Preserving our family history

My grandmother was born in Germany to German Jewish parents in 1932, but as tensions rose they fled to South America.

The family settled in Colombia in 1936, changed their last name and stopped practising Judaism. Desperate to assimilate and feel safe away from Nazi Germany, my grandmother and her parents embraced living in an environment where Catholicism was the norm.

After the war my grandmother married my grandfather, a Colombian citizen, in 1950. Soon after, they moved to the United States, where my mother was born two years later. Eager to reclaim her German heritage to pass on, my grandmother sent her children to study in a German school. At home, German language, culture and customs became part of the family’s daily life for the first time since the 1930s. My mother and her siblings were raised to be half Colombian, half German, despite not being German citizens.

In the 1960s and 70s part of my extended family returned to live in Germany. Despite everything, their close ties remained and served to anchor and reaffirm the whole family’s bond to Germany.

I was born in 1985. My father is Colombian, but like my mother I see myself as part German. Although according to German law, I’m not. Why? Because German law makes a distinction between a woman and a man’s capacity to pass on citizenship to their children, even if they had it revoked against their will during the Third Reich.

I only found out I was ineligible when, alongside my family, I applied for German citizenship under Article 116(2) of German Basic Law. Our applications were denied in May 2011 on the basis that in 1952, when my mother was born, citizenship could only be passed on from a German father and not a German mother.

Although the law was changed in 1975, it was not changed retroactively meaning that I am unable to become a German citizen. Article 116(2) supposedly exists as a form of reparation for families such as mine who endured racial, political and religious discrimination in Nazi Germany. However, it is failing to achieve it’s purpose by leaving some families behind. My grandmother was born a German citizen in 1932, forced to flee from hatred in the only country she had ever known. She had to start her life again from scratch on the other side of the world, renouncing her religion, language and culture for freedom and safety. But according to German law, that is not enough. My family are being denied access to our German heritage and family history simply because my grandmother married a Colombian citizen.

Despite this, I have been trying to restore something that was lost two generations back: my connection to Judaism. At 33 years old, I have started attending a local synagogue and learning about part of my family history that was taken away during one of humanity’s darkest hours. But, there’s a missing piece - the legal recognition of my German Jewish identity.