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Austrian citizenship eligibility – questions and answers

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Our offices specialize in obtaining Austrian citizenship for eligible people – descendants of Holocaust and persecution victims in Austria. The purpose of this article is to make the important legal and historical information regarding obtaining Austrian citizenship accessible, in order to help readers efficiently clarify whether or not they are eligible. The article is based on questions we have received from clients over the last year. We have collected the most frequently asked questions and gathered them here for you.

This article describes the history of the Jews in Austria, especially in the capital Vienna; the numbers of Jews who emigrated from the country over the years; the countries they immigrated to; and the number of eligible people in the world today. After reading this article, if you are still not sure whether or not you are eligible, contact us and we will gladly assist you.

Austrian citizenship eligibility 

Austrian citizenship eligibility – questions and answers

The Austrian “Law of Return” calls on descendants of Austrian citizens who were persecuted by the Nazis to exercise their eligibility for citizenship. First, it is important to know something about the number of eligible people in the world; where they currently reside; and what the criteria are for receiving an Austrian passport. Here are some common questions on the subject:

  • How many people worldwide are eligible for Austrian citizenship?

This number is estimated at about 200,000.

  • Where do most of the eligible people currently reside?

Most of them currently live in Israel, the USA, Britain, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Italy. There are smaller numbers of eligible people in South Africa, Central American countries and others.

  • When did most of the Austrian Jews leave the country and where did they go?

Between the years 1938-1945, a total of 126,500 Jews out of a population of 176,000 managed to leave the country. Of these, 55,000 of them fled to other European countries; 30,840 immigrated to Britain; 28,650 to the USA; 18,050 to China (most of them to the port city Shanghai); 11,600 to South and Central America; and almost 10,000 to the Land of Israel.

The rest found shelter in over eighty different countries around the world. Of those who fled to other European countries, 17,610 reached places which were later conquered by the Germans, and close to 13,000 eventually died in concentration camps.

Obtaining Austrian citizenship for Holocaust survivors – questions and answers

Many clients ask us whether it is possible to obtain Austrian citizenship if their ancestors lived in Austria. Yes. But it depends on when they lived there and when they left the country. In more detail:

  • Can anyone whose ancestors were formerly Austrian receive the citizenship?

No. It only applies to the years during which the Third Reich was in power.

  • When did the Third Reich come into power?

From the year 1933 until 1945.

  • Meaning, if my ancestors lived in Austria in those years I am eligible for Austrian citizenship?

Right. If your ancestors were in Austria between 1933-1945 and left it between 1933-1955, you are eligible.

  • Does the term “ancestors” refer to a limited number of generations?

No, there is no generational limit.Austrian citizenship eligibility

  • My grandmother was a victim of Nazi persecution. But my father – the grandmother’s son – is not interested in obtaining a passport. Can I file an application for myself?

Yes. Any eligible person can apply for an Austrian passport without their parents needing to obtain citizenship first.

  • Does the law apply to adopted children as well?

Yes, as long as the children were adopted as minors.

  • Are the great-grandchildren of a person who lived in Austria in the years 1933-1945 eligible for a passport if the great-grandparent did not have Austrian citizenship?

Yes. Due to the anti-semitism prevalent in the 20s and 30s, the Austrian authorities did not recognize many Jews as citizens with equal rights, and so were not quick to grant them citizenship. Today, the Austrian state recognizes the injustice it perpetrated, and the descendants of these people can receive citizenship.

  • If my grandfather was born in Austria in 1947 – after the end of the war – am I eligible?

No. The eligibility only applies if the persecution victim was born up to 1945.

  • Can my husband apply for citizenship?

If your husband is not a descendant of someone who was persecuted in Austria by the Nazi authorities and/or their allies, he cannot apply for citizenship.

  • Am I eligible if my parents were not victims who were persecuted by the Nazis, but fled Austria before 1955?

Yes, if your ancestors left the country because of anti-semitic persecution or fear of persecution, you are still eligible. Descendants of Jews will usually not be required to prove that their ancestors were persecuted or feared persecution.

The next part of this article deals with the subject of mandatory and career military service.

Military background – who can receive Austrian citizenship?

  • I served three mandatory years in the IDF, am I eligible?

Because the compulsory service was not done voluntarily, you are eligible for an Austrian passport.

This may be the most relevant question for Israelis. Note that an Israeli who is currently serving in career army service cannot apply for Austrian citizenship. Those who obtain a citizenship and volunteer to serve in the IDF, will have their Austrian citizenship revoked. People who served as career soldiers in the past can apply like everyone else.

  • I am an officer in career army service, are my children eligible to apply?


  • I have been serving in reserve duty for over ten years, can I receive Austrian citizenship?

Definitely. People who serve in reserve duty on a regular, annual basis are eligible to apply, because the service is compulsory and not voluntary.

  • Are soldier-students (Atuda‘im) eligible for an Austrian passport?

Soldier-students can submit an application.

How to obtain Austrian citizenship – general common questions

  • My great-grandfather left Austria in the late 1800s, am I eligible to apply?

No. The eligibility applies to those whose ancestors fled Austria between 1933 and 1955, for fear of persecution during the Nazis’ rise to power or due to post-war reprecussions.

  • My parents were born in the Danube countries (Romania and Moldova) which were governed by the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1918; am I eligible?

The first condition for eligibility is that your parents lived in the territory of the Austrian Republic for a period of time between the years 1933-1955. If they did not live in the territory considered Austrian (meaning the country, not the empire), you are not eligible.

  • Upon receiving Austrian citizenship, do I automatically lose my existing citizenship?

Israelis will not lose their Israeli citizenship if they receive Austrian citizenship. The Austrian parliament allows Holocaust survivors and their descendants to hold the local citizenship as well as another one. This applies to American citizens as well. However, note that there are countries – among them the Netherlands and the Ukraine – which do not allow their citizens to hold dual citizenship.

  • If I already have more than one citizenship, am I allowed to receive Austrian citizenship as well?

If you already have more than one citizenship, you are still eligible for Austrian citizenship as well. However, it is important to confirm with the relevant authority in your country that you will not lose one of your existing citizenships.

Correcting the gender discrimination

Following the amendment that came into effect last September, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of women who were victims of Nazi persecution are now eligible for citizenship. This is in contrast to the previous law, which discriminated against a large portion of the descendants of female Holocaust survivors and made their eligibility dependent on certain years.

Historical background of the Jews of Austria – Vienna

In the 20s of the previous century, one of every nine Viennese residents was a Jew. Vienna held the sixth largest Jewish population at that time, with a little over 200,000 residents. The constitutional rights granted to the Austrian Jews between the years 1848-1867, and especially the rights to live where they choose, hold property and acquire professional expertise, paved the way for a population increase in the cities, particularly Vienna.

However, Austria in those years was an empire that ruled over the eastern part of Europe, with a territory of about 700,000 square kilometers. Because of this, tens of thousands of Jews who lived in the Empire ended up living in the territory that is now considered Austria – a country in central Europe whose territory is 84,000 square kilometers.

As noted, most of the Jews preferred to immigrate to Vienna. At that time the capital was a thriving, enlightened and developed commercial city, whose educated class was too large to count. Of that prosperous class, about a quarter were Jewish.

Data from the late 19th and early 20th centuries document the huge upsurge of immigration of European Jews to Vienna, showing a steep increase in immigration each year. These immigrants mostly came from the Czech Republic and Hungary, but also from Eastern European countries.

In 1857 there were fewer than 3000 Jews in the capital. However, only twelve years later, in 1869, there were some 40,000 Jews living there. In 1880 their population was estimated at 73,000 and in 1890 it was almost 120,000. In 1910 the population grew to 175,000, reaching its height in 1923 at slightly under 200,000. At this point Jews accounted for 11% of the Viennese population.

However, from then until 1934, we see the departure of some 30,000 Jews from Vienna. In 1951, after the Holocaust, their population was down to about 9,000.

Austrian citizenship eligibility

Notable achievements of Austrian Jewry

The Austrian Jews were a rare social phenomenon. Living among an anti-semitic population that hindered the advancement of anyone who was different, the Jews managed to prosper, invent and develop their skills in large numbers. In fact, the numbers were so large that the likes of them have probably not been seen anywhere else. The small population distinguished itself so thoroughly in Viennese society that it raised the reputation of the entire country in the fields of science, psychology, business, entrepreneurship, development and more.

In 1934, the number of Jewish doctors in Vienna was estimated at 50% of all doctors in the city. A third of the pharmacists were Jewish, 75% of the bank managers, 40% of the silversmiths, 63% of the movie theater owners, 85% of the lawyers, 74% of the wine traders, a third of the photographers, 40% of the café owners, 21% of the optometrists, a third of the dental technicians, over 95% of the managers of advertisement firms, and 100% of the metal merchants.

Our thanks to Mr. Jonathan Gabrielov for writing the historical portion of the article.

For more information, contact us – Austrian citizenship for Jews – Austrian citizenship eligibility – questions and answers

Our offices file applications for descendants of Austrians who were persecuted or feared persecution by the Nazis and their supporters. This includes Austrian citizenship for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the persecuted. We would be glad to advise you on various issues regarding citizenship.

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