Descendants of Jewish refugees who fled to the UK to escape from Nazi persecution are seeking German nationality following the referendum in which Britain to leave the European Union, The Independent has learned.
The political and economic upheaval which has followed Brexit has led to a surge in the numbers of Britons seeking to become nationals of states in the EU. A large majority of them have been after Irish passports but other countries, too, are having an unprecedented amount of inquiries from those seeking another passport.
German nationality can be obtained by someone who has at least one parent who is German. The other normal route for foreigners to get German nationality would be a certain minimum period of continual stay in the country.
There are, however, separate rules for Jewish and political refugees from Hitler’s Reich. Under the principle of "restored citizenship”, German Basic Law ( Grundgesetz) stipulates 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".
The German embassy in London is one of the foreign legations which has been receiving rising numbers of requests for information on citizenship from refugees’ descendants living in Britain, including Jewish people whose families fled the Nazis.
Most Jewish refugees in Britain from Nazi Germany came just before and after the war. The community has assimilated into British society, but some now feel deep trepidation about the future.
Some of the Jewish people who are considering seeking German nationality are doing so because of economic uncertainty and also because of worries at the outbreak of extremism which has accompanied Brexit.
Rachel Houseman, who lives in north-west London, and works in investment banking, said “ What has happened is going to be bad for manufacturing and financial services, I can’t frankly see any signs for optimism. Quite a few firms, certainly in financial services, will be moving a lot of their operations out to the EU.
“My family and I are also shocked by the rise in racism. I don’t think, as Jews, we’ll be immune from this at all. A couple I know were abused in the street in London last week for speaking in Dutch, the husband just happened to be Jewish. That was anti-foreign, rather than anti-semitic, but it shows the way things are going.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen with visas and Europe, we can’t get assurances from the politicians on this because they don’t know themselves, it’s a real mess. Our family came here Hamburg, we lost relations in the holocaust. We have relations in Germany, so we are going to look at the German option. There’s no question of going back to the German version of our name or anything. I think we’ll be able to keep dual-nationality.”
Jonathan, a 30-year-old Israeli who lives in Swansea spoke to the German broadcast channel Deutsche Welle about apprehension among Jews
“There’s a feeling that xenophobia has suddenly been legitimized by this vote”said Jonathan, who did not want his surname used, said. “You do hear of incidents. I get this feeling that I’m lucky because I am white, so you can only really tell I am not from here when I start talking and you hear my foreign accent. I think the majority of ‘leave’ voters aren’t racists, but racists will have seen this vote as a confirmation they are the majority.”
Successive German governments have traditionally welcomed the return of Jewish and other refugees - and their descendants - who fled the Nazis.
Britons from such background now seeking citizenship are not expected to face too many obstacles. They will also be able to have dual nationality, something denied to those from outside the European Union under German law.
Around two or three Britons sought German nationality every year in the past, “dozens” have come forward in the last week from a cross-section of UK society; the German embassy is collating the numbers and details of applicants. A Berlin-based organisation, Citizens for Europe, has set up a ‘ legal clinic’ to advise people on the administration requirement for citizenship. Sigmar Gabriel, vice chancellor in the German government has suggested that young Britons, who voted by a large margin to remain in European Union, should be given German nationality. However, officials say this is at present “just an idea” and would be difficult to implement.
The Italians have received 70 applications from across the country in the first couple of days after the referendum, again after receiving just a handful in recent times before the vote. The French embassy has also received similar inquiries and has also seen a rush for renewals of documents by French and dual nationals who had been living in the UK for a long time. The Irish embassy has received a huge number of applications and Dublin has published guide on how to obtain documents for 430,000 people of Irish descent living in England, Wales and Scotland. People in Northern Ireland are automatically entitled to claim Irish nationality and post-offices there had, at one stage, run out of application forms.
Meanwhile some of the 1.2 million Britons living in Europe are also trying to get passports from the countries where they are domiciled. Belgium, which is currently the home to 24,000 British expats, mainly working in the institutions of the European Union and Nato in Brussels, has seen an upsurge of applications.
The UK’s Jewish population had voted overwhelmingly, by two to one, to reject Brexit, according to polls. A survey carried out in the aftermath, on behalf of The Jewish Chronicle newspaper, showed that 59 per cent of those questioned were unhappy with the referendum result, compared to 28.3 per cent who were satisfied.
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