Should persecuted Jews get back their lost citizenship in Europe?

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Should persecuted Jews get back their lost citizenship in Europe?

Jews have often been expelled from their countries because of their religion. Now, some European countries are returning Jews their lost citizenship.

Jews were persecuted throughout the century

Throughout the centuries, Jews have often been persecuted and killed because of their religion and antisemitic sentiments towards them. Now, some countries are trying to make amendments and are willing to give citizenship to the descendants of those persecuted Jews who had to flee their countries. This article focuses on the cases of Portugal, Spain, Austria, and Germany.

The case of Spain and Portugal

On 31 March 1492,the Alhambra Decree (also called the ‘Edict of Expulsion’) was issued by the joint Catholic monarchs of Spain. The edict required the expulsion of all the practising Jews in the territory of Spain and Portugal by 31 July of the same year. The main purpose of the edict was to eliminate the influence of observant Jews over the converted ones and thereby to ensure their descendants would not convert back to Judaism.[1] At the end of the 15th century, the Spanish Jewish community was the biggest Jewish community in the world.[2] As a consequence of this decree and the persecutions towards the Jews before it, more than 200,000 Jews converted to Catholicism. Between 40,000 and 100,000 Jews had to flee Spain because of the expulsion decree.[3]

Today, Spain and Portugal are trying to make amends to the descendants of those Jews and are offering them back their citizenship. In 2015, both Portugal and Spain passed laws that ​​offered Jews the possibility to gain citizenship.[4] The Spanish law stated that after “centuries of estrangement,” Spain now allowed “Sephardic communities to re-encounter their origins, opening forever the doors of their homeland of old.”[5] As a result of the new law, Spain received 153,000 applications for citizenship since 2015, while Portugal received at least 86,000 applications. More than 90,000 applications were approved by these two countries together.[6] [7]

The case of Austria and Germany

The Holocaust is a more recent and famous persecution. During the Holocaust, Jews were persecuted by the Nazi regime in many countries. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies systematically killed around 6 million Jews all over German-occupied Europe.[8] Matt Brosnan defines the Holocaust as the “systematic murder of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Second World War.”[9]

As of today, Austria and Germany are trying to make amends and are allowing descendants of persecuted Jews who fled their countries during the Holocaust to restore their citizenships. In September 2019, a new amendment to the nationality act was approved by the Austrian parliament. The new amendment made persecuted Jews during the Nazi regime eligible to apply for citizenship in Austria.[10] [11]

Even more recently than Austria, in June 2021, Germany also approved changes to the German law. The law already allowed victims of persecutions enacted by Germany and their descendants to be naturalised. This will make it easier for the descendants of Nazi victims during the Holocaust to reclaim their citizenship. Felix Couchman, chair of the Article 116 Exclusions Group, stated that “we acknowledge the work that the German people have undertaken to honour the memory of those lost and those who suffered in the [Holocaust].” German Interior Minister also stated that “this is not just about putting things right, it is about apologising in profound shame.”[12] [13]

Is this enough to make amendments?

Thus, we have seen that these European countries are allowing descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim their citizenship. In this manner, these countries are trying to give back to the Jews some of what they have lost and thereby are trying to make amendments. Even though this will not repair all the sufferings Jews have experienced throughout the centuries, it is a positive symbolic gesture that deserves to be acknowledged as such.

Ghila Amati

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[1] The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews

[2] Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Si

[3] Pérez, Joseph (2007). History of a Tragedy: The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Translated by Hochroth, Lysa. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252031410.

[4] Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Sin

[5] Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Sin

[6]Over 90,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews naturalized by Spain, Portugal | The Times of Israel

[7]Spain and Portugal have naturalized more than 90,000 descendants of Sephardic Jews since 2015 – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

[8] Brosnan, Matt (12 June 2018). “What Was The Holocaust?”. Imperial War Museum. Archived from the original on 2 March 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019

[9] Brosnan, Matt (12 June 2018). “What Was The Holocaust?”. Imperial War Museum. Archived from the original on 2 March 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019

[10] Austrian citizenship is finally restored to families of Nazi victims | Financial Times

[11]Austria’s newest citizens reclaim birthright stolen by the Nazis – France 24

[12] Germany passes new citizenship law for descendants of Nazi victims – BBC News

[13] Germany passes new citizenship law for descendants of Nazi victims – BBC News