Descendants of Shoah survivors must ‘beg’ Germany for citizenship, lawyer says

Descendants of Shoah survivors must ‘beg’ Germany for citizenship, lawyer says

Solicitor in London says more than 100 relatives of Nazi victims have had applications rejected as he helps them navigate the country's complicated laws

The Brandenburg Gate, icon of Berlin and Germany
The Brandenburg Gate, icon of Berlin and Germany

A British lawyer helping the children of Holocaust survivors apply for German citizenship has said applicants virtually need to “beg” before being approved.

Felix Couchman, a solicitor from London, is working with those trying to navigate Germany’s nationality law and says more than 100 descendants of Nazi victims have been turned down.

Article 116 of Germany’s post-war constitution allows descendants of people deprived of their citizenship during the Nazi era to “have their citizenship restored”, but many descendants are being refused on the grounds that they left “voluntarily”.

Couchman, whose own mother came to the UK on the Kindertransport, has been working with the Article 116 Exclusions Group with a view to challenging the country’s interpretation of its constitution at the highest level.

He said his brother was told by the German consulate that he would not be eligible for citizenship because under German naturalisation law, citizenship could only be passed on through the father, up until the 1970s.

In September this year, Austria’s parliament unanimously ratified a law that extends citizenship to the descendants of Nazi victims who fled Hitler’s Third Reich.

Speaking to the BBC, Couchman urged Germany to follow suit, saying: “If Austria is able to pass legislation to rectify the issues over the restitution of citizenship on cross-party lines, I do not see why this cannot be done in Germany.”

In August, the German government issued two decrees giving discretionary naturalisation for those who “suffered similar historical injustices to those set out in [Article 116] but are not entitled to restoration under that Article due to legal reasons”.

But this week Couchman said it was still only “a partial resolution” that does not yet cover all exclusions, such as adopted children. “This is a discretionary act that you have to go in begging for.”

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