betrayed by berlin, again


My grandmother was 13 years-old when, in 1933, she fled Berlin with her family to seek the protection of another country and avoid Nazi persecution.

The family settled in France and in March 1938, they obtained French citizenship, believing that they had been deprived of German citizenship, either due to 1933’s Law on the Revocation of Naturalizations and the Deprivation of the German Citizenship 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. Their nationality annulment, which was a result of 1933’s law, is also featured in the Name Index of Jews Whose German Nationality was Annulled by the Nazi Regime.

Perhaps I am naive, 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.

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, my grandmother and her family had their citizenships revoked as a direct result of legislation passed 14 July 1933, which specifically deprived individuals of their citizenship on political, racial or religious rounds. This legislation was passed five years before my grandmother was naturalised French. There is also no denying my grandmother’s family left Germany in 1933 fleeing for their lives. The Nazis pursued them, drove them out. Although my grandmother survived, her mother did not. She was gassed upon arrival in Auschwitz in 1943. Swathes of my grandmother’s extended family suffered a similar fate. To judge my grandmother on a technicality is a gross case of historical revisionism and Holocaust denial. My family did not choose to relocate to France for fun, they were forced to leave to protect themselves and prevent themselves from becoming stateless.

According to the Federal Administration Office, they “could not find any evidence” that my grandmother “was subject to an individual denaturalisation” and that my “paternal grandmother was not deprived of German citizenship for political, racial or religious reasons”. I believe this is fundamentally untrue, because if my grandmother was not subject to individual denaturalisation based on political, racial or religious reasons, her name would not have featured in the Reichsgesetzblatt, a direct consequence of 1933 racial laws. As my grandmother’s name is listed in the Reichsgesetzblatt it is undeniable that she has been subjected to discrimination and human rights abuses having been deprived of her citizenship as a direct result of herJewish religion.

My grandmother and her family did not leave Germany for any other reason than seeking the protection of another country, as their own country, Germany, was actively passing discriminatory laws. Rejecting my application based on the German Nationality Act not only denies Germany’s role in the Holocaust and the persecution of German Jews, but goes against Art. 3, Sec 3 of Basic Law, which states that “no person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” My grandmother’s homeland was Germany and her only mistake was to be born a German Jew. The rejection of my application denies this fact. Article 116 of Basic Law does not include a sub-clause stating that those who were deprived of their citizenship due to political, racial or religious reasons are excluded for seeking the protection of another country.

The fact that my grandmother’s name in listed in the Reichsgesetzblatt indicates that she would have lost her citizenship regardless of the measures she took to save her life and protect herself. I feel betrayed that the Federal Administration Office has rejected my application on the basis of ‘bad timing’ and it does not pardon the persecution that the Nazi regime inflicted upon my grandmother, which involved far more than the deprivation of citizenship, and included the murder of her family in the Nazi concentration camps. 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.

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. It had been on my mind for years, but I simply 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.