Jews Stream Back to Germany

Thousands of Israelis and Diaspora Jews Seek Citizenship

Family Bond: Suzanne Houchin, at age 8, with her grandfather. Like thousands of other Jews, she sought German citizenship.
courtesy of Suzanne Houchin
Family Bond: Suzanne Houchin, at age 8, with her grandfather. Like thousands of other Jews, she sought German citizenship.

By Donald Snyder

Published April 08, 2012, issue of April 13, 2012.
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For decades after the Holocaust, many Jews harbored an almost instinctive aversion to things German. But today, tens of thousands of Israelis, Jews from the former Soviet Union and even many American Jews are actively choosing German citizenship.

Sound unreal? It’s today’s reality.

According to a study by Dr. Sima Salzberg of Bar-Ilan University, 100,000 Israelis have applied for and received German passports.

“This is the largest group of German passport holders in the world outside Germany,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, deputy chief of mission of the Israeli Embassy in Berlin.

Suzanne Houchin
courtesy of Suzanne Houchin
Suzanne Houchin

In September 1935, during the Nazi era, Jews were stripped of German citizenship by the Nuremberg racial laws. But under German law since May 1949, any Jew — or the descendants of such a Jew — who fled Nazi Germany has the right to become a naturalized German.

As a result, increasing numbers of Jews are seizing the opportunity to become Germans.

Berlin’s Jewish population jumped in 2008 to an estimated 50,000 from 6,000 in 1990, amid an overall population today of 3.4 million. The surge in Jewish population reflects, in part, a huge influx of Russian Jews. Many of them have at best a weak sense of Jewish identity thanks to the long Soviet era, during which this was suppressed. But an estimated 15,000 Israelis reside in Berlin, drawn there to work and study, and to enjoy the city’s freedom, cheap rents and exciting intellectual life. For these mostly younger Jews, the experiences of their grandparents and great-grandparents seem a distant trauma.

“I fell in love with Berlin, its freedom, its great space” said Maya Nathan, a 33-year-old Israeli student with a German passport. Asked about the implications for her, as a Jew, of living in the country that unleashed the Holocaust, Nathan replied, “Our family was never anti-German.” But she said she does know Israelis who will never come to Germany.

Nathan, who has been in Germany for two and a half years, is studying for her master’s degree in neuropsychology at the University of Magdeburg, southwest of Berlin. But she plans to remain in Germany when she gets her degree, as she has many friends in Berlin.

Nadav Gablinger, 39, a tour guide, has lived in Berlin for 11 years. An Israeli with German citizenship, he and his Israeli wife have two children in German schools.

Noting that the history of the Holocaust is everywhere in Berlin, Gablinger said that present-day Germany is a very safe place for Jews.

“Today I can say, as a Jew, Germany is the safest place in the world,” he says, “Safer than in Israel.”’

According to Gablinger, there are German politicians who say negative things about Arabs and Turks, but never Jews. “There is no chance that a member of the Bundestag will say anything bad about Jews and keep his job.”

Gablinger said that he almost always gets a positive reaction when he tells Germans he is an Israeli Jew.


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