Once my mother went through the process, she told me that I could take German citizenship for myself and my children, too. The absurdities weren’t hard to see: I don’t speak German. I haven’t visited Germany or thought of living there. It’s never even been on my list of top five places to see before I die. And yet the possibility tempted me, for both pragmatic and historical reasons. These days, with anti-American sentiment raging around the world, it is comforting to know that I can travel on a German passport. It’s also reassuring that if the day comes when I can’t find or afford health insurance, I can go to a country where I won’t have to worry about going broke if I get sick. In just 70 years, inconceivable as it may seem, being both Jewish and German has become a potential form of protection rather than a fatal liability.
My German citizenship is not a symbolic gesture connecting me to my grandfather’s memory. He would have hated the idea. He would have felt as betrayed by us for wanting to be German as he once was by those who told him he wasn’t German enough. Instead, I think of my new passport as a form of nonmonetary reparations. At present, I’m not sure exactly what being German, on paper, really means. Could I vote? Should I vote? Probably not. I was born and educated in the US. My life is here. But I have two young children, and while they are the great-grandchildren of a German Jew who rejected his past, they are also the descendants for whom the Basic Law was written. One day, they may choose to return to Germany. They may choose to live there (or, as citizens of the European Union, anywhere else in Europe). My daughters’ wide-open future may end up repudiating what the Nazis set out to accomplish. They may become the Jews Germany once thought it didn’t need.