Timelines and History of Migration: Germany

A Short History of Migration to and from Germany 4:
From the Industrial Revolution to the Second World War

The Industrial Revolution started another wave of migration. Since the discovery of the American continent a wave of migration from Europe started which had its climax in the 19th century. Germans migrated to America for different political and economic motives. The first wave of German emigrants left Germany at the beginning of the 19th century when mass poverty during the first stage of the Industrial Revolution was a big problem. The number of emigrants stayed high until the end of the century, but the economic crises of the 20th century forced more people to go abroad, so that the USA passed an immigration law in 1921. Despite this, 105,000 people left Germany in 1923 alone.


emigrants boarding ship

German emigrants boarding a ship in Hamburg

With the German colonisation in South West Africa, East Africa, Cameroon and Togo from the 1880s onwards, 20,000 Germans left their home country. In 1919 Germany lost its colonies through the Treaty of Versailles but part of the emigrants stayed overseas.


German in togo

A German in Togo, about 1885


Following the beginning of Nazi rule in 1933, about 37,000 people had to flee from Germany. Most of them went to other European countries. The anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws in 1935 led to a second emigration wave. In 1938, after the pogroms, about 40,000 people left Germany in only two months; most of those emigrated to the USA. From 1941 on emigration was forbidden. During the whole time of the Nazi regime 275,000 to 300,000 Jewish people left Germany.


Einstein stamp

Albert Einstein, one of the many who had to leave Germany