Jewish descendants of refugees from Nazi period denied German citizenship

Article 116 of the German constitution declares that anyone whose citizenship was revoked between 1933 and 1945 for "political, racist or religious reasons" is entitled to German citizenship now. That, the constitution says, is similarly true for descendants of the Jews from Germany.

But some descendants of Jews who fled the Nazi era have had their applications for a German passport rejected. A number of reasons exist for this. For Steven, a British born Jew with a German mother, the fact that he was born too early to a non-German father meant he was not eligible for German citizenship.

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Being born in 1948, when German citizenship still came through the father, he is not entitled to German citizenship. "If I had been born in 1953, when the law changed, that would have been a completely different situation," George* told DW. George's father was British Jewish, had he been German, George would have received German citizenship under the law of the time.

The German Federal Office of Administration (the Bundesverwaltungsamt) confirmed to Deutsche Welle that 1953 was the cut-off date for maternal-line descendants eligible for German repatriation.

"Children born before 1953 whose mother had already been expatriated from Germany, do not have any claim to German repatriation," the office wrote.

"I am appalled," George continued. "As a Jew, there has always been a thing about keeping a bag packed. The fact that I am not allowed to get German citizenship because of such arbitrariness is bizarre."

George's mother left Germany as a 15-year-old in 1939 following Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass. The Nazis had destroyed hundreds of synagogues and Jewish shops on that day, 9 November 1938, and murdered Jews across the country.

During the 1930s, the Nazi dictatorship revoked the citizenship of thousands of Jews and others. Some were able to leave the country on the Kindertransport in 1938.

More than 100 cases

Descendants of German Jews living in Britain are thinking of taking the German government to court over the law.

The Association of Jewish Refugees told British newspaper the Jewish Chronicle that more than 100 people in Britain were being denied German citizenship under the current situation.

Julia Neuberger, a Rabbi based in London, was one of those who had been denied German citizenship. She was in contact with DW twice in the course of a day on Wednesday, later writing with a happy updcte: "A quick update, I have just been given my German citizenship — today!" Just a few hours prior, she had written that she "fell into the class of people born before 1953 whose mothers were German citizens, but not their fathers."

This could be a sign that the issue has begun to attract the attention of the German government.

Deutsche Welle also spoke to Amy Dara Hochberg, a US citizen living in Barcelona. Her family were originally Austrian, but had left to the US. The records showing her link to Austria, she said, were destroyed by the Nazis.

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Proof destroyed by the Nazis

"There is no documentation in the Salzburg region for the Hochberg family," Hochberg said.

"When I inquired years ago, I was informed that the Nazis destroyed the documents," she added. "I have no idea how to inquire about citizenship without any ancestral documents in Austria."

She has given up receiving Austrian citizenship since, and fears that Nazis destroying German Jewish documents could have caused the same problem for other people.

Lawyers representing the British Jews told the Jewish Chronicle they were meeting on Friday to talk about the court case. It is unclear how extensive this problem has been in Europe, or elsewhere.

But there could be more Amy Dara Hochbergs out there.

* George's name has been changed to protect his identity.