Established in 1966, the Institute for the History of the German Jews is the oldest (and was for a long time the only) scientific institution of its kind in Germany. Constituted under civil law and publicly administered by the City of Hamburg, the IGdJ seeks, in accordance with its founding statues, to conduct scholarly research at the intersection of German and Jewish history. Increasingly acknowledged as an integral part of the German historiography, Jewish history has experienced substantial professionalization in recent years. This professionalization reveals successful efforts to create increased awareness on the importance and variety of Jewish life amongst the broader scientific public.

Plans to establish the IGdJ first arose in the 1950s. A major impetus for this decision is owed to the uniquely high volume of extant source material covering the 400 years of Jewish history in Hamburg. In contrast to other Jewish communities located in big German cities, whose archival materials were seized by the Gestapo in 1939 and later largely destroyed, the records and documentations of Hamburg’s Jewish communities (namely Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek) were handed over to the State Archive of the City of Hamburg as a sort of “deposit”. These sources survived WWII without suffering considerable damage.

In the 1950’s, the Jewish Historical General Archives, later the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, in Jerusalem argued that archival material of Jewish communities in Germany should be transferred to Israel. In a subsequent restitution lawsuit filed by the Office for Repatriation, the Jewish Trust Corporation stepped in to assume the role of petitioner, and fought to oversee the repatriation of archival material to Israel. Following extended court proceedings within regional court of Hamburg, both involved parties consensually agreed to divide the archival material between the Central Archives and the State Archives of the City of Hamburg. It was further agreed that the missing halves of each collection were to thereby be loaded onto microfilm and given to the other institution. As a result, a historically significant amount of archival material on German-Jewish history dating from the beginning of the 17th century to the end of the Second World War, are still housed in both Hamburg and Jerusalem. All archival material remains accessible to scholars.

Seeking to permanently secure the archival material for Hamburg, it was soon decided that an institutionalized framework for the historiographical analysis of these sources was needed. And so in 1953, a committee on the history of the Jews in Hamburg was formed under the direction of historian Fritz Fischer. Unfortunately, the suggestion to create an archive of the central council for the Jewish population in Germany did not meet with much approval. However, the plan to create a scientific research institute was welcomed, and the state government of Hamburg as well as the Hamburgische Wissenschaftliche Stiftung promised to support such an institution. Years of negotiations followed until the Institute of the History of the German Jews was finally founded in 1964 under the direction of German Israeli historian and religious philosopher Heinz Moshe Graupe. The IGdJ was officially inaugurated two years after its founding.