The German parliament on Friday closed a legal loophole which had prevented some descendants of Jews and others persecuted by the Nazi regime from obtaining German citizenship, a move which has been welcomed by the local Jewish community.
While Germany’s constitution (known as the Grundgesetz or Basic Law) guarantees that former citizens and their descendants who were “deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds” between January 1933 and May 1945 could apply to have their citizenship restored, the law’s wording has long excluded certain classes of descendants.
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According to the Article 116 Exclusions Group —an advocacy organization which lobbied for Friday’s reform and represents the children and grandchildren of Nazi victims who were denied citizenship— these include people whose families’ left before being formally rendered stateless and subsequently accepted the citizenship of another country as well as those “born in wedlock to a German mother and non-German father before 1 April 1953.”
According to the group’s website, “growing numbers of former citizens and their descendants have had their applications rejected or have been informed that they are not eligible for naturalization,” a phenomenon which it characterized as “immoral and unjust.”
According to German news outlet Deutsche Welle, the only party to oppose the bill was the far-right Alternative for Germany, which has long been accused of trivializing the Holocaust by Jewish groups.
The measure was welcomed by the local Jewish community.
“The governing coalition has taken important legal steps to ensure that Germany lives up to its historical responsibility,” declared Dr. Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in a statement.
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“The relief for those formerly persecuted and their descendants to acquire or regain German citizenship was overdue and is very much to be welcomed. At the same time, with this step, Germany assumes the responsibility that Jews can live safely in this country,” he said.
“The decision that people who have committed an anti-Semitic or otherwise inhumane crime can be denied naturalization regardless of the sentence is therefore also an important signal. Anyone who acts against the spirit of the Basic Law and is liable to prosecution should not be granted the privilege of German citizenship.”
While the Interior Ministry eased the process of applying for citizenship in 2019, lifting restrictions and widening the pool of eligible candidates, the new bill anchors these regulations in law.
Applications for citizenship have risen in recent years in the wake of the United Kingdom’s 2016 Brexit vote. However, according to German news website Der Spiegel, only 3,900 out of nearly 10,000 applications submitted in the years 2017-2018 were approved.
Last month, Schuster and other German-Jewish leaders called on Berlin to step up protection of Jewish institutions throughout the country after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues, apparently in response to the latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Schuster asserted at the time that “the threat to the Jewish community is growing.”
The number of politically motivated crimes rose sharply in Germany last year, including a 15 percent increase in antisemitic offenses. The number of antisemitic crimes reported to police across the country jumped from 2,032 in 2019 to 2,351 last year.
The vast majority- 85 percent - fell into the categories of incitement to hate, insults and propaganda, including Holocaust denial and glorification of Nazi ideology. Fifty-five were violent crimes.
JTA contributed to this report.