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Archival research for obtaining German citizenship – how to do it properly

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Dongdiet & Nellie

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People who were persecuted by the Nazis in Germany, and their descendants, are entitled to receive a German passport under lenient conditions and in a relatively simple procedure. To embark on the process, you must present documents proving your eligibility for German citizenship. For this purpose, it is recommended to conduct archival research in order to locate the required evidence.

German citizenship for Nazi persecution victims – who is eligible?

Since 2020, the eligibility of German Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis to receive German citizenship and a German passport, based on naturalization, has been significantly expanded. This eligibility is generally also valid for the descendants of the persecution victims (children, grandchildren, etc.), who are able to prove that they meet the eligibility conditions. This task is not always simple, however, given the need to present unequivocal proof of eligibility.

Those who pass the hurdle of proving eligibility will be able to apply for naturalization in Germany via a relatively simple procedure, which does not require meeting the conditions and requirements that apply to other applicants for German citizenship (such as mastering the German language or proving a connection to Germany).

Archival research for German citizenship

What benefits does German citizenship confer?

Eligibility for German citizenship entails many benefits, and enables eligible to obtain an additional passport and become citizens of the European Union. This prestigious status allows immigration to all EU countries for the purposes of living, working, studying or visiting, with no time limit. A German passport also allows you to enter the United States and many other countries, without the need to issue a visa in advance. These are just some of the benefits reserved for bearers of German citizenship.

What is the difficulty in proving eligibility for German citizenship and a German passport?

As mentioned, the main difficulty concerns starting the process of obtaining citizenship. German law has established a simple route for citizenship applications for people persecuted by the Nazis, and their descendants, but in order to embark on this route, applicants must prove that the persecution victim on whom the application is based had German citizenship and that the center of their lives in the relevant period (between the years 1933-1945) was in Germany.

What documents can be used to prove eligibility for German citizenship, and where can they be found?

The list of documents that can be used to prove eligibility is not exhaustive. The type of relevant documents varies from case to case. It is generally recommended to look for more than one document, in order to prove unequivocally that the center of life of the family member on whom the application is based was in Germany.

Sometimes you can find records from online databases. For example, there are address books of Jews who lived in large cities in Germany in the years before World War II. Some of these books are available on the Internet. The presence of the applicants or direct relatives of the applicants in these documents may be used as evidence, but it will usually not be sufficient.

A document that may serve as more weighty proof is a reparations file from the German government. Many German Jews received or were entitled to receive reparations, following the persecution of the Nazis and the horrors of the Holocaust. Records of these reparations payments are kept in archives scattered throughout Germany, and a thorough study of them may indicate potential eligibility for German citizenship. Those who received reparations for forced labor, damage to education or damage to the acquisition of a profession, most likely meet the conditions for eligibility for citizenship.

Along with these documents, there are other documents that may serve as relevant evidence, such as registration extracts from Germany, marriage certificates, a professional training certificate, a diploma (high school or academic), etc. On the other hand, a birth certificate will not usually be considered sufficient evidence, since at that time citizens of neighboring countries (such as Poland, Austria and Czechia) came to Germany in order to give birth in the country’s hospitals, even though they were not citizens there.

It is important to note that the weight of the above documents and their ability to be used as proof of eligibility for German citizenship varies from case to case. Accordingly, it is recommended to consult with an attorney specializing in German immigration law, in order to receive a more concrete assessment of your eligibility.

What is the optimal way to conduct archival research?

To conduct an optimal search for evidence of eligibility for German citizenship, it is important to check for relevant documents and records in as many databases as possible. The question of where it is relevant to look depends on the specific circumstances of the case. The main characteristics that affect the location of the search and the relevant databases are the area in Germany where the persecution victims lived and other personal data, such as: age, profession (if relevant), education in Germany (if relevant) and so on.

As mentioned, it is often possible to find initial proofs in the databases available online for free, or for a fee. Alongside this, there are regional archives in Germany, scattered all over the country. You can contact these archives and try to find relevant documents in them. Also, it is often possible to get help from the Jewish communities in the cities where the persecution victim lived. Quite a few of these communities have records with reliable information that may sometimes prove eligibility for citizenship.

It should be taken into account that a long search may be needed before the required evidence is found. It is important to know that these days, German authorities are dealing with a large load of citizenship applications and citizenship eligibility verification requests submitted to them. Accordingly, and in order to shorten the process as much as possible, it is recommended to try and locate the documents required to prove eligibility for German citizenship even before entering the process. If necessary, it is recommended to use an attorney specializing in immigration law for this purpose.

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