Post-Brexit, Bri­tain’s Jews look to re­turn to Ger­many

De­scen­dants ofHolo­caust vic­tims seek to re­tain ties to Europe after UK’s exit de­ci­sion

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Lon­don

Thomas Hard­ing is do­ing what other de­scen­dants of Holo­caust vic­tims would find unimag­in­able: ap­ply­ing for a Ger­man pass­port.

When Bri­tain voted to leave the Euro­pean Union in June, the 48-year-old au­thor had to make a de­ci­sion that was never nec­es­sary in a bor­der­less Europe — should he re­quest the restora­tion of Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship stripped from his fam­ily by the Third Re­ich? He needed only a few hours to make up his mind.

“This is more than the prac­ti­cal. This is also about some­thing for us, or for me. It’s about some­thing spir­i­tual, it’s about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” he said. “It’s about ac­knowl­edg­ing the truth of the hor­rors of the past but also about try­ing to build a bet­ter fu­ture to­gether, and as a Euro­pean, that’s what I hope to do.”

Oneof the com­pli­cated re­al­i­ties of the UK’s pend­ing di­vorce­fromthe28-na­tionEU is that many Bri­tons whose an­ces­tors came from other parts of Europe are claim­ing cit­i­zen­ship in other mem­ber states so they can re­tain ties to the con­ti­nent. In­quiries about pass­ports are up at the Ger­man, Aus­trian and Pol­ish em­bassies in Lon­don.

Some peo­ple want to re­tain their abil­ity to travel eas­ily from coun­try to coun­try or main­tain busi­ness ties. Oth­ers just want to be part of Europe.

But for Jews whose fam­i­lies fled Ger­many to es­cape Adolf Hitler, the de­ci­sion means re-ex­am­in­ing longheld be­liefs about the coun­try that once per­se­cuted them.

The chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of Jewish refugees are tak­ing ad­van­tage of a law that al­lows the de­scen­dants of peo­ple per­se­cuted by the Nazis to re­gain the cit­i­zen­ship that was re­moved from them in the 1930s and 1940s. More than 400 Bri­tons have sought in­for­ma­tion about the lawsince the June 23 ref­er­en­dum on the EU, and Ger­man au­thor­i­ties have re­ceived at least 100 for­mal ap­pli­ca­tions, com­pared with about 20 an­nu­ally in re­cent years.

Michael New­man, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Refugees, said Brexit — the Bri­tish exit from the EU — has fu­eled in­ter­est in Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship but it’s hard to know how many peo­ple will ac­tu­ally ap­ply. Jews are now able to con­sider such a step be­cause Ger­many has made­huge strides in ad­dress­ing the past, he said.

“There is an ac­cep­tance of guilt, and I think that makes it a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion,” said New­man.

Many of those seek­ing restora­tion of their cit­i­zen­ship don’t in­tend to live in Ger­many— but want the free­dom to trav­e­land­work­inEU­na­tions.

Ben Lewis, a 49-year-old doc­u­men­tary film­maker, is Thomas Hard­ing, among those think­ing about ap­ply­ing. Lewis, whose film and pro­duc­tion com­pany has worked for years on the con­ti­nent, sees Brexit as an abom­i­na­tion, par­tic­u­larly the an­ti­im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment in the UK that in­flu­enced many peo­ple to vote to leave theEU.

“It’s blame the for­eign­ers,” he said. “It’s like the 1930s all over again.”

The his­tory of Jews in Europe is also fu­el­ing the wish for sec­ond pass­ports. While most Jews may not want to leave Bri­tain now, they want the op­tion to leave in the fu­ture, said Marc Meyer, di­rec­tor of the Con­fer­ence of Euro­pean Rab­bis.

“For a Jew, with­out be­ing para­noid, for you to be se­cure in a place for a long time is to mis­read his­tory,” he said. “Brexit opens the flood­gates of in­se­cu­rity and those of op­por­tu­nity.”

For some, the de­ci­sion to seek another pass­port has been years in the mak­ing. Hard­ing­has­long­been­com­ing totermswith­hisGer­man­past, a jour­ney doc­u­mented in his book, TheHouse by the Lake.

The Nazis killed six of his rel­a­tives, re­voked his fam­ily’s cit­i­zen­ship and forced them to leave be­hind prop­erty, in­clud­ing the idyl­lic sum­mer cot­tage built by his great­grand­fa­ther Al­fred Alexander, a doc­tor whose pa­tients in­cluded Al­bert Ein­stein and Mar­lene Di­et­rich. Those who sur­vived fled to Bri­tain.

The cot­tage was due to be de­mol­ished after it fell into dis­re­pair, but Hard­ing man­aged to save it.

Now it’s Alexander Haus, which seeks to teach lo­cal his­tory.

Its pro­grams also aim to help res­i­dents bet­ter un­der­stand the re­cent wave of Syr­ian and other refugees seek­ing pro­tec­tion in Ger­many. That has spe­cial mean­ing for Hard­ing, be­cause his sis­ter mar­ried a Syr­ian Kurd. The way Hard­ing sees it, Ger­many is show­ing lead­er­ship by tak­ing in hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees last year.

Now it’s log­i­cal, he says, for Jews to cling to theEU, which was cre­ated to build ties that would make another Euro­pean war im­pos­si­ble.

“You could ar­gue that the flight of theGer­man Jews, the per­se­cu­tion of the Ger­man Jews, was the sym­bol of the break­ing up of Europe, and the Euro­pean Union was set up specif­i­cally to cre­ate a po­lit­i­cal, so­cial con­text of peace,” he said. “That’s part of it, isn’t it?”

It’s about ac­knowl­edg­ing the hor­rors of the past but also about try­ing to build a bet­ter fu­ture to­gether.” au­thor who plans to re­turn to Ger­many

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