Life & Culture

I love honouring Britain

Does Robert Voss regret his decision in deciding not to follow up his German passport application, as seen in a BBC documentary?


When asked by the BBC to tell my story and air my thoughts on applying for a German passport, I was hesitant but knew that British Jews, German Passports would give myself and my family the opportunity to finally find out the fate of my grandparents and other family members who perished in Nazi Germany. What I didn’t anticipate was the huge release of emotion over this issue and even more so the effect the programme has had on so many others - family, friends old and new, and people from the past.

In fact in just a week after the programme was aired I have received well over 100 emails, texts, phone calls and even letters telling me how inspirational  people found the programme and my story in particular. I even heard from people I have never met, who somehow managed to get my contact details.

Not all agreed with my decision and some were sympathetic with the decision of Dame Julia Neuberger and Hilary Freeman, but it seems to have awakened a great many minds to the possibility of applying for a German passport, which as a Jew is a somewhat contentious issue.

What also amazed me is the number of people who have changed their mind as a result of my story and my decision. One of my close friends especially seemed determined to go ahead with his application before the programme, but has now – like me - put any such action on long term hold.

By chance, less than 48 hours after the programme was aired, my wife and I flew off on a trip to Krakow and Auschwitz, ironically organised by Julia Neuberger’s synagogue West London and wonderfully led by Dame Helen Hyde and Rabbi David Mitchell. I have just returned.

As you can imagine, my emotions were running very high when we spent seven hours walking around Auschwitz and Birkenau. As anyone brave enough to have made that pilgrimage knows, such a visit cannot be anything but an emotionally charged and deeply moving experience.

Having been involved with the Survivor Testimony programme of the UKHMF and having met many camp survivors the effect on me was even deeper, being aware of the horrific experiences many had suffered on the very ground on which I was walking.

Whilst the decision to apply for a German passport is very personal one, and there is no right and wrong, do I still think I have made the right decision for me?

In the last few weeks, two of my nephews  have applied and perhaps more family members may follow. I certainly do not condemn them for their decision - far from it - I admire them and understand their wish to hold German citizenship. As I said in the programme, it can be seen as insurance “just in case”. 

We are in an ever and fast changing world. Less than 12 months ago who would have said that the UK would no longer be a member of the EU or that a businessman with no political experience would be the most powerful man on the planet? No one knows what the next 12 months hold for us all, let alone the next 12 years.

But yes, for me I feel I have made the right decision, even more so after my visit to Auschwitz. I hear what Dame Julia says in the programme about the action of Angela Merkel in taking in a significant number of refugees but that doesn’t alter the difficulty I have in coming to terms with my family’s past.

What was not said in the programme is that my dear father died three days after his 51st birthday, and at a similar age to his brother and sister, all from different causes.

In my opinion, all three died as a direct result of their suffering in Germany and the stress and guilt of losing their parents and never finding out what actually happened to them, nor where their remains laid for over 70 years.

So, the Nazis didn’t only murder six million Jews in The Holocaust - many more died in the years that followed, my own father amongst them, in 1969. That has left many of my generation without a parent for most of their lives and deprived my children of a grandfather they never had the privilege to know.

So I do not for one moment regret my decision…I love honouring this country, the one that saved my parents and thus gave me life, and as I say at the end of the programme, I am British through and through and could never take up citizenship of a country that deprived my family of so much life.  Even if many people don’t understand my decision I know my late father would have.

Robert Voss CBE DL is Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.

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