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European passport for Israelis: comparing the citizenship laws of Germany and Austria

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Many Israelis looking for an opportunity to obtain an additional passport find that they are eligible for German or Austrian citizenship because their family was persecuted by the Nazis. In recent years, the two strongest economies in Europe, Germany and Austria, have decided to expand the eligibility of Nazi persecution victims and their descendants to receive Austrian or German citizenship. There are points of similarity between the legal situations of the two countries, but there are also some significant differences. In this article we will explain the similarities and differences between the citizenship laws of Germany and Austria.

Why were amendments required in the citizenship laws of Germany and Austria?

The Jews who lived in Austria and Germany before and during World War II can be divided into two categories: those who had citizenship in the country they lived in, and those who did not. Those who were citizens of Germany or Austria before the Nazis came to power, and lost their citizenship due to anti-Semitic laws, were usually entitled to get it back after the war was over and the laws were updated.

On the other hand, until recently there was no option for obtaining citizenship for some descendants of Nazi persecution victims, such as those whose origin was only from female German/Austrian citizens on the mother’s side. This was a terrible injustice reminiscent of the infamous racial laws. After Austria and Germany recognized this, both countries passed extensive amendments to the legislation, and now they approve the acquisition of citizenship without discrimination based on the sex of the original persecution victim.

Who can obtain citizenship?

To be eligible for an Austrian passport or a German passport by descent, you must be a descendant of a Nazi persecution victim who was a resident of the relevant country. Please note that eligibility is only for direct descendants, that is, you must be the child, grandchild or great-grandchild of the victim. It is not possible to obtain citizenship based on extended family relations, such as cousins of Nazi persecution victims.

How is eligibility for citizenship proven?

In order to prove that you are really descendants of Jews who lived in Germany or Austria in the past, you will need to find documents proving that your ancestors lived there. You’ll have to present birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, university diplomas, travel documents, exit documents from one of the countries or any other official document.

European passport for Israelis: comparing the citizenship laws of Germany and Austria

If you are not sure how to prepare a proper application or where to look for the required documents, you can contact a law office that specializes in the field. Submitting a proper application that includes all the required documents will improve the chances of it being approved.

Differences between the process of obtaining Austrian citizenship and German citizenship

There are quite a few similarities between the process of obtaining a German passport and an Austrian passport. For example, in both cases you need to attach documents that support the application for citizenship and there is no requirement to give up existing citizenship. However, there are a number of differences between the two countries that can affect your eligibility.

Which years can the citizenship application be submitted for?

One of the significant differences between Germany and Austria is the period for which each of the countries is willing to grant citizenship. According to Austrian law, citizenship can be obtained for people who were residents of Austria and fled from it in the years 1933-1955. On the other hand, the German law ends the eligibility period on May 8, 1945 (about ten years earlier than Austria).

Since World War II ended in 1945, there is logic in Germany’s decision to end the eligibility period in that year. However, Austria decided to allow a longer period of time due to the understanding that for many, the official end of the war was not the end of hardship. Many Jews remained in Austria even after the war to look for relatives with whom contact had been lost, or because they were unable to leave due to physical or psychological injuries.

Status of the original resident

Germany grants citizenship to anyone who was a German resident in the relevant years and was forced to leave the country due to Nazi persecution. In contrast, Austria also grants citizenship to those who were residents without citizenship at all, or resided in the territory of modern-day Austria with the citizenship of one of the countries that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Romania, Hungary and Poland.

Career army service in the IDF

If you are a soldier in career service or a volunteer in the IDF, you will not be able to apply for an Austrian passport as long as you are in the Army. Moreover, if you have Austrian citizenship and you enlist in career army service, your citizenship will be revoked and you will not be entitled to reinstate it. After discharge from the IDF, there is no obstacle to applying for Austrian citizenship. On the other hand, in Germany there is no such restriction and even career soldiers can apply for citizenship.

Application processing time

The process of obtaining Austrian citizenship is conducted more quickly and usually approval is granted within 6-8 months. On the other hand, in Germany it is a longer process that requires a wait of about two years and sometimes even longer. Keep in mind that the manner in which the application is submitted, with an emphasis on the quality of the documents attached to it, may affect the amount of time it will take to decide on your case.

Do you need legal assistance?

Those who have the time, ability and mental energy required to deal with a lengthy bureaucratic process can apply for citizenship by themselves. However, if you are not completely sure what to do and how to proceed, you should contact a professional who can handle the request for you.

We at the law office Decker, Pex, Levi specialize in immigration law and offer our clients full, comprehensive service when it comes to obtaining foreign citizenship. We take part in locating documents in the archives, perform notarization, take care of the translation and make sure that everything goes optimally, starting from submitting the application until you actually receive the passport.

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