Newspaper article International New York Times

After 'Brexit,' a Way Back into E.U. for British Jews ; Rarely Used 1949 Law Offers Chance to Claim Citizenship in Germany

Newspaper article International New York Times

After 'Brexit,' a Way Back into E.U. for British Jews ; Rarely Used 1949 Law Offers Chance to Claim Citizenship in Germany

Article excerpt

A desire to retain the right to live and work on the Continent leads some in Britain to explore unusual ways to gain a second passport after the Brexit vote.

Until Britain voted to leave the European Union, Philip Levine never thought deeply about his Jewish heritage.

But looking for a way to ensure that he could still work and live in Europe once Britain leaves the bloc, Mr. Levine, 35, who was born in Britain and lives in London, decided to do what many Jews, including his relatives, might consider unthinkable: apply for German citizenship.

He did so by employing a provision of German law that has been on the books since 1949 but that has been little used in recent years. It allows anyone whom the Nazis stripped of their German citizenship "on political, racial, or religious grounds" between Jan. 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945, and their descendants, to have their citizenship restored. Most of those who lost their citizenship during that period were Jews, though they also included other minorities and political opponents.

He is not alone in turning to the German law in response to Britain's decision to end its membership in the European Union, also known as Brexit. Since the vote in June, the German Embassy in London said it had received at least 400 requests for information for German citizenship under the legal provision, known as Article 116.

At least 100 are formal applications by individuals or families, said Knud Noelle, an embassy official. "We expect more in coming weeks," he said, adding that the embassy normally receives roughly 20 such applications every year.

The interest among British Jews is far greater than ever before, said Michael Newman, the chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, who said that he, too, was considering applying for German citizenship. The association is based in London.

"I don't remember hearing of requests before" for German citizenship, in all of the association's 75-year-old history, he said. "It's taken Brexit to do this. It was a game-changer."

The development is among the most surprising among a variety of techniques being employed by British and European citizens as they seek a second passport that would allow them to retain their ability to travel, work and live anywhere in the bloc even after Britain's departure from the bloc is complete sometime in the next several years. People from the Continent living in Britain, Britons living in Europe and Britons living at home but eager to retain the benefits of European citizenship are investigating their heritage, considering marriage, studying residency requirements and otherwise searching for legal paths to getting around the effects of the British vote.

"I didn't realize how simple it is," Mr. Levine said of the application process for German citizenship, adding that he had done it initially for practical reasons and because his brother brought it up. "It's literally a back door" into Europe.

But if the process is straightforward, it is wrapped in complex questions of identity and statehood that tore Europe apart in the last century, one more unintended consequence of Britain's decision to go its own way after more than 20 years of membership in the union.

In Mr. Levine's case, his grandparents fled Germany in 1939, at the start of World War II. They kept their documents, including old passports and entry visas into Britain, which are necessary for the application process.

About 70,000 Jews from Germany, Austria and the former Czechoslovakia arrived in Britain before 1939, Mr. Newman said. But they were regarded with suspicion by the British authorities. Many were held in internment camps in places like the Isle of Wight, often together with pro-Nazi Germans who had also decided to resettle in Britain.

After the Nazi Party was declared the only legal party in Germany, the government passed a law to strip individual Jews of their German citizenship, with their names listed in the Reich Law Gazette. …

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