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vendredi 22 avril 2011


This is just one of those amazing stories that would hit the bestseller lists if someone with Kafka’s talent wrote it.

Nevertheless, I’ll do my very best, and hope you’ll follow me, part of the way at least?

Let me introduce a dear cousin of mine, Ms Z.

I know, I wrote about French director Costa-Gavras last week, and he hit fame thanks to a movie called just that (Z): see how bigheaded I am getting?

Anyway, Ms Z. happens to be the daughter of Ms. R. a German-born lady, who had to leave Germany in a hurry back in the late thirties, with her parents, much against their will, but wisely so.

Guess what? They were deprived of their German citizenship and declared stateless some time later. Sounds familiar?

I shall spare you the details of the family’s fate during WW2, and focus on the fact that they were eventually able to immigrate to the USA and eventually (meaning a good while later….) all of them were granted US citizenship.


Ms R. then married an American citizen, which means that Ms Z, the person I am interested in, was born in the USA with the obvious result that she was an American citizen by birth.

All is well that ends well?

Not quite.

Even though Ms Z. is perfectly happy to enjoy this status and even though she has lived all her life in California and even though she is determined to keep her citizenship her whole life, something surprising caught her eye one day.

This is it: "http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-07-270955086_x.htm"

She thus learned that she might be able to get back the German citizenship that her mother and grandparents had been deprived of due to the National-Socialist laws and regime - a status Ms Z. might otherwise have inherited. (OK, by a long stretch, but you get the idea).

Ms Z. is a keen traveler and lover of Europe, so, notwithstanding a painful history with Germany’s own history, she jumped on the piece of information.

It seems indeed very desirable to be able to combine both passports nowadays. Who knows which haven will prove safer in the decades to come: America or Europe?

Well, not so simple as it seems, where red tape is concerned, wherever...

Due to the date of her birth and due to the fact that German citizenship would have been passed on to Ms Z. through her MOTHER and not through her FATHER, it seemed she would not be eligible for the great honor of becoming German again. Indeed, citizenship only came to be passed on from a mother (instead of a father) to her children in 1953, when Germany acknowledged that a woman’s rights equaled a man’s in that matter. Hence, any child born before that date could not have benefited from his or her mother’s status, nor can they now, the law not being retroactive….

This is without knowing Ms Z. and her determination….

What? Her mother’s heritage was considered less German, less legitimate, for coming from a WOMAN?

Not only had Ms R. been rejected in those awful years of the Nazi regime, for being Jewish, but now, her daughter could not reclaim her due?

Ms Z’s younger sibling would be entitled to getting the desired passport, just because she happened to have been born a couple of years later? This today makes no sense whatsoever, and certainly not to someone attached – as I am – to equal rights between men and women, not to mention between siblings!

She fought on and on, produced all the musty documents that were asked by all sorts of officials, hopefully shouted loud enough over the internet for her cry to be heard right - to be now told that her file is considered worthy of being considered kosher enough to be sent ‘Nach Berlin!’ for further examination.

Now we are all keeping our fingers crossed so that the right people in the right place will grant her what she wants: a small compensation for what her family went through, and for losing the benefits of rightfully belonging to our United Nations of Europe since the day she was born.

All I can wish for is to be among those who will witness the event in a few months – the handing of a E.U passport to a long lost citizen of our beloved Europe! For it will also indicate that bureaucrats (so often ill-spoken of) have another answer than “this must be done by the book”, and that someone, somewhere has a mind of his or her own – and a memory.

And all this when, after years of listening to our parents’ motto (“I’ll never buy a German car!”), I am finally driving one. Probably manufactured and assembled by all sorts of immigrants across twelve European countries, proudly sold by French dealers, and aptly paid in euros!

Here is the world for you, so why the hassle over nationality anymore?

(You made it to the end? GOOD! In that case, have a great weekend, wherever you happen to be living!)

4 commentaires:

  1. Cathie,

    Merci beaucoup pour cette histoire. C'est triste on trouve les problèmes après une autre generation.Mais, peut-être la situation va changer a l'avenir.

    L'année dernière, j'ai eu l'occasion de visiter Allemagne et Autriche. Le guide de tour était un Canadien (Québécois!) mais ses parents viennent de la France. Donc, il a obtenu une autre passeport et il est devenu Français! Naturellement il est plus facile de travailler en Europe si on est Français.


    Bonne vacances a tous!

  2. (Also in English at Cathie's request!):


    Thank you very much for this story. It is sad to see these problems for another generation. But, perhaps in future the situation will change.

    Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Germany and Austria. The tour guide we had was Canadian (from Quebec) but his parents come from France. Hence, he obtained another passport * and he became French! Naturally it is easier to work in Europe if one is a French national.

    A happy holiday to all!

    * This should have been 'un passeport' in the French posting I made. 'Passport' in French is, of course, masculine (i.e. 'un') not feminine ('une').

    Additional comment:

    By coincidence, while staying in Germany in 2010 we got talking with an American party at the hotel. Having heard me speaking to one of the waiters in German, one of the American ladies asked if I had been born in Germany. She also thought the Cumbrian accent I have when speaking in Engish was a German accent!

    This particular lady also spoke German. She went on to say she had been born in Germany but brought up in America. My first thought was that her father might have been an American G.I. based in Germany after the war, some of whom lived with their families at bases in Germany.

    In fact, this lady had been born into a German Jewish family shortly before the war. Luckily for all concerned, her parents had managed to get out of Germany when they saw the way things were going, and settled in the USA. I think this lady was travelling on an American passport.

    However, unlike Ms Z. of Cathie's story, having been born in Germany in the 1930s, presumably she would be able to claim a German passport if she wished. My impression (such as it is) was that she liked touring Germany (& Austria) from time to time ... but in the way an American visitor would visit Germany, similar to the others in her group.

  3. Thanks for your contribution Joseph, always pertinent.

    How confusing it all is! I believe if your American lady was born in the thirties, from a German father, then yes she would have been able to claim a German passport, indeed.

    Now your story is interesting. Have you ever read the book "Reunion" written by Fred Uhlman in English? It explains very well the mixed feelings survivors has as regards speaking German (or even visiting Germany).
    Our generation has overcome this, thanks to the tremendous work accomplished by Germany to honour the victims of another time.

  4. Strange tale, that one – it does sound very German-Jewish. The deep assimilation...

    I've a strong feeling for the German tongue, it's as though I were suffering from amnesia and somehow could not recover a language which I feel, at some deep level, to be my own. Perhaps that may even make some sense, as my mother must have been speaking (and writing) German for much of the first years of her life. It was the Nazis who wiped the language of Goethe off the blackboard of her mind.

    Despite all that's wrong with that truncated head of a country, I've sometimes been tempted to claim Austrian citizenship, to which I know I have a right (via my maternal grandfather, who fought for Austria in WWI and spent two years in a Russian P.o.W. camp, followed by nearly four years in Moscow doing priority work – surveying prisons and the future GULAG camps for the new Soviet State – until, on his third attempt, he escaped and returned home to Vienna). Why the temptation? Out of a desire to help my stepson, a fine musician who had the misfortune to be born in Russia, and at the wrong time; and who’d have appreciated the opportunity to live in that most musical of countries. Yet my wife couldn't bear to live in Germany or Austria...

    So here we are... in a land where I've always felt at ease, yet so very foreign, as I come from a background where arrogance needs no crutches, stereotyped modes of not-thinking are very much in evidence and people don't justify their prejudices. Of course, that's a caricature of the English, but it's true enough to have made it hard at times for me to encompass Frenchmen's rationalisations and justifications for beliefs and mental habits no less weird than those of my compatriots. Conversely, I've come across French experts, even linguists, quite unable to accept forms of logic valid but unfamiliar to them...

    I’ve worked with many nationalities. In this particular connection, my German colleagues held an intermediate position. They'd often shock me with their stolid literal belief in the rationality of views that were in reality deeply emotional... again and again clothing irrationality in the language of cold reason. Italians tend towards the converse and Toscanini exemplifies a certain manner of manifesting wild passion while remaining inwardly cool and controlling. The Italians with whom I worked would be forever jumping up and down, writing poetry, demonstrating, going on strike... yet always working hard behind that chaotic facade and never, never missing a deadline. My people would soon have gone crazy in that kind of atmosphere...

    Aren't we human beings strange?