For years, Elliott Masie pondered the possibility of reclaiming citizenship in Germany, the country his father fled in 1936. But he never felt compelled to act. Then Donald Trump became president of the United States. Spurred by what he described as the disturbing rhetoric of Trump’s campaign and the uncertainty sowed by the election, Masie decided to become a German citizen.
Germany, Spain, and Portugal each have their own legal provisions enabling the descendants of persecuted Jews who once lived in those countries to seek citizenship today. Since 1949, those who were stripped of citizenship for “political, racist, or religious reasons” have been eligible for reclaimed German citizenship along with their families. Spain and Portugal passed similar laws in 2015, allowing descendants of Jews expelled during the Inquisition (which took place over 500 years ago) to naturalize. And after last November’s election, a small but growing number of eligible Americans—some of whom have been fearfully eyeing reports of mounting vandalism and harassment against Jews—have been exploring the option.
According to the German embassy in Washington, D.C., the number of Jews applying for reclaimed citizenship from the U.S. has been increasing since the fall of 2016: 70 in September, 92 in October, 124 in November, and 144 in December. By January of this year, the number had climbed to 159. (Americans more broadly also showed early indications of at least hypothetical interest in emigrating after the election—the most prominent example being reports that Canada’s immigration website crashed in the hours after the results were announced. In the end, only 28 Americans actually applied for asylum, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.)