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Stewart Florsheim: On Becoming a German Citizen

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If the country that persecuted your family offered you citizenship, what would you do? Stewart Florsheim has this Perspective.

Several years ago, I found out that I could apply for German citizenship and become a dual national. The ruling is for descendants of people who were persecuted for political, racial, or religious reasons between 1933 and 1945 and, as a result, lost their citizenship.

I felt very conflicted about it. My mother is a Holocaust survivor and my father, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany. I grew up in a German-Jewish section of Manhattan, and most of my friends were also children of refugees. Although many of us grew up speaking German, we also grew up with an animosity towards anything related to Germany.

I finally decided to apply. My main motivation was the political situation in the US. I knew I would likely never move to Germany, but I wanted to have access to the EU in case this country moved too far to the right. I also wanted to pave the way for my children to have the same opportunity.

After I submitted my application, it took about six months until I received an email from the German government telling me my naturalization had been approved.


I felt fairly nonchalant when I picked up my document–-a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the consulate staff. They told me how significant it is to become a German citizen. I clearly felt entitled, and a bit guilty about it. If I were an asylee, I would be grateful for Germany’s generous immigration policy–-a humane way to support people who are currently being persecuted and, possibly, for the country to make amends.

I thought about my parents, who would not have approved of my new citizenship. Bist du Wahnsinn, they would have said in German and, in case I didn’t get it, they would have repeated in English, Have you lost your mind? I would tell them, perhaps, but have no plans to move to Germany–-and now, I have restored a status that has always rightfully been theirs.

With a Perspective, I’m Stewart Florsheim.

Stewart Florsheim is a writer and content strategist living in the East Bay.

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