Being a second-generation survivor* or a 2G’er has been a journey. Long before I heard the term, I knew I was one. For as long as I can remember, my grandparents’ and parents’ stories have reverberated in my head. Since young childhood, I sensed secrets and repressed emotions and memories swirling around my home. Long before I knew what to do with the information that spewed forth erratically from relatives, it had been lodged inside my psyche. The questions to ask your parents form on your lips early on. They are answered over the years but often not. Frequently, I have forgotten to ask vital questions or did not even know what I wanted or should know.
Fast forward to the present–after writing two books, visiting my parents and grandparents’ birthplaces, engaging in endless discussions, researching, reading books, watching movies, and confiding in my sister–I have added information to the virtual tome–Our Story.
Connie, my sister, and I have had bronze plaques set into the pavement of Berlin and Frankfurt to indelibly mark the murder of our great grandmother and great aunt. The governments of Germany and China have memorialised my family and others like them in numerous constructions built of stone.
Today, I became a German citizen at the Embassy in Washington D.C. Just like that–no interrogation, no Sara beside my name, no stamp Jude or big red J on top of my photo. The consular representative smiled and laughed and was glad to have me join the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. I said to myself, oh she may have Jewish ancestors look at that nose, but she wore a small gold cross.
Naturally, I accomplished the arduous, frustrating, bureaucratic task–during the pandemic–for my family and the millions who lost their citizenship and became stateless. Connie will become a German citizen in a few weeks. It was a tag team effort. We shared documents. Sometimes I gained a foothold in the system, other times she did–one step forward and two backwards. I am still waiting on a document from the U.S. government, no longer needed. Eventually three German civil servants in Cologne Germany, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. decided that, yes, these two women have proved their case.
Germany decided to naturalise descendants whose parents lost their citizenship between 1933 and 1945 and were stateless as a result of the actions of the Third Reich. The law was The Restoration of German Citizenship (Article 116).
I never thought about the designation of stateless, in this case the result of a fascist government’s heinous actions. Without citizenship, a stateless individual has no legal rights or access to any services or privileges. We know the fate of the stateless Germans during World War II and after.
When Hitler took away the citizenship of the Jews in 1938, it was clearly a sign to leave immediately. The action signalled that Jews were non-persons, no rights whatsoever. The Nazis changed the names of these previously upstanding citizens–women and girls became Sara, and men and boys became Israel. Miraculously, the lucky ones left Germany because they could afford the criminal manipulation that the Nazis served up. In other words, my grandfathers had enough money to be able to buy tickets after they had lost everything.
So, when people squirm and make faces about Germans, I am a citizen. And I stand proudly. And I know why I decided to claim my right.
* A second-generation survivor is the child of a survivor of the Holocaust.