Nine months ago I headed to the German Embassy in London, feeling a mixture of trepidation and pride that my German Jewish grandmother had outwitted the Nazis and had not been one of the six million Jews slaughtered during the Second World War. In my hand I had an envelope of documents to support my application for German citizenship under Germany’s restored citizenship law, or Article 116 of Germany's Basic Law.
That law states: "Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored."
Everything looked quite straightforward. I was told to wait a minimum of six months for a reply.
Last week, a white enveloped arrived in the post from the German Embassy, which I opened full of excitement and expectation. But I was crestfallen to read that Germany’s Federal Administration Office was rejecting my application. Apparently, they could not find any evidence my grandmother "was subject to an individual denaturalization"; they would not, therefore, have considered my grandmother eligible for citizenship restoration and thus would not grant me German citizenship.
My grandmother, Marion, was born in Berlin’s affluent Charlottenburg district in 1920. Her father was a lawyer and her mother an heir to the prestigious Wertheim’s department stores. However, in July 1933, the family left Berlin, fearing for their future, after my great-grandfather Johannes had his law license revoked. The same month the Law on the Revocation of Naturalizations and the Deprivation of the German citizenship deprived Jews of their citizenship by listing their names in the paper, the Reichsgesetzblatt.
The family settled in France and in March 1938, they obtained French citizenship, believing that that they had had been deprived of German citizenship, either due to the 1933 law or the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. My father grew up believing this was the case, but when digging out documents to submit, I discovered that my grandmother only had her nationality stripped from her on 19 July 1939, when all the family’s names were listed in issue 164 of the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger and Preußischer Staatsanzeiger.
Perhaps I am nave, but I always believed that denaturalization was an immediate action, not a slow process that took years. I am certain that my grandmother did not know that she only stopped being a German citizen in 1939, years after citizenship-depriving laws had been passed.
In fact, I wonder how many Jews know the exact date they ceased to be German. While some had their names listed in the Reichsgesetzblatt, like my family, the main bulk of German Jews had their citizenship taken away under the Eleventh Decree to the Law on the Citizenship of the Reich in 1941, which took away the citizen of all German Jews living outside of Germany.
The German Federal Administration office have rejected my application because my grandmother became the citizen of another country before they got round to removing hers. According to a German nationality law, which no longer applies in the case of EU and Swiss applications, if a citizen willingly applies and obtains another nationality, their German citizenship is automatically revoked.
While I understand the technicality of the law, there is no denying my grandmother’s family left Germany in 1933 fleeing for their lives. The Nazis pursued them and my great-grandmother; some of her family were gassed in Auschwitz in 1943. To judge this case on a technicality is a gross case of historical revisionism and Holocaust denial. It is a creeping and poisonous trend. My family did not choose to leave Germany, but were driven out.
In effect, Germany is attempting to retract the fact that my family’s names appeared in the Reichsgesetzblatt, by claiming that they were not "individually denaturalized", as they had already sought the protection of another country through applying for another passport. This is an obvious case of a revisionist rewriting of history.
For a country that even has a word for coming to terms with its Nazi past, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, and that has made huge efforts to move on by creating laws like Article 116, this is a shocking abuse and for me personally, it feels like a kick in the teeth. My grandmother, deprived of her rights during the Nazi regime, later in life received a German pension and state restitution money but yet, modern Germany still does not consider her or her descendants worthy of reclaiming their citizenship.
Deciding to apply for German citizenship was not an easy decision. I never would have done it while my grandmother was alive; and it wasn't a snap panic decision made after Brexit. I have been thinking about doing this for some years, but I dragged my heels. I was brought up in a Jewish household by parents who never once shied away from teaching my siblings and I about the atrocities of the Holocaust, and its impact on our family. I not only feel that German citizenship is my birthright, but more importantly, that it is time to take a deep breath and close the door on the past, as we are now living in a world with new generations who need to build a future.
I had felt that if I obtained citizenship it would be a final victory against the Nazis, as although they may have tried to exterminate my grandmother’s family, she survived to bring up three Jewish children and eleven Jewish grandchildren.
But the German authorities’ decision feels like the opposite. I feel as if Germany has turned its back on my olive branch while opening the door to a bureaucratic and unethical form of denial. That's why it's not only painful, but dangerous.
Rachel Judah is a freelance journalist working in television production in London. Follow her on Twitter: @rachelsjudah
This op-ed was first published on June 25, 2017
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