The German government on Wednesday agreed to a draft law to grant citizenship to more descendants of Nazi victims.
If enacted, the law should fully close a loophole that led to many victims’ descendants being denied German citizenship, despite a long-standing policy of allowing descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim citizenship.
Some were denied citizenship because their ancestors fled Germany and changed citizenship before Nazi Germany officially revoked their German citizenship. Others were denied because they were born before April 1, 1953, to a non-German father and a German mother in a gender-discriminating rule.
In 1941, the Nazi regime stripped citizenship from any German Jews living outside its borders, rendering Jewish refugees stateless and stranded. Jews inside the country were stripped of their rights and rendered state subjects.
Before this, many Jews and other victims of Nazi rule had their citizenship stripped of them individually by decree for political or racial reasons.
Enshrining a new rule
The government said the new law was largely symbolic but would set into law a change in rules adopted in 2019.
“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologizing in profound shame,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors,” he said in a statement.
Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said formalizing the 2019 rule change was a way of strengthening the legal position of beneficiaries and giving them “the value they deserved.”
‘Injustice cannot be undone’
The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said: “During the Nazi era, countless German Jews were forced to flee or were expatriated. In addition, Jews were fundamentally excluded from acquiring German citizenship due to racist legislation. This injustice cannot be undone. But it is a gesture of decency if they and their descendants are given legal opportunities to regain German citizenship.”
His organization had campaigned for the law, saying that the previous decrees had been inadequate.
The loopholes were thrust into the spotlight recently, as many Britons lodged citizenship applications due to Brexit. Many of those based their claim on the Nazi persecution of their ancestors. Numbers rose from 43 such applications in 2015 to 1,506 in 2018, according to ministry figures.
Austria changed its rules in 2019, too, allowing the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled the Nazis to be renaturalized. It previously only allowed Holocaust survivors themselves to obtain Austrian citizenship.
aw/sms (AFP, epd, dpa)