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Title: Putting Past Aside, Jews Seek German Citizenship In The Age Of Trump - Vocativ
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Putting Past Aside,
Jews Seek German
Citizenship In The Age
Jews whose families ﬂed Germany during the Holocaust are eligible for
citizenship — and more are taking advantage of it
Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
By Jessica Leber
Mar 29, 2017 at 5:16 PM ET
On election night in November, Dari Stolzoﬀ watched the late returns with the
sinking feeling that the country she was born in was suddenly foreign to her.
Trump’s win shocked her in a visceral way, as it did for many of her neighbors in
the liberal state of Washington.
“That bubble really did burst,” she said. “I was terriﬁed.”
Soon after, Stolzoﬀ learned she had an option to ease her fears about the future,
if not to actually act on, that most of her neighbors do not: She could apply to to
become a citizen of Germany.
Stolzoﬀ’s grandmother was a German Jew who ﬂed the Holocaust by going to
China, living for a time in Shanghai’s Jewish ghetto before eventually entering the
U.S. with her husband and son. Stolzoﬀ never knew her grandmother, but she
learned recently that if she could dig up the right documentation, she could
apply for restored German citizenship as a direct descendant of a victim of Nazi
persecution. She’s looking for her grandmother’s birth certiﬁcate now.
Jews all over the world have taken advantage of their right to German dual
citizenship, especially in recent years, as a generation more removed from the
Holocaust — usually the grandkids — has felt less uneasy about the historical
irony of returning to a country that persecuted or killed their relatives.
Many apply seeking the perks that come with gaining an EU passport and the
ﬂexibility to work and live abroad.
Yet the increase in applications Germany has received more recently is also
driven by something else: politics, fear, and uncertainty about the future. After
Brexit, the Guardian reported in October that applications from British Jews
came ﬂooding in, with a spike from around 25 annually to at least 500 in 2016.
A similar trend is emerging from the U.S. since President Trump’s win and the
increase in anti-Semitic episodes that has followed, with Jewish cemeteries being
vandalized, bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers, and the political rise
of the white supremacy-embracing “alt right.”
Many are seeing Germany in a new light, too. While Trump has promoted an
isolationist, populist agenda that walks America back from its traditional role as a
Western leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped forward,
welcoming refugees and embracing free trade as leader of Europe’s largest
economy. Politico called her the “leader of the free world” when she met with
Trump in March.
Already from November to January, there’s been a “perceptible increase” in U.S.
applications for restored citizenship, said Bradford Elder, press oﬃcer at the
German embassy in Washington, DC. In the month of January 2017, which is the
most recent with available data, applications were more than double what they
were in January the year prior. The general interest in submitting an application,
he said, has “also signiﬁcantly increased since November.”
Julius K. Niesert, a German immigration attorney in New York City, felt this almost
immediately after Election Day. His ﬁrm, Rowland & Petroﬀ, began ﬁelding calls
every week on the topic rather than a handful a year.
“I would say 50 percent are directly linking or mentioning our new president as
one of the reasons why they are more concerned and why they think that having
an additional citizenship would be a good option,” he said.
Many don’t seem to have concrete plans to move to Germany, but they view
citizenship as a backup plan, with right-wing extremist sentiment on the rise both
in the U.S. and globally (the Trump administration has even been accused
of ﬂirting with Holocaust denial).
“I’m not dying to leave the country,” said Karen Sime, a college professor at SUNY
Oswego who started the process of applying for German citizenship more than a
year prior to the election and is still waiting for a response. “But whenever we
hear some particularly gruesome story in the news, my husband will be like ‘so
how’s that German citizenship application coming along?”
Donna Swarthout, an American Jew who now lives in Germany as a citizen, said
the U.S. election reinforces her decision to stay away. Contributors to a book she
is writing about restored citizenship have also cited a new perspective on the
value of their German passport since the election, she said.
There is, of course, tension in the idea that American Jews whose past has been
shaped by persecution could ever consider leaving the U.S. as others —
particularly Muslim refugees and undocumented immigrants — are targeted by
the Trump administration.
Jews who have been refugees throughout history have a “moral obligation to
today’s refugees,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president for community
engagement at the U.S. refugee resettlement agency HIAS, which was active
during World War II and is today.
“While I can understand in the current devastating climate in our country an
individual’s desire to expand their options — to look to see where else besides
America might they be able to live, I think it is problematic in the same way that
seeking escape to Canada is,” she told Vocativ in an email.
Sime agreed, saying she wouldn’t want to leave the country and abandon the
many who are more vulnerable than her. Anyway, most of her anxieties about
Trump, on issues such as climate change and the global economy, would follow
her to Germany if she ever lived there. Mostly, she hopes her application will
provide additional options for her children.
However, for Stolzoﬀ, leaving the U.S. is a “constant topic of discussion” between
she and her husband, regardless of whether her German citizenship comes
through. Sometimes, those discussions involve imagining a truly catastrophic
future in the U.S.
“There were too many people who didn’t move soon enough and died because of
it,” she said, referring to World War II. “It was called ridiculous or nonsensical —
what could possibly happen here? I don’t want to be part of that this go-around.”
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