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In 1923 Brauer was mayor of the independent city of Altona. Brauer fled the Nazi regime to the United States in 1933 with a passport of a friend. In 1934 Brauer's German citizenship was revoked and he maintained the U.S. citizenship. In July 1946 he came back to Hamburg working for the American Federation of Labor. In October 1946 after the election of the Hamburg Parliament, Brauer was elected as the First Mayor of Hamburg. After Brauer complained in a letter to the British forces about the supply shortfall in Hamburg, the British Governor Vaugham H. Berry ordered not to heat the officers' mess until there were a solution.
From 1961 until 1965 Brauer was member of the German Bundestag.