History of Europe

1946:Hamburg introduces a ban on immigration

by Dirk Hempel, NDR.deAfter the war, many parts of Hamburg, such as Eilbek, were almost completely destroyed. Living space is scarce.

Spring 1946:Germany has been at peace for a year. But the cities are destroyed. Millions of homeless people are looking for a new place to live. This is also the case in Hamburg, where entire districts have been wiped out and two-thirds of the apartments have been destroyed. On average, each inhabitant has only four square meters of living space available. Several people often share a bed. For this reason, a law came into effect on April 1st that is intended to limit the massive influx:Hamburg now only accepts people who are needed for reconstruction.

Because since last year thousands have been coming every day. Refugees from East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania, former forced labourers, liberated concentration camp prisoners, released prisoners of war and "Butenhamborgers" who had fled to the countryside because of the bombing raids.

Hundreds of refugees are staying at the train station

Many people are just passing through. Hundreds of them spend the night in the corridors of the social welfare office in the Bieberhaus near the main train station, poorly cared for. But most of them want to stay, hoping for work and bread in the big city. They are accommodated in schools, barracks, former forced labor camps and on barges. Or simply quartered in apartments, especially in the less destroyed parts of Altona and Eppendorf, where people have to move closer together.

The oppressive narrowness has consequences, as the housing office reports:"It is often no longer possible today to let contagious patients (especially open tuberculosis patients) or those with disgusting diseases sleep separately, adults and children of advanced age or older siblings of their own to give sleeping quarters." Guidelines are issued that are intended to regulate living together in a confined space, such as the length of time subtenants can stay in the kitchen, drying laundry at night and using the bathroom once a week.

Bunkers serve as accommodation

Living conditions after the war are cramped. This family of five has only one bed available.

Those who have been bombed out, refugees and displaced persons also live in more than 100 Hamburg bunkers. Long branched corridors between thin partition walls lead to the small six to eight square meter chambers. Because there are no lightbulbs, it is always dark here. Water is running down the outer walls:"Towards morning the air in the bunker rooms becomes so low in oxygen that it is no longer possible to light a lighter," says a contemporary report, and:"In the morning, 5:30 a.m., is woken up with a whistle. This way of waking up has been requested by many residents who go to work so that they can tell a certain time."

Nissenhütten as an emergency solution

In November 1945, the British put up Nissen huts, those halved corrugated iron barrels that are named after their inventor, a Canadian officer, and which have been part of the cityscape here, as elsewhere, for years. In the middle of the ruins or on the outskirts. In Hamburg, in addition to the transit camp in the city park, which offers accommodation for 6,000 people in 300 corrugated iron barracks, there will soon be more than 40 residential camps with up to 130 closely spaced huts. "Family quarrels and radio performances", according to a socio-hygienic study at the time, can be "joined in" by everyone. The dwellings are not insulated and therefore unbearably hot in summer. In winter, the thermometer often drops to zero degrees. In the winter of 1946/47, almost 100 people freeze to death in Hamburg.

Diseases break out in the camps

Because the camps are overcrowded, epidemics soon break out, such as typhus. There is a lack of washing facilities, vermin plague the people, they suffer from skin and venereal diseases, especially the women who are raped when fleeing the eastern regions. Because the children lack clothing, many cannot get out of bed. At least former forced laborers receive clothing donations from the British, and they help the refugees with woolen blankets and wooden shoes from air raid shelters.

Return fails

Around 90,000 people passed through the transit camp in the city park with its 300 Nissen huts in the post-war period.

In order to limit the influx, the occupiers try to send people back to their areas of origin, especially to the Soviet occupation zone and Schleswig-Holstein, often in vain. Butenhamborgers, on the other hand, are only allowed to return if they have found housing and work, a condition that many fail to meet. Because every day 2,000 people looking for an apartment contact the office, but they don't have a chance without proof of work.

The employment office decides on your stay

The employment office is the last authority that decides on the stay in the Hanseatic city even after the immigration ban of April 1, 1946. She selects from the tens of thousands, primarily based on economic considerations. Only members of shortage professions are allowed to stay, regardless of whether they are refugees or residents of Butenhamborg. Above all those who are urgently needed for the reconstruction of the city:construction workers and other craftsmen as well as merchants and doctors, but also those who were persecuted by the Nazi regime and emigrants.

For example the politician Herbert Wehner, who returned from Sweden in October 1946 and spent the first winter with his wife in an unheated room in Altona. The later writer Walter Kempowski, on the other hand, who fled the Soviet occupation zone in 1948, was turned away by the authorities, although he could prove that he had an apprenticeship in a printing shop. Pensioners and welfare recipients don't stand a chance either.

Population is growing despite the freeze on admission

Despite the immigration ban that applied until 1950, Hamburg's population grew by more than 320,000 people in the post-war period, far more than other major German cities. However, the locals do not welcome refugees and displaced persons with open arms as long as tens of thousands of Butenhamborgers are not allowed to return. And even if more than 90,000 apartments are built by 1952, more than 100,000 people still live in bunkers, cellars and Nissen huts for years.