Obtaining an Austrian passport for victims of persecution by the Nazi regime
Austria, located in central Europe, is a country with a rich history and culture, and is currently considered one of the most advanced and stable countries in the world. Israelis who obtain an Austrian European passport for Nazi persecution victims and their descendants will be able to hold it simultaneously with their Israeli passport, and will not be required to give up their Israeli citizenship. In fact, these people become dual citizens.
The geography of Austria
Austria borders no less than eight different countries – Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Lichtenstein – a strategic location in central Europe which contributes to the Austrian economy and culture. Although Austria’s population is similar to Israel’s (about nine million), its area is four times larger, and hence its population density is significantly lower than that of Israel.
The political system in Austria
The political system in Austria is a republican democracy, with the republic divided into nine states (“Länder”). Each state has its own parliament, but compared to federations such as the United States or Germany, in Austria almost all political and legal authority is vested in the central government. In 1995 Austria joined the European Union and in 1999 it joined the Eurozone.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Jews
The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which ruled the current territory of Austria from 1867 to 1918, was one of the most powerful political forces in Europe. At its peak, about 51 million people lived in the empire, of which about 2 million were Jews (about four percent of the population). The emperor Franz Joseph granted the Jews full equal rights, and as a result they were assimilated into the culture and economy of the empire, and had a huge influence on Austrian culture. The most familiar name among Austrian Jews is of course Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalytic theory, and one of the most prominent figures in modern human history. Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl, the father of Zionism, also studied at the University of Vienna, and was the editor of the leading liberal newspaper “Neue freie Presse” (New Free Press).
Austrian Jews after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
In 1918, after WWI, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated, and the empire’s territories were divided among several countries, including the First Austrian Republic. During this period, over a quarter of a million Jews lived in Austria. The vast majority of Austrian Jews lived in Vienna, over ten percent of whose residents were Jewish – among them tens of thousands of Jews who immigrated to the city from the east of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without ever becoming Austrian citizens.
Austrian Jews after the Nazis’ rise to power
In 1933, the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, which led, among other things, to a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Austria. In 1934, the Austro-Fascist Party came to power, and on March 12, 1938, the “Anschluss” (annexation in German) took place, in which the Third Reich annexed Austria and enforced the racial laws (Nuremberg Laws) on the Jewish community in Austria.
In 1938, the infamous Adolf Eichmann was appointed “Head of the Jewish Department in Austria”. Under Eichmann, the Nazis confiscated the Jews’ property and forcibly deported them from Austria. Up until the outbreak of the war, over 125 thousand Jews were deported from Austria to 89 different countries. Unfortunately, the majority of the Jews who remained in Austria after the outbreak of WWII were slaughtered in the Holocaust – about 50,000 people. On top of that, about 15,000 Austrian Jews who immigrated to other European countries were murdered during the occupation of Europe by the Nazis. According to the new Austrian legislation, the direct descendants of all these Jews will be entitled to receive Austrian citizenship.
What is the new legislation that enables an Austrian passport for people persecuted by the Nazi regime and their direct descendants?
Wishing to take responsibility for the atrocities committed by the Nazis, in 2019 the Austrian Parliament enacted Amendment C58 to the Austrian Citizenship Law, which entered into force in September 2020. Since the amendment did not allow the granting of citizenship to all descendants of those persecuted by the Nazi regime, for various reasons, the Austrian Parliament passed an expanded provision, which entered into effect in May 2022. The expanded provision allows those persecuted by the Nazi regime and their direct descendants (including grandchildren and great-grandchildren), including people who lived in Austrian territories without citizenship, and were forced to flee the country, to receive Austrian citizenship. According to estimates, over 200,000 Israelis are entitled to an Austrian passport based on the new legislation.
You can read about the criteria defining a “persecuted person” in the context of the amendment on the Austrian Embassy’s website.
What possibilities do European passport holders enjoy?
Holders of a European passport enjoy, among other things, the possibility to live, work and study (in many places for free) in any of the 27 countries that are members of the European Union. In addition, the passport grants access to countries that Israelis cannot enter, and even the possibility of entering the United States without the need to issue a visa in advance. It should be noted that Austria’s position in the Union is stable, and public opinion polls indicate that the vast majority of the country’s citizens are interested in Austria remaining part of the European Union.
Democracy in Austria
According to the democracy index of Economist magazine, Austria was ranked 20th in 2022, and is defined as a “full democracy”. Austria has a constitution, and the Constitutional Court is authorized to review the legality of laws passed by the parliament, administrative regulations and violation of constitutional rights of the country’s residents. Like the other member states of the European Union, it is subject to the laws of the European Union and is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights – which is an additional reinforcement for the protection of human rights in the country, since any person who claims to have been harmed as a result of a violation of this convention may appeal directly to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that they have suffered a human rights violation by Austria.
The Austrian economy
Austria’s economy is capitalist, and is in 22nd place in the global economic liberty index (by comparison, Israel is in 43rd place), with its gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for purchasing power, placing it in 14th place in the world (Israel is in 29th place). The disparities with Israel become even more prominent when considering the two countries’ positions in the “Gini Index“, which examines economic inequality in society; while Austria is ranked 21st in the world, with 29.7 index points, Israel is ranked 85th, with 37 index points (a value of 0 means a completely equal distribution of wealth, and a value of 100 means that all income is in the possession of a single person).
Despite the fact that the economy is capitalist, its citizens enjoy particularly generous social benefits. On top of that, about a quarter of the apartments in Austria belong to public housing, and are not subject to market fluctuations.
Austrian citizenship – why must you act quickly?
Austria may decide at any time to tighten the conditions in its legislation for obtaining citizenship, as has happened recently with Portugal. Accordingly, it is advisable not to wait, in order to make sure that the lenient conditions still apply to you and your relatives.
Why is it important to seek help from an attorney who specializes in immigration law in order to obtain an Austrian passport?
Our office specializes in the field of administrative law, including the issue of eligibility for European passports. Office staff members speak the languages of the various countries (in this case German), and are skilled in working with the foreign authorities. For the purpose of obtaining the passport, we locate documents and certificates that prove a client’s family connection to Austria.
The authorities in Austria are very strict, so it is important to know how to deal with them bureaucratically. Those who are not involved in the intricacies of the Austrian bureaucracy may suffer delays in their application, and may even have their application denied – an unnecessary result that can certainly be avoided if you choose to use an attorney. There are quite a few examples of people who started the procedure independently, came up against the wall of bureaucracy, and gave up – where an experienced attorney could have solved the problem. Therefore, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
In order to ascertain your eligibility or the eligibility of your family members for an or for any advice and assistance on the matter, the attorneys from our office are available to you. You can contact us at the phone numbers and email address listed below and schedule a consultation with an immigration law expert at our office, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
This article was written in collaboration with attorney Adam Johnson.