well as work with new media and digital technologies are coming more into focus. As a non-university research institute that presents its findings in publications and various event formats, the IGdJ has been an important voice in national and international academic discourse for several decades.
By developing innovative educational formats, the IGdJ also provides an important transfer of knowledge to the broader public in the realm of civil society. Numerous analog and digital offerings open up new access to and perspectives on the German-Jewish past and present. Hamburg, with its more than 400 years of Jewish history, plays a special role in this respect – not least for the creation of larger national and transnational references in the study of German-speaking Jewry.
Last but not least, the promotion of young scholars is a central concern of the IGdJ. With the intention of awakening enthusiasm for Jewish history in future generations of researchers, members of the Institute teach at the University of Hamburg, where they also supervise theses and dissertation projects. Exchange and networking opportunities for students and doctoral candidates, such as the archive seminar organized in cooperation with Tel Aviv University, are offered regularly.
Established in 1966, the Institute for the History of the German Jews (Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden, IGdJ) is the earliest (and was, for a long time, the only) academic institution of its kind in the Federal Republic of Germany. In accordance with its statutes, the IGdJ, a foundation constituted under civil law and publicly administered by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, is dedicated to researching the history of the German Jews and to promoting young scholars in this field. In addition, its tasks also involve making research results generally accessible. Thus, among other things, the publication series entitled Hamburger Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Juden (“Hamburg Contributions on the History of the German Jews”) was initiated as early as 1969, generating numerous monographs, documentations, and anthologies that have been published since then. The fact that in the meantime Jewish history as a sub-discipline of general history has undergone an important push toward professionalization and received growing recognition also points to the successful efforts of the IGdJ aimed at anchoring the awareness of the importance and diversity of Jewish lifeworlds in the broader (scholarly) public.
Initial plans for founding the institute had already emerged in the 1950s. One point of departure to this end was the unique source situation encompassing more than 400 years of Jewish history in the Hamburg area. In contrast to other Jewish communities in large cities, whose archives were confiscated by the Gestapo and largely fell prey to destruction later, the records of the Hamburg Jewish communities (i.e., of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek) were deposited in the State Archives of the Hanseatic City, where they survived the war without major damage.
This historical treasure was claimed by the newly founded state of Israel, together with international Jewish organizations in the 1950s, as the preservation of Jewish history in the “country of the perpetrators” was considered unthinkable at the time. In restitution proceedings before the Restitution Office (Wiedergutmachungsamt) at the Hamburg Regional Court (Landgericht), the Jewish Trust Corporation acted as the representative of the Israeli state and as the petitioner in the proceedings to obtain the surrender of the archives and their transfer to Israel. While on the surface the issue was the location of the archival holdings, on a deeper level, questions of “where,” “how” and “by whom” German-Jewish history was to be researched also became subject of negotiation. In 1959, after several years of legal proceedings, the opposing parties agreed to divide the archival holdings between the Jewish Historical General Archive (later, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem) and the State Archives of the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. In each case, the missing part was substituted by microfilms or copies and made available to the other archive. Thus, an archival collection of exceptional historical importance on German-Jewish history from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the end of the Second World War was and has been available to researchers both in Hamburg and in Jerusalem.
The efforts to preserve the archive material in Hamburg were accompanied by the idea of creating an institutional framework for the historiographical evaluation of the sources. As early as 1953, a working group for the history of the Jews in Hamburg had been formed under the chairmanship of the historian Fritz Fischer. The proposal to establish an archive of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in Hamburg met with little approval though. However, plans for a research institute received greater interest, and the Senate and the Hamburg Academic Foundation pledged their support. Years of negotiations resulted in the founding of the Institute for the History of the German Jews, and in 1964 the city appointed the German-Israeli historian and religious philosopher Heinz Mosche Graupe as its first director. Two years later, in May 1966, the official opening took place at Rothenbaumchaussee 7. Under subsequent directors, the IGdJ grew steadily, expanding perspectives on German-Jewish history and the present through the various projects undertaken by its staff. After Heinz Mosche Graupe, the Institute’s directors were Peter Freimark (1972–1992), Monika Richarz (1993–2001), Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (2001–2011), Miriam Rürup (2012–2020), and Kim Wünschmann (since October 2021). Andreas Brämer served as acting director in 2011–12 and 2020–21. Since 2007, the IGdJ has been accommodated in the heritage building at Beim Schlump 83.
For a detailed account of the Institute’s history, we recommend the commemorative publication “50 Jahre | 50 Quellen” (“50 Years | 50 Sources”), which appeared on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary in 2016.