The beginning of a new year brings renewed optimism that I will soon receive good news about my German citizenship application. I have decided that it is bad luck to continue my efforts to penetrate the German bureaucracy so I am unable to give any update on the status of my application. Someone, somewhere, has a stack of papers on their desk that includes German birth records for both of my parents and my maternal grandparents. So it must be only a matter of time until my German citizenship is restored……richtig?
I don’t know what it felt like for my grandparents to be stripped of their German citizenship, to be stateless from 1938 until 1944, and to finally become American citizens. My maternal grandmother seemed to remain stateless, eventually leaving America for Israel, then Switzerland, and finally going back to her beloved Germany. My paternal grandparents were more typical immigrants, creating their own oasis of German culture in the middle of New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood (complete with apfel strudel, kartoffel salat, and lots of wurstchen!).
Three generations later my children now have the opportunity to become true global citizens. Germany generally does not allow for dual citizenship, but ethnic German repatriates are one of the exceptions. As German citizens our family will have access to universal health care (we can even choose our own doctors!) and Germany’s free (yes, it really is free!) system of higher education. We will automatically become citizens of the European Union. This means we can live, work, and study at a university in any EU country under the same conditions as nationals (language requirements notwithstanding).
Is this a rejection of our American citizenship? No, but there is much more than a symbolic significance to becoming naturalized German citizens. My life may not dramatically change, but my children and their descendants will have opportunities that my grandparents could never have imagined.