Brexit forces UK Jews to apply for German citizenship

Brexit forces UK Jews to apply for German citizenship January 29, 2019

THE grandson of a 93-year-old UK woman who survived the Holocaust is among thousands of British Jews who have applied for German citizenship as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

Image via YouTube

Simon Wallfisch grew up in London as the grandson of Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, above, an Auschwitz survivor who swore to never return to the country that murdered her parents and six million other Jews.

Wallfisch, 36, a well-known classical singer and cellist who received his German passport in October said:

This disaster that we call Brexit has led to me just finding a way to secure my future and my children’s future. In order to remain European I’ve taken the European citizenship.

Simon Wallfisch with wig and cello taking part in an anti-Brexit protest in the UK. Image via YouTube.

His grandmother was 18 in December 1943 when she was deported to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where more than one million Jews were murdered.

She survived because she was a member of the camp’s girls’ orchestra.

As a cellist, she had to play classical music while other Jews were taken to the gas chambers.

In November 1944, she was taken to Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where diarist Anne Frank died after also being transferred from Auschwitz at about the same time, where she was eventually liberated by the British army in April 1945.

Ms Lasker-Wallfisch immigrated to Britain in 1946, got married and had two children.

Her career as a famous cello player took her around the world, but it took decades until she overcame her hatred enough to set foot on German soil again in the 1990s.

In recent years, Ms Lasker-Wallfisch, 93, has become a regular visitor, educating children in Germany about the Holocaust.

But more than 70 years after the Holocaust, Brexit prompted Mr Wallfisch and others to apply for the German citizenship, which was stripped from their ancestors by the Nazis during the Third Reich.

Britons holding dual citizenship from an EU country like Germany will retain the privilege of free movement and work across the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc.

Many Britons whose ancestors came from other parts of Europe have been claiming citizenship in other EU member states so they can keep ties to the continent.

But for Jews whose families fled Germany to escape the Nazis, the decision has meant re-examining long-held beliefs about the country.

On Sunday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ms Lasker-Wallfisch, her grandson Simon and her daughter Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch performed for the first time together on stage at the Jewish Museum Berlin in commemoration of their family.

They played music with other members of their extended family and read letters from the past as a tribute to those who survived and those who perished in the Holocaust.

Before the show, the three generations spoke of the thoughts that went into the younger two’s decision to take German citizenship.

Said Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch, a 60-year-old London psychotherapist who is Simon’s aunt and is still waiting on her German citizenship to be approved:

We cannot be victims of our past. We have to have some hope for change. I feel somehow in a strange way triumphant. Something is coming full circle.

Her application is one of more than 3,380 requests that the German embassy in London has received since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

In comparison, only around 20 such requests were made annually in the years before Brexit.

Article 116 of the German Constitution allows the descendants of people persecuted by the Nazis to regain the citizenship that was removed between 1933 and 1945.

More than just retaining the ability to travel easily from country to country or maintain business ties, Ms Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch said there are other, more emotional reasons to acquiring German citizenship, with Britain due to leave the European Union on March 29.

I feel an aliveness here (in Berlin) that I have not experienced before, but it totally makes sense because after all I am German.

She added that if the country behind the Holocaust is now one that welcomes the descendants of the victims, “that’s a good thing”.

But Mrs Lasker-Wallfisch, who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, remained sceptical and pessimistic.

Jewish people never feel secure,” she said to her daughter and grandson, reminding them of her own past.

I had German nationality – it did not buy me security.

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  • Anne Fenwick

    It’s surely a bad choice of words to say that Brexit is ‘forcing’ UK Jews to get German nationality. They’re very sensibly choosing to do so, in order to keep their options open and retain their existing rights. And they form rather a privileged group in this particular instance: Germany is not awfully keen on dual nationality and a lot of people caught up in the Brexit debacle may be forced to make a definitive choice between the two countries.

    However, she’s right in a sense about the ‘never feeling secure’ bit. I’m not Jewish (my husband is), but anyway, overnight Brexit propelled us from normality as an EU family in Britain to constant anxiety, real issues maintaining our residency status (we travel a lot) and time-consuming and expensive administrative (to the tune of $1250) hassles just to maintain our right to continue living in our own home. I have not forgotten that Nazi anti-semitism started in a similar way, with explicit administrative discrimination and obligations. I don’t think Britain’s actually heading the same way now. Unless there’s a miracle shortly, it looks like the British catastrophe will be sudden and due to a complete breakdown in administrative infrastructure.

    PS: I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if Irish reunification was on the cards in the not too distant future, and that’s another issue with a violent past and religious overtones.

  • igotbanned999

    I’m just wondering if she’s related to the second World Chess Champion.

  • swbarnes2

    Agreed. The title is misleading. It’s something like “British Jews forced to register as citizens of the country that killed their ancestors to remain EU citizens”

  • DanD

    Given the similarity between the sort of populism that produced brexit (and Trump here in the US) and the populism in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, I’d say it’s fair to state, at least, that it strongly encourages them to keep their options open with regard to mobility.