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The year I was born in Frankfurt, 1933, was also the year Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. It was a good year if you were a Nazi, not so good if you were a Jew or, for that matter, anyone else. For my parents, it meant the beginning of the slow erosion of their status in German society that finally triggered our exodus � my parents, my infant brother, and me � in 1937. With the help of a wealthy aunt, we came to America, bought a chicken farm in New Jersey, and, after years of hard work, prospered. But the psychological toll � the helpless anger and guilt � that came with leaving was overwhelming to my parents. Relatives were left behind. Some barely made it out later; others would perish in the death camps. Ultimately, my mother could only explain the inexplicable evils of the Nazis by believing that Germans were genetically evil. In 1943, having studied U.S. history and the Constitution, my parents became American citizens. As a result, my brother and I became citizens too. For Dad, it was a major event. When he went to the federal courthouse in Freehold, N.J., to become a citizen, he took along his car-dealer friend, George Matthews. Afterward, they ate dinner at the American Hotel, the most expensive place in town. I was incredulous: How could we afford so expensive a thing? Sirloin steaks and cocktails? It was unthinkable. I was sure Mom would find fault with this extravagance, but she only smiled wistfully. When you grow up a little more, she said, you’ll understand. Besides, you should be proud of him. When the judge asked him who were the presidents on the penny and the dollar, he knew. Later, when Mom took the exam and became a citizen, we hardly noticed. My trip to Newark as a high school senior in 1951 to get my own citizenship certificate was a mere formality � and a nonevent for me because, all along, I considered myself an American. During the war, I had cheered for our victories. Strangely, I didn’t share my mother’s hatred for Germans, nor did I see Germany as having anything to do with me. When I went off to Princeton, I was just a good old American boy. RETHINKING GERMANY Years passed. I went to medical school and became a doctor. And then, in the early 1980s, I met Hans Goebel, a German neuropathologist. You have to visit Germany to see where you came from, said Hans. I went the following year. Over the next two decades, there were multiple trips. I started a neurology clerkship for German medical students at West Virginia University, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Mainz. The country’s universal health insurance and affordable health care for all impressed me. And the idea of reclaiming my German citizenship began to stir. My son, Rich, an attorney, was enthusiastic when I told him my idea. OK, he said, I’ll find out if it’s possible. But there’s one thing I’d like to know: Why are you doing this? Well, I answered, I’ve been going to Germany regularly, I like working there, and I admire their sense of social accountability. There’s got to be more to it than that, he said. Maybe you’re right, I said. Let me think about it. As it turned out, it is possible for former German citizens and their descendants to reacquire German nationality. Under the Nazis, two laws in particular had stripped Germans of their citizenship. The Law of Revocation of Naturalizations and the Deprivation of German Citizenship of July 14, 1933, deprived specific people of citizenship. Their names were published in the Reich Law Gazette. The Eleventh Decree to the Law on Citizenship of the Reich of Nov. 25, 1941, was much broader. It stripped the citizenship of all German Jews living outside Germany � most of whom had fled in the previous decade. After the war, the new German Constitution attempted to remedy this injustice. Article 116, Paragraph 2, of the Basic Law states: “Former German citizens who between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945, were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored.” So far, it sounded good. There was one additional factor to consider. Anyone living outside Germany who acquired a foreign citizenship before his name was published in the Reich Law Gazette or before Nov. 25, 1941, would be considered to have renounced his German citizenship. But my family didn’t renounce their German citizenship � it was taken away. It looked like I was eligible. The dates were right. I became a U.S. citizen two years after the 1941 revocation date. My parents did not renounce their German citizenship in 1943 since they no longer had it. But what about my American citizenship? It was crucial nothing jeopardize that. You’re OK there, said Rich. U.S. law does not specifically address the issue of dual citizenship, but the Supreme Court, in a 1952 case called Kawakita v. United States, noted that a person can exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be responsible to both. Furthermore, I was not seeking German citizenship with the intent of relinquishing my American citizenship. And I can safely say that I will not do anything else that might suggest such an intent. I will never, for instance, become an officer in the German military, join the upper echelons of the German government, or commit treason. It took a year of filling out forms, finding documents that proved my parents had been citizens of Germany and that I was born there, figuring out our address in Dresden before we left, and making copies of my parents’ U.S. citizenship certificates showing they became citizens after 1941. Finally, the letter announcing my eligibility arrived, and I was invited to appear at the German Embassy in Washington. Rich came along. It was 1996, 55 years later. INSIDE THE EMBASSY The front door of the embassy opened onto a large waiting room. Behind a heavy glass wall, several clerks were working. I got in line, filled out the application for a passport, and paid the fee. If you will please take a seat, said the young man with a slight German accent, someone will escort you to meet with one of our officers. The wait was brief. Rich and I were ushered through the security system by a polite young woman. We climbed a flight of stairs to a small conference room. An officer will be with you in a few moments, she said, her face expressionless as she left. The room was bare and windowless with a small table surrounded by four chairs. A large lamp was the only source of light. Then a tall, broadly built man entered the room, his thinning hair combed straight back. He seemed relaxed but businesslike as we shook hands and all sat down. Your application to reinstate your German citizenship is in order, he said crisply. In assuming German citizenship, you must abide by Germany’s laws. This book contains the German Constitution and laws, which you should read carefully. I nodded my head. You must understand that when you are in Germany, he continued, you will be under German jurisdiction. If you are in any difficulty, the American Embassy cannot help you. The same applies when you are in the United States. You cannot turn to us if you have any problems. Again, I nodded my head. Good, he said, standing up. I want to congratulate you on becoming a German citizen again. He gave me a perfunctory smile as we shook hands. He led us back downstairs to the waiting room. There was now only a single clerk behind the glass wall. I signed the passport, put it carefully in my jacket pocket, and turned to go. Rich was grinning. I followed his gaze toward the security checkpoint at the door. The entire embassy staff, who had taken no notice of us before, were waiting for us with enthusiastic smiles. Everyone wanted to shake my hand. Congratulations, they all kept saying. Rich was still grinning as we got into the car for the ride home. I guess they don’t have a new German citizen every day, he said. Two days later, we were walking the bike trail along the Monongahela River. The tall joe-pye weeds, top-heavy with their crown of ecru flowers, leaned toward the path as if to scrutinize the new German citizen. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. You know, I said, you asked me when we started this whole thing why I wanted my German citizenship back. You were right � it really wasn’t my German friends, the research we did together, or the honorary doctorate. They probably set the stage, but in the end, it all boiled down to the injustice. They took something away from me, and I wanted it back. Dr. Ludwig Gutmann is the Hazel Ruby McQuain Professor of Neurology at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

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