Deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit für Donauschwaben — German Citizenship for Danube Swabians

Adam Nelson
Apr 2, 2018 · 8 min read

This is the story of how I came to formally confirm my German citizenship. It will mostly be a narrative, because I think the story helps explain who this guide is for and how the process plays out in practice, but I will also include a complete set of instructions that other Donauschwaben born overseas can use to establish the German nationality that many were born with, however unknowingly.

Who is this guide for?
I was born in the American Midwest, but grew up speaking German at home. I was a member of our local German cultural center’s Kindergruppe, and later Jugendgruppe, where we learned traditional dances and wore traditional Trachten. My family went to Oktoberfest in the fall and the kids begged for money on New Year’s Day, demanding “gibt mir nicht zu wenig, ich bin ein armer König! (I’m a poor king, so don’t give me too little!)”

Growing up, I didn’t think this was the least bit unusual. In school, we were taught that America was a melting pot, so I assumed everyone spoke a different language at home, had their own dances and customs to learn, and their own traditional costumes to wear. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized these weren’t universal experiences. But, once I did, I thought it would be best if I tried to fit in.

Because I did, however, it took me a lot longer to learn my family’s story, and to reclaim that part of myself.

It took me much longer to learn, for example, the story of how my grandmother came to America. The story of how she grew up in a tiny house with a dirt floor, where she slept in the corner with the goats.

My grandmother’s hometown.
The monument they have since erected to those expelled.

The story of how her family fled the advancing Russian army following World War 2, only to end up in East Germany. The story of how her father got homesick, returned to that small town in the middle of rural Hungary, only to be forced to flee to East Germany once more. The story of how her family had to sneak across the border to West Germany, risking being shot by the Soviet border patrols, only to spend time in refugee campus, before being sent to America, not knowing any of the language, where she would have to pick cotton, sew together the bindings of books, and take care of other people’s children in order to survive. The story of how she met my grandfather, settled in the Midwest, but returned to Europe after my mother was born, only to return to the US when they discovered there just wasn’t enough work back home.

Instead, I learned to set aside that sense that there was something more there. Instead, I learned to try to live the perfectly ordinary American life that my perfectly ordinary American friends and neighbors seemed to be living.

Why German citizenship?
All that changed when the political situation in America did, and I decided to go digging for a Plan B, for a second citizenship that might let me live and work somewhere more comfortable.

I knew many European countries consider citizenship to be a matter of jus sanguinis, of who your parents are, rather than the American system of jus soli, where you were born. So I started digging into the nationality laws of the places my grandparents were from, places that are now part of Serbia and Hungary.

The problem was that, even though both countries use the jus sanguinis system, neither had any record of my grandparents’ nationality. Later, I learned that’s because ethic Germans in those places were stripped of their citizenship following the War. Rendered stateless, they didn’t have citizenship of their own, let alone one they could pass on to their children.

This was a serious problem.

Modern international law tries really hard to avoid the creation of stateless people. Their existence creates all sorts of issues. A stateless person, for example, doesn’t have the right to live anywhere. But they do have to live somewhere.

Germany solved this problem, then, by granting citizenship to ethnically German people who had been stripped of their nationalities following the War. For many, who had been granted refugee identification and who continued to live in Germany, that process took on one form. For others, like my grandparents, who had already left Europe, things were a bit more complicated. But, in the end, both they and their infant daughter, my mother, became naturalized German citizens. Their daughter, then, passed that nationality along to me at birth.

How do I get it?
If you’re like me, you already have it, and have since birth. The only question is how you prove that.

How do I prove it?
Fortunately, Germany has a well-established process for getting a definitive answer regarding one’s nationality: by applying for a Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis, or Certificate of Nationality.

For those living outside of Germany, the Bundesverwaltungsamt (BVA), or Federal Office of Adminstration, manages the entire process, though you will submit your paperwork to, and communicate with the BVA through, your local embassy or consulate.

Most of the process is fairly straightforward once you have the necessary forms: you have to prove you were born to a German citizen. You then have to keep proving that person was born to a German citizen until you either 1) get to someone who was naturalized, in which case you need a copy of that person’s naturalization certificate, or 2) reach someone who was born in Germany during/before the early 1900s.

That entails getting birth and marriage certificates for everyone in that chain. Those documents must then be legalized for international use by acquiring an apostille for each one. In the US, that’s typically done by the Secretary of State for the state that produced the document.

That might seem like a lot of documents, but for most Donauschwaben whose families left after World War 2, the person who was naturalized is either their grandparents, their parents, or even themselves. Remember, when Donauschwaben left or were expelled from their homes elsewhere, they were stripped of their citizenship. It was only later that they were naturalized as German.

In my case, my grandparents were given citizenship after they arrived in the US. Upon application to their nearest German embassy, they were issued the following certificates, which then allowed them to obtain passports:

My grandmother’s naturalization certificate.

They later lost their German citizenship when they became American. At that point, no future children would have be born German themselves.

But my uncle was born in that magic window between naturalizations, and was therefore born German. You can find more information about how, and by whom, German nationality can be acquired by birth on, of all places, Wikipedia.

My mother had already been born when my grandparents were naturalized, though, and my grandparents had no certificate for her. They said they never asked for one because she had been born in the US, and therefore already had a passport.

But some research revealed that, under the nationality law in effect at the time, a person’s minor children were naturalized when they were, unless they were specifically excluded on the naturalization certificate. My grandparents’ certificates had no such notation, so my mother should have been naturalized with them.

A quick email to the BVA, in German of course, confirmed that 1) she was naturalized, and 2) that they already had all of her paperwork at the BVA. (Look closely at my grandparents’ certificates: they were issued by the BVA as well!)

So I went to my nearest consulate with all of the necessary paperwork in hand:
1. The application form
2. ‎The additional form for each person, other than yourself, in the line of descent. (In my case, I only needed one, for my mother.)
3. ‎My birth certificate, with apostille
4. ‎My mother’s birth certificate, with apostille
5. ‎My mother’s marriage certificate, with apostille
6. ‎A copy of the email from the BVA
7. ‎Copies of my grandparents’ naturalization certificates, just to be safe

The staff made copies of all original documents, returned them to me, and told me to wait.

A couple of months later, they forwarded a letter confirming receipt of my application.

Application confirmation.

And about a year after my initial application they forwarded the letter I had been waiting for: my Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis had been issued!

Application approval.

All I had to do was wire €25 to the BVA and go to the consulate to pick it up.

I made an appointment to apply for a passport on the same day I was going to pick up my certificate.

So, when I arrived at the consulate, they gave me this:

The certificate of nationality itself.

I used that to apply for my passport, a process that only took a few minutes. And, a few weeks after that, my German passport arrived!

Flying on a German passport for the first time, from Taipei to Berlin!

This all started as a half-serious search for a “Plan B,” but became so much more. It’s a privilege to be able to honor my family’s history, to continue to pass on Donauschwaben culture. And my passport has become a tangible reminder of that obligation. Plus, given how much my grandparents have been a part of my life, I think of them every time I see it, and that never fails to make me smile.

I hope someone finds this useful, and that you find this process of discovery as meaningful and as rewarding as I did.

And, of course, feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have. Cheers!

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