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Israelis now eligible for German and Austrian citizenship based on family heritage

New laws passed in Germany and Austria regarding the victims of the Nazi persecution simplifies the threshold conditions for obtaining citizenship and passports of these countries.

A view of Imst, Austria. (Video screenshot)
A view of Imst, Austria. (Video screenshot)

Now many more Israelis and Jews around the world are entitled for a European passport. What are the relevant changes Israelis need to know?

Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire

In 1867, Austria and Hungary united to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire which controlled large parts of Eastern and Central Europe. At its peak, it ruled over a vast geographical area and included the Balkan countries, parts of the countries of Poland, Romania, Ukraine and more. Austria-Hungary sought to promote theoretical equality of rights for all subjects of the kingdom and thus to quiet potential uprisings as well as to allow freedom of movement in various parts of the continent.

Against this background, a wave of Jewish immigration began towards Vienna, the Austrian capital, which offered employment opportunities, culture, and a more modern lifestyle than the eastern part of the empire. At that time, the Emperor Franz Josef decided to introduce a more egalitarian policy towards Jews and allowed them to be appointed to positions in the government that had been blocked for them until then.

From the moment the gates of the kingdom were opened to the Jews of Eastern Europe, the Jewish community within the borders of Austria, as we know them today, grew more than 40 times. In the 1920’s, every ninth Viennese was Jewish. In 1933- on the eve of the rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany- the Jewish community in Austria stood at a little over 200,000 residents. However, half of them left the country in 1938 due to the Anschluss (annexation to Nazi Germany).

After the Nazi regime took control it revoked the Austrian citizenship of Jews living within their territory. When World War II was over, Austria allowed former Jewish citizens to regain their citizenship. However, archaic restrictions prevented many from doing so, for example the demand to revoke another citizenship, year of Birth, military service in a foreign army and more.

Austria passes a new Citizenship Law

About two years ago many restrictions were removed so that today all descendants of Jewish Austrian citizens who were forced to flee the country are entitled to an Austrian passport. In addition, the descendants of those who were residents of Austria (Even if they were not citizens), who were forced to escape following the persecution of the Nazi regime, are also entitled to citizenship.

What about Germany?

In January 1933, when the Nazi Party came to power, about 530,000 Jews lived in the country. The Nuremberg Laws stated that as long as one of the parents or grandparents was Jewish in the past – so were his descendants, even if he converted to Christianity. In 1935, a law was passed that deprived German Jews of their citizenship. Following these discriminatory laws, the government began confiscating Jewish businesses, firing them, and revoking work licenses from professionals.

Illustrative: Austrian passports (iStock.Getty Images)

The policies of the Nazi regime led tens of thousands of Jews to flee to neighboring countries in Western Europe, to the USA, and to other countries. The few surviving descendants of German Jews are allowed to apply if their ancestors left Germany from 1933 onwards. It is estimated that more than 300,000 Jews survived.

After World War II, Germany decided to restore citizenship to the Jews, and this entitlement also applies to their descendants. However, until 2021 there were various limitations on eligibility. For example, the lack of entitlement for children of German citizens (and non-citizens) born before 1953, or the lack of entitlement for offspring born out of wedlock. Last year Germany decided to update this archaic policy and open the right to citizenship to all the descendants of the Jewish citizens and residents of Germany whose citizenship was denied by the Nazi regime. These amendments create eligibility for many applicants whose application was rejected in the past.

The new entitlement for German residents and their descendants

In the past, German citizenship was granted to those born to a German father or married to a German citizen, or through permanent residence of many years. Birth in Germany to someone whose father is not German did not earn citizenship. With the rise of the Nazis to power, circa 100,000 Jews who were born in Germany and were its residents without citizenship fled, and those who survived had to give up their connection to Germany.

The amendment to the German Citizenship Law finally provides an answer to these residents and especially to their descendants. According to the amendment, anyone who was a resident of Germany and had to escape Germany after January 30, 1933, due to the persecution of the Nazi regime is entitled to German citizenship. This right also applies to the descendants of those residents. It is important to clarify that the Jews who escaped from Germany and Austria are defined as those who were persecuted by the Nazis by virtue of being Jews, and do not need to prove the fact of persecution beyond that.

Why is the number of beneficiaries of EU passport so high?

Thanks to the unprecedented simplification of the Citizenship Law in both countries, Germany and Austria, the millions of descendants of Jewish refugees around the world can petition and receive a European passport for themselves, their children, their grandchildren and so on. According to estimates, there are about 350,000 eligible people living in Israel and more abroad who can apply for one of these two citizenships.

Decker, Pex, Ofir & Co staff (Credit; Shiri Decker)

The number of eligible people around the world is estimated at approximately 2.5 million. The removal of the obstacles in the new legislation opened a bottleneck that brought in a huge number of eligible people who for decades could not apply. This is together with the concessions that also allow those serving in permanent and/or mandatory service in the IDF as well as civil servants to obtain citizenship.

Due to the large number of citizens and residents of Austria and Germany who were classified by the racial laws as Jews, the number of eligible persons is probably much higher than the published numbers, especially if you take into account the second, third and fourth generation descendants of the victims of the persecution who are also entitled to receive a German or Austrian passport.

How does an application for German or Austrian citizenship work?

The application process is done directly with the relevant consular and state offices of Austria and Germany and requires filing our forms and providing documentation that proves eligibility. In some cases, applications must conduct an in depth research in various archives, in order to find certificates and date to support their application. The process takes several years from start to finish, due to the large numbers of applications, which slow down the work of the government officials. However, if you know that your family originated from Germany or Austria, and you prepare and submit a suitable claim, you will most likely be able to obtain a European citizenship and passport.

To learn more on how you can obtain a German or Austrian citizenship, click here to speak with the law office of Decker, Pex, Ofir & Co or call +972-2-381-0013

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