Austrian Parliament Grants Holocaust Survivors, Descendants Right to Citizenship

All parties agree to amend existing law to include those who left before 1955 and their families, allowing them to keep dual citizenship

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Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein speaks to parliament, Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2019
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein speaks to parliament, Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2019Credit: Ronald Zak,AP

More Austrian Holocaust survivors and their families are now eligible to claim for citizenship, after the Austrian parliament voted to amend the existing law on Thursday.

Austrian citizens who left the country before 1955 due to persecution by the Nazis will now be able to claim, as opposed to 1945 – the year World War II ended – previously.

Descendants will also now be eligible, instead of the victims only, a decision which was previously opposed by former right-wing members of the ruling coalition

>> Read more: Why we must Keep Looking at Politics Through the Lens of the Holocaust | Opinion ■ Far right parties in Austria and Germany are making anti-Semitism acceptable again | Opinion

All parties supported the amendment, which will take effect in September 2020. Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish community of Vienna, called the vote “historic.”

The amended law will also apply to those who were citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and lived in Austria. Citizens of other nations will not be forced to give up their foreign citizenship.

Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, February 4, 2019.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

In February, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said that Austria shared responsibility for the Holocaust. “Our aim is to ensure that Jews everywhere feel safe," the statesman said during a visit to Israel. "It is our responsibility as Austrians to the victims of the Holocaust to ensure that we live in peace and agreement with Israel," he added.

The Nazis entered Austria on March 12, 1938, and the country united with Germany the next day, in what is known as the Anschluss. Some 182,000 Jews lived in Austria at the time, and over a third of them, 65,000, were murdered by the end of the war in May 1945. The rest were forced to flee.

It is estimated that a few thousand Holocaust survivors are living in Austria.