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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.