Austria to offer passports in London to Holocaust survivors’ descendants

MPs in Austria's parliament unanimously approve cross-party plan to restore citizenship to children, grandchildren — and great-grandchildren too


British Jews whose ancestors fled the Nazis will be allowed to reclaim Austrian citizenship in London from next year, as MPs agreed changes to Austria’s nationality laws.

People who fled the country before the end of the Second World War have long been able to reclaim their citizenship but now, in a significant shift, the descendants of those victims will be able to apply.

The liberalisation was unanimously approved by Austrian MPs in a vote on Thursday. It will apply not only to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, but potentially great-grandchildren too.

British Jews descended from Austrian victims of Nazism will be able to request Austrian citizenship from September 1, 2020 by filing paperwork at the Austrian Embassy in London.

The applicants will neither have to reside in Austria nor surrender their British citizenship in order to obtain an Austrian passport.

In an exclusive interview last November, then-chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the JC he wanted to change Austria’s citizenship laws to “give all children and grandchildren of Holocaust victims the opportunity to become Austrian citizens if they want to.”

Though it was part of his government’s programme, Mr Kurz was unable to pass his intended bill before his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) collapsed in May 2019.

Austria’s parties agree in principle on extending citizenship to Holocaust survivors’ descendants but differ on how extensive it should be.

In February, MPs from the People’s Party and the FPÖ voted in committee to defer proposals brought by the Social Democratic (SPÖ) and liberal Neos parties to change to the law.

Mr Kurz was later replaced by a caretaker government led by Brigitte Bierlein, ex-president of Austria’s constitutional court, to prepare the country for an early election.

Her interior minister Wolfgang Peschorn has been working behind the scenes to bring the parties together and hammer out a draft deal, Der Standard reported, and last week, the People’s Party, FPÖ and SPÖ announced they had agreed a compromise.

Parliament was due to convene on Thursday, ten days before the election, to vote on the measure. The extension of citizenship to fourth-generation Holocaust survivors was part of the bargain pushed by the SPÖ.

SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner, called the change a “signal of [Austria’s] respect for the victims of Nazism and their descendants” and part of the country’s “historic responsibility.” People’s Party MP Martin Engelberg, who is Jewish, said the proposal was a symbol “that reminds us never to forget the horrors of National Socialism.”

A spokesperson for the Neos parliamentary party told the JC that their MPs would definitely vote for the bill. The cross-party support means it should pass with at least a two-thirds majority.

Combined with support from the People’s Party, FPÖ, and SPÖ, the bill should pass with at least a two-thirds majority.

Indeed, the draft amendment will likely pass the lower house unanimously.

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