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Why is it so important to conduct archival research in order to obtain Austrian citizenship?

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

The process of applying for Austrian citizenship for people persecuted by the Nazis in Austria and their descendants has, in recent years, become simpler than before. Likewise, the list of those entitled to citizenship has been greatly expanded. However, in order to embark on the process, applicants must provide proof of their eligibility. If you do not have such proof on hand, you can conduct archival research in order to find relevant proof for the purpose of obtaining Austrian citizenship.

Austrian citizenship for Nazi persecution victims and their descendants – what benefits does it confer and how does one prove eligibility?

Following a reform of the Austrian Citizenship Law that took effect in 2020, Jews who lived in Austria, were persecuted by the Nazi regime and left Austrian territory before May 15, 1955, may be eligible to receive Austrian citizenship. This entitlement also passes to descendants of the persecution victims (children, grandchildren and sometimes even great-grandchildren).

The result is that hundreds of thousands of Israelis may be eligible to receive Austrian citizenship and an Austrian passport. Austrian passport holders can visit any of the European Union countries and stay in them freely, for the purposes of work, studies, etc. They can enter over 180 countries in the world, including countries that people with only Israeli passports are not allowed to enter. It is also possible, with an Austrian passport, to enter the United States without the need for a visa.Archival research for Austrian citizenship

In order to become Austrian citizens and enjoy these significant benefits, applicants must first prove their eligibility for citizenship. Eligibility can be proven through documents showing that the family relations who were persecuted by the Nazis, on whom the application is based, do indeed meet the eligibility conditions stated in the Austrian Citizenship Law.

Proving eligibility is rather complicated for many, as the Austrian authorities require the presentation of unequivocal evidence of the original persecution victim’s connection to Austria, as well as between the victim and their descendant. However, this evidence is not always available. In many cases, finding proof of eligibility requires conducting a search in the Austrian archives, and this is a task that can be quite complex. Below we will explain this in detail.

What documents may prove eligibility for Austrian citizenship?

To show the Austrian authorities that you are among those eligible to receive Austrian citizenship for Nazi persecution victims and their descendants, you must provide evidence that the persecution victims were residents of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1933 – 1955, and the center of their lives was in an area that is part of Austria today.

The list of documents that may be used as proof of this is quite extensive. It may include, among other things, old passports, diplomas attesting to high school or academic studies in Austria, marriage certificates, registration extracts from a local authority in Austria, and so on. The type of relevant documents varies from case to case according to the personal characteristics of the persecuted (age, area of residence, the date they left Austria, etc.).

When may archival research be required for obtaining Austrian citizenship?

If you do not possess evidence of the kind mentioned above, or if the documentation you have is not sufficient to unequivocally prove initial eligibility for Austrian citizenship, research in the Austrian archives, which have done a fairly good job of preserving documents from the relevant period, may yield the necessary evidence.

You can contact the archives in Austria for the purpose of locating documents that you are missing, both for the purpose of proving the initial eligibility and entry into the process, and for the purpose of submitting documents that are relevant to the citizenship application, such as a marriage certificate of the persecution victim.

How is archival research conducted successfully?

The key to successful archival research, for the purpose of finding evidence required to prove eligibility to receive Austrian citizenship, lies in understanding what the relevant documents are, and where exactly to look for them. As mentioned, the relevant documents vary from case to case, according to different characteristics of the family relation who was persecuted by the Nazis and on whom the application is based.

Thus, for example, if the persecuted were young boys during the relevant period, a high school diploma may serve as relevant proof. If they were students, it is recommended to try to find a certificate of academic studies. If they owned a business, the business registration certificate in which they appear as the owner, or other official documents linking them to the business, could help prove a life center in Austria.

A central difficulty that often arises is that the relevant details about the persecution victim are unknown. In these cases, it is important to conduct genealogical research to find out these details, even before setting out on the search for relevant documents. More often than not, the persecution victim on whom the application is based is no longer alive. In these cases, you can try to ask family members about the background of the persecution victim.

Where should the archival research be conducted?

Once you have figured out which documents may be relevant, you submit an application to the official Austrian archives. In many cases, another difficulty arises — locating the relevant archive. There are quite a few archives in Austria, some of which are very large and some of which are quite small. It is important to figure out in advance which archives you should contact.

If, for example, it is known that the persecution victim lived in Vienna, the search task may be simpler, since the archives in Vienna contain records of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding metropolis. On the other hand, if it is only known that the persecution victim lived in the Salzburg area, for example, the situation may be more complicated. This is because there are about 160 towns and villages around Salzburg, and the documentation may be found in the archives of any one of them.

This is where the experience of an attorney specializing in Austrian immigration law comes into play, whose experience will enable them to help in locating the relevant place to search for the documentation required to prove eligibility for an Austrian passport. Enlisting the services of an attorney who specializes in handling Austrian citizenship applications already at the early stage of locating proof of eligibility, may significantly streamline the process of applying for Austrian citizenship.

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