Explained: How the Descendants of Nazi Victims are “Missing Out” on German Citizenship

The descendants of Jews persecuted by the Nazi regime can often make a claim to German citizenship. According to the German constitution, people whose German citizenship was stripped during this period can apply to have it restored, as can their descendants.

Jewish former Germans were the largest group affected by citizenship deprivation during this period. As we explained in a previous article, there were two Nazi laws which took away citizenship from Jewish Germans. Some were deprived individually after 1933, while most were deprived automatically by a 1941 law which stripped German citizenship from Jewish Germans who were outside of the country.

Although this sounds quite straightforward, there are many cases where a person who might appear to be eligible for a restoration of German citizenship in fact misses out. We often hear from people whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were the victims of Nazi persecution. However, their potential citizenship claims can run into problems.

The reasons are complex and relate to historical circumstances, the wording of the Basic Law, or the mechanism of deprivation itself. Often, individuals are ineligible due to the (often quite unfair) quirks of historic German citizenship law.

There are four main reasons someone who believes they have a restoration claim to German citizenship might be ineligible.

1. The ancestor lost German citizenship due to gender inequality.

This is the most complex of the lacunas and reflects several historic inequalities in German citizenship law.

For instance, a Jewish German woman who fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and then married a British citizen in 1938 would have lost German citizenship due to her marriage to a non-German man (rather than deprivation) and therefore her descendants would be ineligible for restoration. Similarly, a Jewish German woman who fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and then married a British man in 1942 would have been deprived of German citizenship under the 1941 law. However, any children born to her before 23 May 1949 would not have a restoration claim as at this time a German citizen woman could not pass on citizenship to a child born in wedlock to a non-German father.

2. The ancestor lost German citizenship by naturalising elsewhere before being deprived.

If a Jewish German citizen left Germany and naturalised as a citizen of any other country before either being deprived individually (and having their name listed in the Gazette) or before being automatically deprived under the 1941 law, their descendant cannot apply for a restoration of citizenship. This is fairly common. It seems particularly unfair in cases where an individual escaped persecution in Nazi Germany only to be threatened with internment as an ‘enemy alien’ in the UK, South Africa or elsewhere.

This was the apparently the reason for journalist Rachel Judah’s recent refusal, as described in her article for Haaretz newspaper.

3. The ancestor had never been a German citizen.

Many individuals whose ancestor was Jewish and fled Germany due to Nazi persecution are apparently ineligible because that ancestor was never a German citizen but rather Polish, Czech, stateless, etc. This is despite the ancestor being a native German speaker, being the second or third generation born in Germany, having a German surname, or culturally identifying as German. These individuals might have been resident in Germany since as early as 1915. In some cases they would have been prevented from naturalising by anti-Semitic practices both during the Nazi period and before it. (For example, during the Weimar period, Bavaria placed a 20-year residency requirement for the naturalisation of  non-Germanic people and often vetoed the proposed naturalisation of Jews in other states such as Prussia).

4. The ancestor was not deprived because they remained in Germany.

We have heard several cases of people whose ancestors remained in hiding within Germany for the duration of the war. They were never deprived individually and did not suffer automatic deprivation under the 1941 law, as the latter only applied to Jewish Germans who had taken up residence abroad. If they subsequently left Germany and naturalised elsewhere, any subsequent descendants would have no claim to German citizenship.

Can anything be done?

There may sometimes be alternative routes available when someone runs up against these issues. We would suggest getting in touch with a professional to evaluate your claim and identify any possible workarounds.

It may be possible to make a legal challenge regarding some or all of the problems described above. Passportia is currently looking into several options in this regards. We would be keen to collaborate with others.

In any case, if your application has been refused or you have been affected by any of the issues described above, we would like to hear from you. Please get in touch using our contact form or leave a public comment below.


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