Nazis Stole My Grandparents’ German Citizenship, I Reclaimed It

  • My maternal grandparents, each Holocaust survivors, have been stripped of their German citizenship by the Nazis.
  • In 2021, I used a particular German legislation to “restore” my citizenship. I now have a German passport.
  • Since 2016, roughly 7,320 have utilized for German citizenship.

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As my mom and I sat in an workplace on the German Embassy within the Belgravia district of central London, having simply been handed a pack of Haribo, a Bundesflagge pin, and our citizenship papers, we checked out one another contemplatively.

We have been formally German.

This second was the end result of three years of paperwork that, after all, doesn’t befit the nationwide stereotype of effectivity.


But whereas three years felt like eternally and a day, restoring my German citizenship had truly been a for much longer time coming for my household.

Some 80 years after my Jewish grandparents had their citizenship stolen from them, the results of numerous discriminatory laws passed by the Nazis in the course of the Third Reich, we had reclaimed what was rightfully ours.

‘This should have been a very troublesome determination for you each’

Under German legislation, particularly Article 116, descendants of those that fled Nazi persecution — most of whom are of Jewish heritage — are allowed to “restore” their citizenship and, in flip, declare German passports.

The Federal Office of Administration in Germany informed Insider that roughly 830 British individuals had utilized for naturalization underneath Article 116 in 2021. Since 2016, roughly 7,320 have utilized. The overwhelming majority, 90%, have efficiently change into naturalized, the company mentioned.


As my mom and I signed the authorized paperwork in July, marking the tip of the appliance course of to substantiate our Germanness, a diplomat uttered one thing that unexpectedly, and immediately, gave me goosebumps. “This should have been a very troublesome determination for you each,” she mentioned, sympathetically.

It felt empowering to, with only one stroke of a pen, shut the door on a tragic chapter of my household historical past. But was it troublesome for me? Not actually.

I was lucky sufficient that my beloved grandparents — Marlene, an Auschwitz survivor, and my grandfather John, a Kindertransport survivor — had given us their blessing to proceed with restoring our citizenship earlier than they died.

John Altmann and Marlene Goldschmidt


John, a Kindertransport survivor, and Marlene, an Auschwitz survivor.

Joshua Zitser

They have been of the mentality that I had each proper to assert what I was owed, and that it might be helpful for me to have a German passport after the UK withdrew from the European Union.

Having an EU passport permits me, in the long run, to simply stay, work, and research overseas within the 27 member states. In impact, I may keep in France, Portugal, Poland or Italy, for instance, for so long as I need.

My grandparents, seeing the sensible advantages, have been very pragmatic about all of it. This made my determination comparatively simple.

But for different British individuals of Jewish heritage who’re additionally entitled to reclaim citizenship, the choice to change into German is a a lot thornier subject.

‘Any British one who applies for German citizenship is successfully forgiving Germany’

For Karen Millie-James, an writer and enterprise marketing consultant from London, it is one thing she says she “couldn’t ever countenance doing.” Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles — all from Berlin — have been murdered by the Nazis.

And her father, Roger, who was in a position to escape and moved to London, harbored a lifelong mistrust of Germany.

Millie-James remembers rising up in a house the place her father’s traumatic relationship with the nation chargeable for his kin’ deaths meant she as soon as needed to return a German-made radio she had bought. “We weren’t allowed to have something German in the home,” she mentioned.

Millie-James known as the thought of making use of for a German passport “abhorrent” given what her father went by. “I could not do it in his reminiscence,” she added.

This sentiment is echoed by some vocal members of Facebook teams for the British Jewry.

“Any British one who applies for German citizenship is successfully forgiving Germany for the Shoah,” mentioned a member of “Jewish Britain” — an internet group of greater than 10,000 members. The Shoah is the Hebrew phrase for the Holocaust.

“To apply for a German passport is to declare that you just really feel a higher affinity — even perhaps loyalty — to Germany than to Britain,” the remark continued.

‘In a really tiny manner, that is me placing again at Hitler’

Adrian Goldberg, a journalist in Birmingham who hosted a three-part BBC docuseries on the so-called “Deutschland Dilemma,” informed Insider he needed to do a number of “soul-searching” to find out whether or not he was making the appropriate determination by making use of to be acknowledged as German.

“It’s fairly a giant factor to say that you really want the affiliation with the nation that killed my grandparents and killed quite a lot of different members of my broader household,” he mentioned. “So, I thought, how do I sq. that with myself?”

He mentioned one motivating issue was reclaiming his heritage. “My dad has his German citizenship stolen from him by Adolf Hitler,” Goldberg mentioned. “So, in a really tiny manner, that is me placing again at Hitler. Up yours, Hitler!”

Adrian Goldberg at Auschwitz

Adrian Goldberg on the web site of the Nazi focus camp Auschwitz in Poland.

Adrian Goldberg

Another incentive was Brexit, he mentioned: “Not all people who voted Brexit was a racist by any stretch, however there was a pressure of racism and bigotry within the Brexit marketing campaign that made me really feel very uncomfortable as a second-generation migrant.”

Noah Libson, 23, mentioned he was additionally influenced by Brexit. He utilized for German citizenship, which he was eligible for by way of his grandmother, within the quick aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“I determined that it was one thing I wished to do, even only for the essential practicalities of getting an EU passport,” he informed Insider. “You cannot deny that there’s a sure security to having one other passport and, you understand, worst involves worst figuring out that no less than I can stay some place else.”

While exact figures are usually not obtainable from earlier than 2016, a consultant for the German Embassy in London mentioned there was a major uptick in functions to revive German citizenship after the Brexit referendum.

Libson mentioned that whereas his mom acknowledged some great benefits of having an EU passport after Brexit, she personally felt “uncomfortable” about changing into German and turned down the chance to assert citizenship.

This is emblematic, he mentioned, of the variations in opinions that may come up inside households about restoring citizenship.

Jacob Brunert in Germany

Jacob Brunert, 22, exterior the Neuschwanstein Castle throughout his 12 months overseas in Germany.

Jacob Brunert

Jacob Brunert, a 22-year-old college pupil, informed Insider that sure members of his household have been additionally skeptical of him changing into German.

He mentioned he felt his intentions got here into query most when he determined to participate in an Erasmus+ program to check overseas in Germany for a 12 months in 2020.

“I’ve received members of my household who voiced concern that I was going again in any respect,” Brunert mentioned. “But for me, I actually was enticed by exploring my previous, my historical past, and, instantly, getting a really feel for what it is prefer to be Jewish in Germany right this moment.”

This represents ‘fairly a basic shift’ in Jewish id

According to Simon Albert, a lawyer in London, and Ruvi Ziegler, an affiliate professor in worldwide refugee legislation on the University of Reading, the truth that hundreds of British individuals of Jewish ancestry have been in search of EU citizenship represented a “fairly a basic shift” in id.

“The British Jewish group went underneath the radar, so to talk, for 80 years, and tried to combine as a lot as attainable, and be as British as attainable, and preserve their international origins and all the remainder of it on the down low,” Albert informed Insider. “It’s now going 180 levels, and individuals are getting these Austrian and German passports, or Czech, or Spanish, or Portuguese, or no matter it’s, due to Brexit.”

Albert and Ziegler run a project with the Jewish Historical Society of England that’s charting the phenomenon. Participants within the initiative element why they’ve chosen or declined the chance to hunt out citizenship in one other European nation.

Ziegler mentioned individuals gave the impression to be performing pragmatically, reasonably than actively in search of out a brand new nationality. Many candidates see a German passport merely as a “car to changing into European,” he continued.

“My unscientific estimation is that the overwhelming majority of British Jews who’ve acquired European citizenship have not moved to another European nation,” Ziegler mentioned. “So it is to provide themselves the choice and the alternatives that come up, reasonably than for immigration.”

Reflecting on the 12 months I turned a German citizen, I am appreciative of the benefits afforded to me by having an EU passport.

But, maybe extra meaningfully, there’s additionally energy in reclaiming one thing my grandparents have been disadvantaged of.

A German phrase involves thoughts — Schadenfreude (a pleasure derived by somebody from one other individual’s misfortune).

There’s a pleasure in figuring out that as a result of the Nazis misplaced, my household was in a position to rebuild.

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