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Jüdische Bevölkerung in Berlin

Jewish population of Berlin

In 1933 more than 160,000 Jews lived in Berlin – across the city. After January 30, 1933, many Jews emigrated to escape persecution by the Nazi regime. Others moved to Berlin to escape antisemitism in smaller towns. In 1938, around 1,500 Jewish people were deported to the German-Polish border during the Nazis’ “Polish action”. In early 1939, some 78,700 Jews lived in Berlin.

The 1933 map shows the Jewish population of Berlin in June 1933.
The 1939 map shows the Jewish population of Berlin in May 1939.

The maps do not factor in people of non-Jewish faith who were classified as Jews and persecuted under the Nuremberg race laws. In 1939 they numbered around 3,700; the number in 1933 is not known.

Zwangsumzüge in Berlin 1939–1945

Forced rehousing in Berlin 1939–1945

This map charts the home-changes Jews were forced to make after the “Law on Tenancy with Jews” was introduced on April 30, 1939. It shows a clear influx into inner-city housing.  

The buildings used as forced homes were identified by comparing data from the national census of 1939 with deportation lists from the years 1941 to 1945. All buildings were considered which housed more than five new Jewish tenants after May 1939. They were checked against the addresses of deportees. Precise data is determined by a process of qualitative research. The 27 homes and institutions run by the Jewish Community which were also used as forced homes are not shown on the map.

Data editing by Henning Borggräfe, 2023

House stories

At least 791 buildings in Berlin were used as forced homes for Jews. We researched 32 of them.



Forced homes and compulsory accommodation: Terms and definitions

The term “Judenhäuser” (“Jew houses”) is still used today to describe buildings where Jews were forced to live. The term for such lodgings during the Nazi era, it has survived through word of mouth and personal accounts.

It is not clear whether the Nazi authorities in Berlin used the term “Judenhäuser”. Records show they used the term “Judenwohnungen” for apartments occupied by Jewish tenants – regardless of whether the tenants lived there voluntarily or whether they were forced to live there.

Because both terms are pejorative and ambiguous, this project avoids them and uses terms such as “forced home” and “compulsory accommodation” instead.

Only properties owned by Jews were used as compulsory accommodation until about May 1939. Under the “Law on Tenancy with Jews” of April 1939, an increasing number of Jewish people were evicted from their homes and allocated housing in other apartments. Most of these were already occupied by Jewish tenants; they were not consulted and had no choice but to accommodate the new subtenants.

From spring 1939 on, Jewish people needed official authorization to move home, even to move in with relatives or friends. They were effectively no longer free to choose where they lived. For most, the housing they were forced to move into was their last place of residence before they were deported.

Some people were forcibly rehoused who did not identify with Judaism but were categorized as Jewish according to the Nuremberg race laws because of their grandparents’ religion. Some couples in “mixed marriages” were affected by the Law on Tenancy with Jews: Jewish men married to non-Jewish women were forcibly rehoused; couples in “privileged mixed marriages” between non-Jewish men and Jewish women were not.  

“My mother and I were forced to move to Bamberger Straße 12, which was one of the so-called Jewish houses. Eleven people lived there in 5 ½ rooms. The flat had only one bathroom and one kitchen.”
Inge Deutschkron, quoted from: Inge Deutschkron: Ich trug den gelben Stern, Köln 1983, p. 94

Berlin apartment buildings

After the German Empire was founded in 1871, standards were set for Berlin’s development. For fire safety reasons, buildings were to be no higher than 22 meters. So, they deepened instead: Especially in the inner-city districts, large complexes comprising courtyards, rear and side buildings grew behind the facades along the streets. Many buildings contained several dozen rental apartments.

Most people in Berlin lived in rental accommodation. Apartments were styled in different ways for different social classes: The most luxurious apartments, which the property owners often occupied, were usually on the second floor. The apartments on the upper floors and in the rear and side buildings usually had lower ceilings and were smaller and plainer. There were also considerable differences between the districts. In Wilmersdorf, for example, the apartments of street-facing buildings were equipped with indoor toilets, while in Wedding, the residents of many buildings shared common toilets with the occupants of several other apartments.

Most forced homes were in apartment buildings but in a few cases, Jewish people were allocated lodgings in small houses.

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This report in the weekly Illustrierte Beobachter blanked out issues such as surveillance, persecution, hardship, and forced rehousings

Antisemitic housing policy before 1939

The Nazi dictatorship brought severe restrictions on Jewish people's housing options. Numerous antisemitic measures, such as professional bans and takeovers of Jewish businesses, made it increasingly difficult for Jewish people to make a living after 1933. Many were reduced to poverty.

For financial reasons, many were forced to move into smaller accommodation. But in 1936 Berlin housing associations started refusing Jewish tenants and seeking pretexts to force existing Jewish tenants out of their homes. In 1938, housing associations started arbitrarily evicting Jewish tenants.

“All Jewish tenants are to be instructed, under the granting of reasonable but not too generous notice, to vacate their apartments […] on the grounds that the Aryan cohabitants can no longer tolerate the interference in their house community and that furthermore the apartments are urgently required by Aryan families.” 
Source: Instruction issued to employees of the Berlin public housing association (GSW), September 1, 1938, LAB, A Rep. 009, Nr. 250


Law on Tenancy with Jews of April 30, 1939

This law, enforced across the German Reich, made it possible to forcibly rehouse Jewish people and so concentrate them in fewer places. It limited the possibilities for Jewish people to choose where they lived to an absolute minimum.

The key points were:

  • It abolished tenant protection for the Jewish tenants of properties owned or managed by non-Jews. Non-Jewish landlords were now entitled to demand that Jewish tenants quit their apartments at short notice without stating reasons.
  • It placed properties owned or managed by Jewish people at the disposal of the local authorities. They were now entitled to allocate Jewish tenants housing here without consulting the occupants.
“[Then] the law was introduced forcing the remaining Jews in Berlin [...] to move into so-called Jew houses. We were allocated lodgings in a Jew house near our home, Mommsenstraße 42, on the corner of Waitzstraße, a very nice, large apartment in an old building. Another four or five Jewish families all lived there together.”
Inge Borck, quoted from: Jüdische Berliner. Leben nach der Shoa: 14 Gespräche, Berlin 2003, p. 43, ed. by Ulrich Eckhardt/ Andreas Nachama
“We had already lost all our rights as tenants and could be evicted at any time. Those who were thrown out were put up in so-called Jew houses, buildings owned by Jews who had not yet been expropriated. Those who still lived in their own homes were allocated subtenants. In that way, Berlin’s Jews were gradually cooped up together in ever shrinking spaces.”
Margot Friedlander, quoted from: Margot Friedlander: „Versuche dein Leben zu machen“. Als Jüdin versteckt in Berlin, Berlin 2010, p. 80 f.
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Tenant protection revoked (May 1939–January 1941)

Forcible rehousings of Jewish tenants began when the “Law on Tenancy with Jews” of April 1939 came into force. Revoking protection for Jewish tenants, it motivated – but did not require – non-Jewish landlords and landladies to oust their Jewish tenants.

Many Jewish people evicted in this first phase were able to move in with friends or relatives. The others were allocated housing by the Jewish Community’s housing advice office.

During this early phase, many Jewish people emigrated or fled their homes, leaving their apartments and rooms vacant. This meant the housing advice office had some scope to factor in Jewish tenants’ requirements when allocating new housing.

“In early April 1939, Dr. Arndt received notification that he was required to move into a new, ‘more suitable’, in other words, shabbier and smaller apartment. [...] the family moved into a small 2-room apartment at Oranienstraße 206. The authorities had declared this five-story building in a bleak commercial street to be a ‘Jew house’.”
Erich Joachim Arndt, quoted from: Barbara Lovenheim: Überleben im Verborgenen. Sieben Juden in Berlin. Ein Bericht, Berlin 2002, p. 31 
Ist das korrekt? Dann würde er über sich selbst in der 3. Person sprechen.

Systematic Evictions (January 1941 - March 1943)

By January 1941, the Nazi authorities were no longer content to rely on landlords to take action against Jewish tenants. The General Building Inspector’s office (GBI) then started carrying out “eviction actions”. In these, the Jewish tenants of non-Jewish owned properties were instructed to vacate their homes at very short notice and move into forced homes.

The GBI carried out four such operations between January 1941 and January 1943, evicting the tenants of about 5,000 Berlin apartments. From October 1941 on, evicted Jewish tenants not only faced compulsory rehousing but also deportation.

In this period, resident fluctuations were especially high, with many Jewish people forced to move within Berlin, often for only a few weeks or months, prior to deportation. Evictions from compulsory housing peaked in early 1943, when the Jewish forced laborers employed in the arms industry were deported.

“Our family was forced to move into the ‘Jew house’ at Turmstraße 9. There, we were subtenants of one-and-a-half rooms, with a shared kitchen and toilet; it was an absolutely harrowing social decline.”
Horst Selbiger, quoted from: Horst Selbiger: Verfemt – verfolgt – verraten. Abriss meines Lebens, Baunach 2018, p. 76

After the mass deportations (March 1943 - May 1945)

Few Jewish people remained in Berlin after the mass deportations in March 1943: a few thousand Jewish people who had gone into hiding from the Gestapo, and Jewish spouses in “mixed marriages”. They numbered around 4,000 in 1945 and lived in the last remaining forced homes.

After the deportations, non-Jewish tenants moved into the apartments previously used for compulsory housing.

“We lived at the time on the corner of Kurfürstendamm and Waitzstraße in a wonderful old building, a typical Kurfürstendamm house, it was a huge apartment […] When the deportations started, they started to disappear, one family was deported one day, another the next, and then suddenly all the Jews were gone and only my father, mother, and I remained all alone in this once fully furnished 16-room apartment. [...]. It turned out we had this huge apartment all to ourselves because of the ‘mixed marriage’, but it didn’t last very long, because in mid-1943 the building was hit by a bomb and completely burned down.”
Hans-Oscar Löwenstein de Witt, quoted from: Interview with Hans-Werner Erhardt/Akim Jah, 1995

Life in forced homes

People who were forcibly rehoused lived with a severe lack of privacy and many restrictions on their movements. Living at close quarters with several others – often complete strangers – and sharing kitchens and bathrooms caused additional stress.

The residents of forced homes were not only removed from their familiar surroundings and separated from their local communities, and sometimes even families. Having been ousted from the city’s social and economic life and deprived of their rights, they were largely segregated from their non-Jewish neighbors.

"So, we were soon informed that my grandmother Adele was required to vacate her home [on Neue Grünstraße] where five of us were then living. My mother, my brother, and I were told to move into a Jew house in Berlin-Kreuzberg, at Skalitzer Straße number 32, care of a certain Frau Meißner. My cousin Anni and grandmother Adele were each allocated a small room in another area, far away from us. [...] Five of us lived in three rooms on Skalitzer Straße."
Margot Friedlander,  quoted from: Margot Friedlander: „Versuche dein Leben zu machen“. Als Jüdin versteckt in Berlin, Berlin 2010, p. 80 f.

(Akim: Die Angaben zur Zwangsarbeit hier müssen noch mit den Angaben in der Zeitleiste harmonisiert werden)
Life for the residents of compulsory housing was effectively taken up with forced labor. From late 1938 on, virtually all Jewish people over the age of 15 were made to perform forced labor, initially for public utilities such as street-cleaning and refuse collection.

From early summer 1940, most Jewish people were employed as forced laborers in the arms industry. Some needed to travel long distances to reach their place of work. So, as most were banned from using public transport, they set out very early in the morning and did not return until late in the evening.

“The scenes in this apartment in the early morning were dreadful. Everyone was under pressure to get to their place of work on time. […] If you dared stay on the toilet for a while, you were soon driven out by someone banging wildly on the door or shouting hysterically. Any attempt to establish a routine failed because everyone was working different shifts. Residents clashed irreconcilably. If someone came back exhausted from the hard work assigned to Jews to find the kitchen occupied, they screamed at the lucky ones who had got there first.”
Inge Deutschkron, quoted from Inge Deutschkron: Ich trug den gelben Stern, Cologne 1983, p. 94 f.

From October 1941 on, the residents of Berlin’s compulsory housing lived with the permanent fear of being deported as they witnessed their roommates and neighbors being taken away.

Records show, however, that the living situation in compulsory housing was not always the same. Some apartments were larger or more comfortable than others. In some cases, the residents knew each other or were related. Especially during the first phase, the housing advice office managed to house family members together or close to each other. This became more difficult in later years.

Increasingly, subtenants were forcibly housed with complete strangers. The residents of some apartments fluctuated greatly due to emigration, rehousing, and finally deportations; in others they remained largely constant for several years until the last occupants were deported in late 1942/early 1943.

House stories

The information on the various houses used as forced homes paints a vivid picture of the Berlin-wide system of compulsory rehousing and calls to mind the Jewish residents. For most of them, the housing they were forcibly allocated was their last place of residence before they were deported.


Other cities

Forced homes existed not only in Berlin. Jews were forcibly rehoused, though on a smaller scale, in many other cities, such as Düsseldorf and other places in the region. Here, however, non-Jewish people rarely occupied apartments in the same buildings.

Düsseldorf research project


Antisemitische Wohnungspolitik in Berlin 1939–1945

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