10 FAQ on Reclaiming German Citizenship

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 (the citizenship, not the FAQ). Some of these sections also extend to descendants of former Germans.

Before asking a new question, please read through the comments which may already answer your questions. And do you see the “Make a Donation” button on the right-hand side of your screen? If you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a question, it would be very nice of you to make use of it.

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 because of their anti-Semitic ideology.

2. I am a history buff. Tell me more about that Nazi policy.

Ok. In November 1941, the German 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?

Generally yes.

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.

4. Why did you say “generally yes”? That sounds like there are some caveats.

In law, there are always exceptions.

You will be treated as if your parent or grandparent had never been deprived of German citizenship, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will receive German citizenship and a passport. For example, until 1975 and if the parents were married, only fathers could pass on German citizenship. If you were born to a (former) German mother before 1975, the reinstatement according to Art. 116 II GG does not help you because even without the Nazi-era discrimination, you wouldn’t have been born a German. (Although there is another route for these cases, detailed in no. 8 of my FAQ on naturalization from abroad.)

5. But if I qualify, this also extends to my children?

Yes.

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 renaturalize you.

8. Will I have to give up my existing citizenship?

Generally yes, but there are exceptions.

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.

9. 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 renaturalization.

10. I am half-German …

No, you are not!

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in German Law, Germany, Law and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to 10 FAQ on Reclaiming German Citizenship

  1. Pingback: 10 FAQ on citizenship law in Germany | The Happy Hermit

  2. ALEJANDRO EDELMANN says:

    I was born in Argentina in 1966. My father was also born in Argentina, but had German citizenship as well and got me my German citizenship in 1989. In 2005 I became a citizen of Mexico, since we’ve been living here for over 20 years. Next year my German passport expires.
    Questions:
    1.- Will Germany renew my passport? Do they cross-check citizenships automatically?
    2.- If not, due to my Mexican citizenship, is there an exception that I can apply for?
    3.- If I lose my citizenship, would I be able to reapply if I renounce my Mexican citizenship?

    Thanks,

    • Unfortunately, you lost the German citizenship when you applied for and received Mexican citizenship.
      Germany cannot check automatically with all other countries, but they will make you provide a statement from the Mexican authorities or sign an affidavit.

      You can reapply, but as I write in no. 6, it’s not that easy. And you would need to give up both your Mexican and Argentinian citizenship.

    • ALEJANDRO EDELMANN says:

      Hi Andreas,

      Thank you for prompt response. Love your sense of humor. Some of your responses are hilarious :-)

      I agree on the need to give up my Mexican citizenship, as I’ve acquired it by naturalization, but as far as the Argentinian goes, I cannot renounce that by law and Germany understands that. I was Argentinian by birth when my father requested my German citizenship by descent.

      Also, being that Germany recognizes citizenship mainly by “jus sanguinis”, which is my case, and without sounding pretentious or entitled, could Germany deny my “jus sanguinis” right, if I would like to re-apply after I give up my Mexican citizenship?

      BTW, I just happily made a donation to the cause :-)

      Vielen Dank!

    • Hello Alejandro,

      thank you very, very much for your donation!
      And I am glad you discovered some of funny replies. Many people overlook my legal FAQ and look for my short stories for humor, but some of the cases/answers about citizenship or divorce law are indeed funnier than any fiction.

      Now to clarify your situation:
      – If you re-apply for German citizenship, it’s an application for a new naturalization. You will be treated like any other applicant and if you previously could have maintained dual citizenship unfortunately plays no more role. (You have to consider that you could have kept German citizenship even you applied for Mexican citizenship if you had obtained permission from Germany in advance, § 25 II StAG).
      – If it’s legally impossible to renounce Argentinian citizenship, then that’s a completely different matter. In that case, Germany accepts dual citizenship (no. 8.1.2.6.3.1. VV-StAG).
      – You are right that Argentina is one of these countries. Others are Afghanistan, Eritrea and Uruguay (GK-StAR § 8 Rn. 223).
      – Unfortunately, Germany can deny your application if you do not meet the requirements because you lost German citizenship through a voluntary act of your own volition when you were already an adult. Also, you are not stateless, so you are not considered to be in a disadvantaged situation. Former Germans do therefore not have an entitlement to re-naturalization (GK-StAR § 13 Rn. 33 m.w.N.). Obviously, your connections to Germany will be evaluated, but descent is only one factor. You would need to show that you speak German fluently and that you have other family/professional/business/academic/cultural ties to Germany.
      – If you wish to move to Europe, it might be easier to apply for a residence permit in accordance with § 38 II AufenthG, which is a special clause for ex-Germans, and then apply for regular naturalization after living there for several years.

      I am sorry that it’s so complicated.

  3. ALEJANDRO EDELMANN says:

    Hi Andreas,

    I have no plans to move to Europe for now, but I’ve always been proud of my German heritage, I went 12 years to the Goethe Schule and the Steiner Schule (Waldorf) in Buenos Aires and traveling around the world with the most powerful passport in the world has been very easy.

    Do you think that I could ask for permission to keep my German citizenship now by apologizing for my lack of knowledge of the consequences of acquiring the Mexican citizenship? I cannot renounce it for a few years, as my work visa in the United States is based on my Mexican passport through NAFTA. I’ve read somewhere that if I could be seriously affected financially by giving up my acquired Mexican citizenship, Germany would consider that as well.

    Again, thanks for what you do :-)

    • The information about the German schools is positive, that will count for a lot when Germany will make a discretionary decision.

      The problem with the Mexican citizenship is this: If you say that you need it to stay in the US, you will be asked what on earth you need German citizenship for if you don’t want to live in Germany. I agree that it’s a very useful passport for traveling, but that’s not a compelling reason for an exception.
      The hardship exceptions for keeping another citizenship when getting naturalized as a German are usually cases from countries where you lose property or inheritance rights when you give up citizenship.
      And if you are planning to apply for US citizenship, then you have the same issue again of losing German citizenship unless you get a permission in accordance with § 25 II StAG. Lastly, this is all complicated by the fact that applications for German citizenship from abroad currently take at least 2 years to process because of the huge number of applications due to my FAQ ;-) – and due to Brexit, to be honest. And if you get US citizenship first, Germany will ask you to give it up upon naturalization in Germany.

  4. Afia says:

    Hi Andreas
    I was born in Germany in 1981 from a GhanaIan parents and they move to ghana I just received my Germany birth certificate how do I apply for passport pls am worried

  5. YUNITA Anzarni says:

    Hallo andreas.

    I am yunita from Indonesia. I have relationhip with the refugee status in germany. We love each other so much. We want to know how we can married.
    He didn’t have german pasport. So his lawyes just give him 2 choices. There are married with german girl or change his religion to christiani.

    I don’t have any idea now. I’m really confused. I’m pregnant and this is our baby.

    Do you have idea for us ?

    Thanks Andrean.

  6. Jim says:

    Hi Andreas,

    Thank you for this great source of information. I am a 55 year old US citizen living most of my life in Japan. Some very sketchy research indicates that my great great grandfather, born in 1879 came to the US from Germany when he was a young man and fathered my grandfather in 1906 in Camden New Jersey who then fathered my father in 1929. None of them signed up for any wars although my father was conscripted to Korea. I don’t know if my great great grandfather naturalized or not. I think he came through Ellis Island. Was naturalization part of the process? Anyway, I am interested in finding out if I have a chance for German citizenship or not. Would appreciate any info or ideas you could provide.

    • Naturalization was not done at Ellis Island because it required several years of residence in the US.
      In your case, we would need to find out when your great great grandfather came to the US and if he was naturalized before 1906. None of the subsequent forefathers would have been naturalized because they received US citizenship due to being born in the USA.
      Because you have a fully paternal line of ancestors, you’d be German if everything checks out all right in the first immigrant generation.

  7. Natalia says:

    Danke schoen Andreas! Sehr hilfreich!

  8. Ben says:

    Hello, I’ve read through the various questions and appreciate the insight. I was hoping you might be able to provide some clarity on this situation. I am the last, direct male heir from my German great grandfather.

    Great Grandfather: 1866 – 1942
    Emigrated to the United States around 1884 per U.S. Census in 1900
    No evidence of naturalization
    You mentioned a law which could remove citizen if a German citizen lived abroad 10+ years without registering with a consulate. Are these consulate records generally available? Would immigration today give much credence to this old law, or expect me to provide evidence of the consular registration?

    Grandfather: 1913 – 1989
    Born in the U.S.
    **Served in the military in WWII against Germany**
    I am not certain if the military service would void his possibility of citizenship, or if there was an exception made after the war given circumstances.

    Father: 1953 – Present
    Born in the U.S.

    Me (male): 1988 – Present
    Born in the U.S.

    • I’ll be happy to help once I receive a donation to my Paypal account or a few books from my wishlist. Thank you very much already!

    • Ben says:

      Of course- thank you.

    • Dear Ben,

      thank you very much for your generous donation! That really helps to keep this blog and its services going.
      So let’s look your situation, generation by generation. First of all, it’s good that you have an all-male line because that made a difference until 1975 and makes it much easier.

      With your great-grandfather, you already indicated the two issues:
      – We can’t prove a negative, but we would need to show indications that he was not naturalized as a US citizen before 1913 (when your grandfather was born). If the US agency that took care of naturalizations at the time can confirm that they don’t have any record of his naturalization, that should suffice.
      – The second problem is that the old German Citizenship Act in force from 1871 to 1913 demanded that Germans register with the German Consulate every 10 years (for example to renew their passport or simply to be entered into a list, called “Konsulatsmatrikel”) or that they would otherwise lose German citizenship automatically. Although this law went out of force in 1913, it did remove German citizenship while it was in place and thus the law or rather its consequences are still relevant today. It’s not a question of “applying” old laws, but of accepting that the question of citizenship was decided differently in different times.
      Depending on where your great-grandfather lived at the time, we would need to find out the closest German Consulate and inquire with them if they still have the “Konsulatsmatrikel”. Unfortunately, many of them got lost or destroyed, and even more unfortunately, courts in Germany have ruled that this does not shift the burden of proof (because you could prove registration by other documents, for example if you have German passports of your great-grandfather from that time).
      In reality, most Germans never registered because they didn’t know about this law or they didn’t care, often because there was no idea of ever returning to Germany. The farther they lived from the city with the German Consulate, the more unlikely it is that they rode or took the train to New York or Chicago to register. If they bothered about citizenship law at all, they knew that their children would be born as US citizens and that was fine with them.
      Statistics from places where the consular lists are maintained show that a minuscule percentage of Germans registered (which is the reason why the German courts refuse to change the burden of proof even in cases of destroyed archives).

      So this is unfortunately the first big hurdle that we need to overcome. Because your grandfather was born in 1913, we would need to prove that your great-grandfather registered with the German Consulate by 1894 (10 years after immigration) and 1904 (another 10 years).

      If we take that hurdle, let me already address the issue of your grandfather’s military service:
      At the time of WW2, § 28 RuStAG was worded differently as the current § 28 StAG and did not lead to an automatic loss of German citizenship. At that time, the German authorities could revoke someone’s German citizenship if that German citizen was serving another country and did not stop doing so after Germany asked him to. (Here we have an example where a previous law is more lenient than the current law, and the effects are still relevant for today).

      So the next step would be to find out where your great-grandfather lived (trickier if he was moving around a lot) and which German Consulate he would have visited and then contact them.

  9. iyadshami says:

    hello i am us citizen , i born in wuppertal Germany in 1977 i left wuppertal Germany in 1984 with my parents the have that time preeminent resident for 10 years they live in Germany about 12 years since 1967 if any chance can i get my German citizen ship !

    • Sorry, but there is a special clause to disqualify people with bad grammar.

    • iyadshami says:

      I was born in Germany in 1977 and my family was in Germany at that time. I lived in Germany legally with ten years, but in 1984 I decided to return to Jordan. Can I ask for German nationality?

    • I’ll be happy to help once I receive a donation to keep this blog going or a book from my wishlist.
      Thank you very much in advance!

  10. Now I am going away to do my breakfast, afterward having my breakfast coming yet again to read more news.

  11. Thanh Dang says:

    Hi, I was a naturalized German citizen thru my parents when we lived in Germany. I was a child back then and was naturalized with my whole family. In 1998, my family migrated to the US and been living there since. I had to go to Vet School in 2006 and they required me to have the US citizenship to do so. So I gained the US Citzenship in 2006. I wasn’t aware the dual citizenship is an option back then. Is there a way to regain my german citizenship now – as a dual citizenship? I currently still live in the US. Thanks

  12. kwaaikat says:

    Hallo Andreas,

    Danke für deine cool Seite. Also, ich finde auch deine Reisen sehr interessant. Obwohl ich Deutsch lesen, verstehen und sprechen kann, ist mein Wortschatz im Gebiet Staatsangehörigkeit (noch) nicht so gut. Darum schreibe ich leider noch auf Englisch..

    We have a proven paternal lineage of birth and marriage certificates linking my wife to her great grandfather, who was born in Germany in 1875. We also a certificate from our (South African) authorities stating that the first immigrant (her great grandfather) never
    naturalised, the exact one recommended the local German embassy.

    The only thing complicating the matter is the the loss of citizenship law (that was repealed in 1914). As would be expected from that long ago, we do not have any travel documents. As far as I understand the 10 year counter towards lapse of citizenship started upon expiry of the last travel document. In other words, we need something to take proof of the ancestor being German
    past 1 January 1904?

    The ancestor in question boarded a ship to South Africa in October 1901 (we can get a certified copy of the ships register) and would likely have arrived in South Africa in January 1902. His son, my wife’s grandfather, was born in South Africa in 1911.

    I mention the dates, due to the date of arrival being so close to 1904. I heard a staff member
    at the embassy say clearly that documents used in 1901 would almost certainly have been valid in 1904. I am not clear (and I was unable to clarify) whether this was applied as an assumption, in the absense of documents, or whether it was just a matter of fact observation of travel documents, meaning we still needed to locate one.

    Assuming it is not applied as an assumption, can you perhaps suggest something we could do? I’ve heard of a consular correspondence database search, which sounds like an expensive shot in the dark. Are there records of passports issued? I have contacted various Stadtsampten, but so far I was only able to locate a fairly old 1880 residence record, and a testament of the ancestor’s father at the time the ancestor would have been 17 years old. (I have ordered a certified copy, but have not s seen it yet. I expect nothing more than a mention of the son, which we have any way from the birth certificate). We also have proof that the woman (my wife’s grandmother) that the first South African born son (my wife’s grandfather) married, grew up in Germany, from an original church confirmation certificate. The argument (and truth!) was since the place of confirmation was very close to where his ancestor was born, the family must have kept active ties with Germany, for at least 37 years after the first ancestor immigrated.

    Is your feeling that it is worth applying if we don’t get anything else? Or is the chance of success so
    remote that it is futile and may complicate matters if new evidence comes to light, and better to hold out in the hope that we can find something better? The proof of non-naturalisation (the letter says he never applied either) would suggest to me that if he ceased to be German, he would in fact be stateless, as there is no other candidate country. The ancestor in question had 4 first names, which meant that none of documents that we have referring to him (including the proof of non-naturalisation) raise any questions as to whether it’s the same guy.

    Any advice on where to take it from here would be appreciated.

    Do you provide a service of producing a cover letter that refer to circumstantial evidence to argue a case that the ancestor was very likely German at the time of the birth of his son?

    Thanks in advance. There is a little token of gratitude in your PayPal account.

  13. Jessica says:

    I am in the process of regaining citizenship due to my grandparents loosing theirs during holocaust. I understand my future child will have citizenship however is my husband eldigable due to association through marriage?

  14. David says:

    There is a Facebook group for descendants of German Jewish mothers born before 1953 to discuss restoration of German citizenship. If interested in joining, email a description of your background to: GermanCitizenshipRestoration@outlook.com

    • Thank you for the recommendation!
      But that sounds like I would have to answer even more questions, so I’ll rather stay away from it. ;-)
      (Also, Facebook groups of lay people discussing legal questions are the most depressing thing for lawyers.)

  15. yassin says:

    Hallo Andreas,

    i am yassin i live in egypt all my life i was born in 1996 i took my german passport in 2015 with no problems untill we have a problem that when my sister and my brother went to apply for german passport they knew that my father have dual citizenship thats why they said to us they need some kind of a paper that my father is only german and thats not possibe because my father own the egyptian citizenship and the german so what we can do about this if my father lost his german citzenship will i also loose my citzenship and my brother and sister will not get their passport and if i lost it can i get it back again please help me and if u need the email which is sent by them to us i can show it to you

  16. Wilko says:

    Hallo Andreas,

    My situation is that I can trace my lineage back to Germany through my father, grandfather and great-grandfather. But it is quite a complex case and I do not know if citizenship was lost and can be easily regained or not.
    1. My great-grandfather was born in Germany and moved to German South West Africa (GSWA) in 1904 as a soldier.
    2. My grandfather was born in 1809 in GWSA. I assume as a German citizen.
    3. GSWA became a protectorate of South Africa after WWI. Not sure how this affected citizenship?
    4. After 1920 my great-grandfather moved with the family back to Germany for a few years (his first wife died). He moved back to SWA around 1922. I can get certified copies of ship logs as well as church registers to prove his second marriage in Germany. There is no history of him naturalizing that I can find.
    5. My grandfathers German passport were apparently lost during WWII in a South African internment camp.
    5. My grandfather did naturalize in 1949 to SA citizenship. Not sure if this was voluntary or forced as the SA citizenship Act changed in 1949. Also not sure if he applied to keep his German citizenship active. Any ideas where I can check for this info? Probably the German embassy in Namibia?
    6. My father was born in 1950 in SWA as a SA citizen. He was later conscripted into the SA Defence Force. He has not applied for German citizenship.
    7. I was born in 1978 in SA and have also not applied for German citizenship.

    Would it be worth pursuing this any further? If you can help I will gladly make a donation to obtain more info, so just let me know.

    Regards
    Wilko

    • Once I receive a donation, I will gladly read your question and reply to it. Thank you!

    • Wilko says:

      Donation made. Thanks

    • Hello Wilko,
      thank you very much for your donation!
      That’s really quite a complex case, but let’s try to sort it out. The problematic point was in 1949 because your father hadn’t been born yet, so whatever your grandfather did with his citizenship had an effect on your subsequently born father.
      If your grandfather naturalized in South Africa in 1949, he must have had a different citizenship until then. Let’s assume that he still had German citizenship. Depending on when in 1949 this was, there wasn’t any German embassy at the time because (West) Germany was only founded in May 1949. I would find it highly unlikely that during that time of not knowing what would become of occupied Germany, someone would bother to apply to retain German citizenship. But if he did, he would have gone through the closest German consulate at the time and we would need to find the papers. If you know the exact time of your grandfather’s naturalization, we will see if the Federal Republic of Germany was already established by then, although I doubt they immediately established consulates or an embassy in Namibia. (Let’s keep in mind that West Germany only received full sovereignty in 1955.)
      If he didn’t file such an application (and receive permission!), your grandfather would have lost his German citizenship in 1949. Because your father was born in 1950, there were no more legal ties to Germany at that time.
      I am sorry that I don’t have any better news!

  17. Wilko says:

    Hallo Andreas, Thank you for the information. I have a SA government gazette entry [No 4321, 30 January 1950] that indicates the date of naturalisation under the SA Citizenship Act, 1949. The date is 1 September 1949. Note that the Act was only enacted in June 1949.

    Just to confirm – if he did not apply to retain citizenhsip, irrespective of German representation in then SWA, he would have lost his citizenship? I will have to contact the embassy in Namibia to determine if they have any such information.

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