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Austrian citizenship for forced laborers: everything you need to know!

Jordan Levy-Bograd

Schruuf

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At the beginning of last September (2020), the new clause of the Austrian “law of return” came into effect. By law, descendants of the Nazi regime victims (Jews and non-Jews) who lived in Austrian territory between the years 1933-1955 are eligible for Austrian citizenship. As a result of the new clause, a question arises regarding the eligibility of World War II prisoners who became forced laborers and were exploited and harmed by the Nazi regime – whether they can receive Austrian citizenship.

According to the committee of historians established in Austria, starting at the time of the “Anschluss” (the annexation of Austria to Germany) in 1938, there were no less than 700,000 war prisoners across Austria who were forced to perform hard physical labor for the Nazi regime.

The forced laborers, who were called “Fremdarbeiter” or “Ostarbeiters”, were foreign workers who were brought from the countries that were conquered by Germany. Most of the forced laborers were brought from Poland, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. According to Nazi racial theory, Russians and Poles were considered inferior to Aryans. Therefore, the Polish and Russian forced laborers were subjected to harsher conditions than prisoners from other countries. The Russian forced laborers had to wear an identifying mark on their clothes, OST, and they were specifically prohibited from such things as: using public transport, leaving their living quarters after working hours, attending cultural events, and going to restaurants or even church.

Austrian citizenship for forced laborers

Who were the forced laborers in Austria?

In July 1941, at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the recruitment of forced laborers from the conquered territories in the Soviet Union was higher than from any other conquered territories. At the end of 1944 the number of foreign forced laborers reached eight million, not including the additional one million war prisoners. Forced laborers from the Soviet Union accounted for 38% of all the forced laborers.

In addition, in June 1944, hundreds of thousands of Jewish war prisoners were deported from Hungary. Some of them were sent to the extermination camps in Auschwitz, and tens of thousands of them were sent to the Strasshof transit camp and from there were scattered to workplaces in Vienna and Lower Austria. These Jews were sent to work in various capacities such as factory work, agricultural work and clearing ruins from the bombings across Vienna, and were subjected to harsh conditions.

Starvation, lack of hygiene and terrible cold: the harsh living conditions of the forced laborers

Children from the age of 12 and elderly people aged 70 were forced to work between 10-12 hours a day, live in starvation, stay in the same clothes they wore the day they were deported, live in terribly unhygienic conditions and suffer from the cold and the violence of the German and Ukrainian guards. These forced laborers became the “forgotten victims” after World War II, because the forced labor was not recognized as a Nazi war crime, even though the victims were often mortally injured and \ or left displaced and destitute.

Many of the forced laborers came from the concentration camps Mauthausen, Dachau and others, and were used as a work force for large industrial factories such as the steel factory “Alpine Montange”, the weapon manufacturer “Steyr-Daimler-Puch” and the generator factory “Alpen-Elektrowerke”. In addition to factory work, the forced laborers worked in building power stations, paving roads, clearing ruins and building factories.

In the early 2000s, in light of a class action law suit filed by American attorney Ed Feighan against the state of Austria for the sum of 18 billion dollars, the Austrian government decided to express remorse and compensate over 131,000 forced laborers with damages in the amount of 352 million Euros.

Are former forced laborers eligible for Austrian citizenship?

The new clause in the Austrian citizenship law that recently came into effect grants the right to Austrian citizenship to descendants of Holocaust survivors and victims of Nazism – but the question arises regarding the eligibility of forced laborers and Red Army captives, as well as their direct descendants (children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren).

Apparently, the only eligible people are forced laborers who were stateless when they were taken as slaves to Austria – refugees, people whose citizenship was taken from them during immigration against their will, etc.

If you are among the direct descendants of such stateless forced laborers, or yourself were a forced laborer between the years 1933-1955 in Austrian territory, you are welcome to contact us in order to evaluate your eligibility for Austrian citizenship.

Why should you check your eligibility for Austrian citizenship for forced laborers?

Austrian citizenship will grant you a European passport, which will serve you as a work and residence permit in any of the 28 countries in the European Union. In addition, you will be able to enjoy scholarships and unique benefits for academic studies across the EU countries, and even study in some countries at no cost. As bearers of Austrian citizenship you have access to full social benefits, health services at the prices set for Austrian residents, and you can even open a business in any one of the EU countries. And that is not all: you will also be eligible for a benefit that every Israeli would be glad to receive – free entrance to the USA without need for a visa from the American embassy.

What is the process of application for Austrian citizenship?

First of all, if you have decided to check whether you are eligible for citizenship – you are in good hands. Our offices specialize in immigration and we are glad to be at your service at any time. We have the legal, bureaucratic, notary, and professional knowledge to guide you successfully towards receiving an Austrian passport.

For the first stage of the process you must contact us for an initial eligibility evaluation. If you are found eligible, you can move on with us through the process of applying for citizenship and submitting all the application documents to the authorities in Austria. You may be required to present documents that prove your connection to Austria. We wish you success.

Austrian citizenship for forced laborers

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