Growing up as Jews in Germany, many of us were faced with the dilemma of living in the land of the Holocaust.
I myself was born in 1969 and the first time I learned about the horrible history of Germany and the Jewish people of Europe, I was maybe nine years old. It was difficult to grasp, of course.
But what made it even more difficult was the fact that my parents, for their own personal reasons, had chosen to bring me there and let me grow up right in the middle of where it all had happened.
Many of the Jews of my generation were struggling to find their identity. They were born and raised in Germany, held German citizenship, but did not want to consider themselves German. It was too soon and too painful.
I at least had my Israeli citizenship to cling to. My father was Israeli, my mother was “stateless” and I never had to ask myself, how German I wanted to be, if at all.
I left Germany after finishing my studies and moved back to Israel, thinking that now I had left all the dilemmas behind me.
But then the EU was established and more and more Israelis turned to me, being a lawyer in both Israel and Germany, to ask me to help them regain German citizenship, which had once been stolen from them or their ancestors.
Many reasons for the “Why”
Initially I was rather surprised that Israelis of all people would want to obtain German citizenship.
But after all the many years of speaking with thousands of clients regarding their motivation, I can say that it is not all or not only about gaining access to Germany or having the option to live there.
Many of the people I had spoken to, some of them the people who were expelled from Germany themselves and in other cases their descendants of the first or second generation, told me that it was about closure too. The family originated from Germany, they had had full lives there before the holocaust, building families, running businesses, holding properties.
The holocaust had torn a hole into the family history, a hole that they sought to fill.
To these people, it was not about moving back to Berlin or Munich or Cologne. Nor was it about money or indemnification. It was much rather about regaining a part of the family identity, about preserving a part of the family history, which in many cases had long been forgotten.
Others I had spoken to explained, that their grandparents, the original citizens, indeed did not want to hear about Germany ever again.
But even they were happy to provide information and documents, so that their children would be able to “keep their options open”.
Those people had lived through the turmoil of wars, had endured hardships I myself couldn’t even begin to imagine and they had learnt that when all hell breaks loose, you will want to have a place to go.
For those people, the German citizenship was in a bizarre way an insurance policy to keep their children and children’s children out of harm’s way, should Israel be struck by yet another deadly war.
However, the most obvious and main reason and motivation I have encountered with my very many clients is of course the EU.
In a world which is becoming smaller and smaller, with opportunities arising all over the globe, the thought of having full and complete access to the EU is very appealing and a German passport enables its holder to live, study, work and travel all over the EU countries.
Given the opportunities that come with holding a German passport, and given the fact that this is something the applicants are absolutely entitled to, even those whose stomach is turning when only thinking about stepping on German soil have come to the conclusion that the German citizenship is merely the means. The EU access is the end.
Whatever the reason and the motivation of the applicants, what made the decision easy for my clients was to know that they would not have to learn to speak a single word of German and even if they could go and live in Germany, they would never have to set foot there, in order to become full citizens of Europe.