Regaining Citizenship: Jewish-American Families Reclaim German Roots
When Donna Swarthout was a little girl growing up in New Jersey she remembers asking her grandparents about the country they, as Jews, had fled more than two decades before. What, she would ask, what it was like in Germany?
They had made new lives for themselves in New York. Her grandfather drove a cab, her grandmother made clothes for dolls. Their son, Donna’s father, had graduated from City College and was an engineer. They didn’t want to talk about their lives in Altwiedermus, a village near Frankfurt where the family had owned a tannery. Or about the years they spent in Frankfurt trying to escape Nazi persecution by blending into the larger Jewish community there.
“They didn’t want anything to do with Germany again,” says Swarthout, 52.
But her own interest in Germany remained. And last year, Swarthout did what an increasing number of American Jews of German descent have done in recent years: She applied for German citizenship.
“I’ve always felt German,” she says. “Probably more German than Jewish.”
Under Article 116 of Germany’s constitution, known as the Basic Law, anyone who had their citizenship revoked during the Nazi regime for “political, racist, or religious reasons” is eligible to reapply for German citizenship. The provision also makes allowances for the descendants of Nazi victims, and does not require them to give up the citizenship of their new home countries.