Germany relaxes citizenship rules for Nazi exiles

Germany relaxes citizenship rules for Nazi exiles

Germany has pushed through two reforms to help families of people who fled the Nazis to adopt German citizenship, after action by British descendants of Jewish refugees.

Hundreds of applicants have been blocked by exemptions in laws that allow ethnic Germans to reclaim citizenship that was removed by the Nazi regime. 

Anyone who was stripped of their citizenship during the 12 years of Nazi dictatorship on political, racial or religious grounds — as well as their descendants — is eligible for restoration under Article 116 of the Basic law. 

Germany’s interior minister said it had to live up to its responsibilities as the Brexit crisis has led to an increase in applications from the UK.

In 2015, only 43 descendants of Nazi refugees applied for citizenship, which rose to 1,506 last year, with most of Jewish heritage.

Several hundred applicants have been turned down, most because applications are only valid if citizenship has been passed through the father.

In 1938, Annemarie Elkan’s family left Germany for Southampton where she married a British man, Neville Yarnold. Their son, John Yarnold, a clinical oncologist,

applied for German citizenship after the 2016 Brexit vote.

His application included his mother’s German passport.

After 18 months Yarnold was told that, because his father was British, he was not eligible for German citizenship. His mother’s history was deemed irrelevant, especially because she gave up her German citizenship when she married. 

“I was disappointed, of course. There should be gender equality across the German Constitution,” said Yarnold.

But the two interior ministry decrees mean descendants of women who lost their citizenship are eligible for restoration along with children whose parents were unmarried when they were born.

“Germany must live up to its historical responsibility towards descendants of German victims of National Socialist persecution who have been deprived of citizenship rights,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced. “This applies particularly to those whose parents or grandparents were forced to flee abroad.”

Requirements would include basic German and knowledge of the “legal and social order”, the ministry said.

The Article 116 Exclusions Group’s spokesman Nicholas Courtman said a change in the law was necessary to guarantee descendants’ rights.

“The federal government’s refusal to consider a legislative change is regrettable, especially in light of the fact that this decree can only be used from abroad and is of no use to those descendants currently living in Germany,” he said.



Jews fleeing the Nazi regime. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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