German Citizenship: Easier Acquisition for Nazi Victims’ Descendants

Recently, in the wake of Brexit, inquiries about acquiring German citizenship have increased. On August 30, 2019, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior issued new rules that clarify and expand the categories of descendants of victims of National Socialist persecution who are eligible to obtain or restore German citizenship.

Affected persons who benefit from the changes include:

  1. Children born prior to April 1, 1953, in wedlock to German mothers whose citizenship had been revoked and foreign fathers;
  2. Children born prior to July 1, 1993, out of wedlock to foreign mothers and German fathers whose citizenship had been revoked, provided that the paternity of such children was recognized and established under German law before the child reached the age of 23; and
  3. Children of a German parent who had acquired foreign citizenship and lost their German citizenship due to persecution under National Socialism, including those children whose mothers emigrated as a result of such persecution and lost their German citizenship through marriage to a foreign man before April 1, 1953.

The beneficiaries of these changes include the descendants of persons in those categories, up to a generational cut-off point according to §4 StAG. Thus, all descendants belong to this group of persons, whether they are in the second, third, fourth, or even fifth generation, and are eligible to acquire German citizenship.

German citizenship laws are complex. Basically, during the Nazi era, two main laws were enacted that resulted in the loss of German citizenship. First, based on a 1933 law, some individuals lost their citizenship when their names were specifically listed and subsequently published in the particular Reich Law Gazette (Reichsgesetzblatt). Second, many more persons were deprived of citizenship under the “Eleventh Decree to the Law on the Citizenship of the Reich” of November 25, 1941.This second law applied to all Jewish Germans who were living outside of Germany when the law took effect and automatically stripped them of their German citizenship. This mainly affected Jews who had left Germany in the years before the outbreak of World War II or shortly thereafter.

The post-war German government enacted legislation to address the Nazi regime’s citizenship deprivations in Article 116, par. 2 of the Basic Law. This article restores German citizenship to former German citizens who were deprived of their citizenship “based on political, racial, or religious grounds” between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945, and to their descendants.

However, in principle, for a descendant to qualify for German citizenship under this section, one must be able to answer the following question in the affirmative: “Had the primary claimant of a claim to naturalization not been deprived of their German citizenship, would his or her descendants have acquired German citizenship by birth pursuant to the applicable German law of citizenship?”

Under previous laws, for the groups now included, it was simply not possible to answer this question affirmatively. That was because the applicable statutes did not allow persons in those groups to acquire German citizenship at birth. For example, before 1953, one could only inherit German citizenship through paternal lineage. Persons in the other groups described above experienced similarly unjust results.

The August 30, 2019, rules alleviate these inequitable results and will allow many claims for citizenship to proceed, provided certain criteria are met. Notably, the new rules also cover children of German citizens who were not affected by the Nazi era but who were excluded from acquiring German citizenship due to earlier unconstitutional regulations on descent. Of course, each situation is unique and navigating the legal requirements and application process is complex.

This article was first posted as a document by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA Doc. No. 20022636 | Dated February 26, 2020).