The FAQ on German Citizenship are the most popular post on my blog. But some aspects are so complicated that they deserve their own list of FAQ, like those on applying for naturalization without living in Germany and the following ones on reclaiming German citizenship that had previously been lost. Some of these sections also extend to descendants of former Germans.
Before asking a new question, please read through the many comments which may already answer your questions. And if you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a new question, it would be very nice of you to support this blog. Thank you!
1. Why would someone lose German citizenship in the first place?
The main ways to lose German citizenship are applying for and receiving citizenship of another country without prior permission from Germany (§ 25 StAG), voluntarily serving in the armed forces of another country (§ 28 StAG) and renunciation (§ 26 StAG).
But it becomes endlessly more complex because different laws were in place at different times. Until 1949 or 1953, depending on the specific circumstances, German women who married a foreign man automatically lost German citizenship. Until 1913, German citizenship could be lost by living abroad for more than 10 years and not registering with a German consulate. And then, between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis stripped many people of German citizenship as an act of punishment or out of anti-Semitic ideology.
2. I am a history geek. Tell me more about that Nazi policy.
In November 1941, the Third Reich passed a law that deprived all Jewish Germans who were living abroad at the time (or moved abroad later) of their German citizenship.
In addition to that, since July 1933 there had been a law that allowed the individual revocation of German citizenship, which was mostly applied to opposition activists and intellectuals. If your ancestors were among the 39,006 victims of that policy, they were in the good company of people like Albert Einstein, Willy Brandt, Hannah Arendt, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and others.
3. I am a descendant of someone in one of these two groups of people. Does this mean I can now apply for a German passport?
Art. 116 II of the German Constitution states that all people who were deprived of their German citizenship on “political, racial or religious grounds” between 1933 and 1945 can reclaim Germany citizenship. What is of more interest to you is that Art. 116 II GG extends to descendants.
Since 2021, there is a new § 15 StAG, widening the number of people who are eligible to reclaim German citizenship. So even if you were previously told (by me or by someone else) that you are not eligible, it may well be worth to look into your case again.
4. That sounds interesting. What are the changes?
First, the new § 15 no. 1 StAG extends the eligible group of people to all those who lost or gave up their German citizenship – for the reasons outlined in Art. 116 II GG – before 1955. Previously, the loss of German citizenship had to have occurred before 1945. The purpose of the new § 15 StAG in this respect is to cover German citizens who fled from the Nazis, but only lost their German citizenship after the end of the Nazi regime, for example through naturalization in another country after 1945.
Second, § 15 no. 2 StAG now explicitly covers people who were excluded from mass-naturalizations of ethnic Germans based on racial grounds. For example, when the Nazis occupied the city of Gdansk/Danzig, the population automatically became German. Jews were however excluded from this.
Third, § 15 no. 3 StAG now covers people who did apply or could have applied for German citizenship between 1933 and 1945, but did not receive German citizenship due to racial or political discrimination. This concerns Jews, but for example also communists.
Fourth, § 15 no. 4 StAG extends the possibility to obtain German citizenship to people who were deported from the German Reich by the Nazis. In this case, the applicants (or their parents, grand-parents, etc.) need not have been German citizens! For example, especially Eastern Europeans were sometimes deported because they were suspected of being Jewish.
4. Why did you say “generally yes”? That sounds like there are some caveats.
In law, there are always exceptions.
First of all, in some of these cases, it’s hard to prove the political or ethnic persecution. For example, your grandfather may have lost his German citizenship because he was a communist. But by some weird twist of fate, he landed in the USA, where during the McCarthy era, it wasn’t particularly popular to be a communist. (Come to think of it, it probably still isn’t very popular.) So he may never have told his children and the information got lost.
And then there are exceptions if your ancestor lost his/her German citizenship first through Nazi persecution, then regained it (e.g. by moving back to Germany for a while) and then later lost it again (e.g. by emigrating a second time and getting naturalized in another country). All these cases are worth looking into them, though, because there are of course exceptions from the exceptions. But that would be too much for a simple FAQ.
5. But if I qualify, this also extends to my children?
6. What about the non-Nazi related cases, for example when I lost German citizenship because I applied for US/Jamaican/Australian citizenship without prior permission from Germany, but now I want to move back to Germany?
First of all, you don’t need German citizenship in order to move to Germany (§ 38 II AufenthG).
But § 13 StAG allows for the discretionary renaturalization of former German citizens (and their minor children). You are not entitled to it, though, and thus need to present a compelling case.
7. Can you help me with that?
Yes, I can.
The minimum requirements are that you speak German at B1 level, that you can financially support yourself and that you have close ties to Germany (family, professional, business, academic or otherwise). Even then, you’ll need to show that it would be in the national interest of Germany to re-naturalize you.
8. I am the child of a German mother, but I was born before 1975 and therefore did not receive German citizenship. Isn’t that unfair?
Very unfair indeed. Finally, this has been recognized and there is a new § 5 StAG, which is supposed to bestow German citizenship on all those who previously missed out on it due to gender discrimination in older versions of the Citizenship Act. This concerns the following groups of people:
- Children of at least one German parent, who did not receive German citizenship at birth (§ 5 I no. 1 StAG). The main cases here are children of German mothers born before 1975 and children of German fathers born out of wedlock before 1993.
- Children of a German mother who had lost her German citizenship due to marrying a foreigner (§ 5 I no. 2 StAG). This is only relevant if your mother or grandmother married a non-German before April 1953.
- Children who lost their German citizenship because their German mother married their non-German father (§ 5 I no. 3 StAG).
Like with the other restitution cases, this also applies to descendants of the aforementioned cases.
If you fall under any of these categories, you have until 2031 to obtain German citizenship by a simple declaration.
9. Will I have to give up my existing citizenship?
In the restitution cases, you do not need to renounce your existing citizenship.
In the other cases, you are usually asked to renounce your existing citizenship. But there also plenty of exceptions to this rule.
Before you ask: I’ll have to write a separate list of FAQ on dual citizenship in Germany. I am just waiting for a few more donations to my blog before I do that.
10. I lost German citizenship when I was a child because my family moved to another country and my parents filed for British/Brazilian/US citizenship for me. I was never asked. This is unfair!
We cannot undo everything that your parents did on your behalf when you were a child. Or do you want to return all these bicycles and Commodore computers?
But it is worth looking into the exact circumstances. I’ve had cases where only one of the parents signed the petition for a new citizenship although the parents had joint custody. In this case, German law treats you as if you never lost German citizenship in the first place and you can simply apply for a new passport without having to go through re-naturalization.