Since the election of US President Donald Trump, increasing numbers of Jews whose parents and grandparents fled from Nazi Germany to the United States have applied for German citizenship, German officials said.
Consulates in New York and Boston have seen a rise in the number of people seeking to reclaim their ancestors’ German citizenship.
“We can confirm that there has been a perceptible increase in the number of people claiming German citizenship under Article 116, Paragraph 2 of the German Basic Law,” Bradford Elder, a spokesperson for the New York German consulate, told German news site Deutsche Welle.
Article 116 is intended mainly for Jews, socialists, and communists who fled Germany under the Nazis. It states that “former German citizens who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored.”
According to the German consulate in New York, between 50 and 70 people applied for citizenship each year in 2014 and 2015. In the month of November 2016 alone there were 124 applications. In March 2017 a total of 235 people submitted the paperwork to become German citizens.
The Boston German consulate, meanwhile, has seen the number of applicants triple.
Ralf Horlemann, the consul-general of Germany in Boston, said that in the first quarter of 2016, there were 13 people who reclaimed their German citizenship in Boston. In the first quarter of 2017, that number grew to 49.
“Although we don’t have any firm statistical data on the reasons behind the application for naturalization,” he told the news site, “we have seen a considerable increase in applications since, well the autumn, or the end of last year.”
Some applicants, like Ilana and Rena Sufrin, 26-year-old twins from Pittsburgh, began the application process before the US election, primarily to obtain EU benefits. But they now maintained German citizenship is an insurance policy in increasingly uncertain times.
“I feel like people don’t really believe that something [bad] could happen,” said Rena Sufrin, according to DW. “But I feel like it’s at the back of everyone’s mind, especially when you start hearing the way people like Trump talk. It gets a little unnerving.”
They began the application process in 2015, intending it as an entry to the European Union, and a way to connect to their German heritage.
“When we initially applied, Obama was president,” said Ilana. “I’m a pretty liberal person. I had a lot of hope. I didn’t think there was going to be any potential problem. But I would say now …”
“It’s definitely a good thing to have,” her sister added.
Larry Klein told KUNC Community Radio for Northern Colorado that initially he began the application process so that it would be easier for him to travel around Europe. But now he is glad to have a German passport in his pocket as a backup plan.
“The tone of this country at this point in time is disturbing. A country like Germany which, you know, has this history that obviously my family’s well aware of, espouses the beliefs and philosophy that actually is the way I’d like a country to behave,” he said. “So, things come around in very interesting ways.”
Linda Heuman’s parents and grandparents came to the US as refugees. Her great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. She said that after Trump came to power it became clear to hear that she might need an escape route.
“I just instantly felt like I needed someplace else to go. I have that somewhere in my history, like that visceral knowledge,” Heuman said. “With racism on the rise and anything might happen so, so that was my motivation for finally getting around to filling out the paperwork.”
Terry Mandel told DW that her main reason for wanting dual citizenship was in case of emergency.
“It was 99 percent motivated by wanting to have a way out,” Mandel told DW. “It’s about having a plan B. I’ve always referred to it as plan B.”
“Like many progressive Americans, I didn’t think there was a chance that Trump could win,” she said. “But I still thought: Why take the risk?”