Withdrawal of Citizenship

During the era of Nazi rule, withdrawal of German citizenship was a frequently used method of seizing the assets of those who had fled the country. Such expatriations had far-reaching consequences for the Jewish refugees.

Initially, the measure almost exclusively affected prominent political refugees. However, the authorities very soon began to extend the circle of persons the legislation referred to. Once the expatriation measures, which included confiscation of all assets, proved to be a veritable gold mine in terms of income for the state, the authorities quickly proceeded to register every solvent Jewish refugee.

Two laws on expatriation

In spring and summer 1933, the Reich's new Nazi government issued two laws which in the following years would serve as the legal basis for expatriation: the "Gesetz über den Widerruf von Einbuergerungen und die Aberkennung der deutschen Staatsbuergerschaft" of 14 July 1933 and the "Gesetz über die Einziehung des kommunistischen Vermoegens" of 26 May 1933.1 These laws covered a broad legal spectrum for the withdrawal of citizenship. Frequently, both were applied in combination. At first, regarding the persecuted Jews, the focus was on the so-called "Ostjuden"2. On the basis of the two 1933 laws, they were divested of their German citizenship, which they had been granted only after WWI.


From the mid-1930s, these legal constructs were more and more frequently employed against Jewish refugees. Though in their application, the German authorities faced the following difficulties:
1. The procedure involved a fairly high level of bureaucratic effort. Several ministries and offices were required to participate in the matter. Thus, the leading Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs had to coordinate the proceedings with the Reich Foreign Office and the office of the Chief of German Police (later the Reichssicherheitshauptamt). Further included were numerous regional authorities which were locally in charge of such matters.
2. The procedure had to be linked to some form of prosecutable misconduct on the part of the persons to be expatriated. In the cases of those persecuted for political reasons, this aspect could be found easily, as most of these emigrants had been active in parties or organisations the Nazis had criminalised and banned. Regarding Jewish refugees, though, this strategy proved to be rather difficult to employ.

Emigrants were criminalised

Therefore, until 1941, numerous examples can be found of ridiculous reasoning supposedly providing proof of illegal behaviour of persecuted. One example: for Manfred E. of Bovenden near Goettingen, the sale of grease-proof paper intended for packaging German high-quality butter became disastrous. Not because trade in such paper was illegal, but because his customer was accused by the Gestapo of having committed an offence. In this, the evidence was so vague that no regular court proceedings were initiated. Yet the accusation was sufficient to strip Manfred E., who had escaped to the UK, of his German citizenship. And after issuance of the "Elfte Verordnung zum Reichsbuergergesetz"3 of 25 November 1941, upon "moving their regular abode abroad", all Jews were automatically divested of their German citizenship. One consequence of this was that all assets left behind were confiscated "for the benefit of the German Reich". This regulation was issued in the context of the mass deportations of Jews which had begun in 1941, and it paved the way for the authorities to comprehensively loot the deportees of their belongings.


  1. "Law on the Revocation of Naturalisations and the Withdrawal of German Citizenship" and "Law on the Confiscation of Communist Assets".
    On the withdrawal of citizenship cf. Michael Hepp: Die Ausbuergerung deutscher Staatsangehoeriger 1933-45 nach den im Reichanzeiger veroeffentlichten Listen, Munich 1985

  2. Translator's Note: in the context of German anti-Semitism, the term "Ostjuden" ("Eastern Jews") decidedly does not refer to Middle Eastern Jewish communities in the meaning of "Mizrahim", but to the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jewish population in Eastern Europe, part of which had fairly recently immigrated to Germany, mostly from Poland. For various reasons, both by German nationalists and anti-Semites, and also by a good portion of the "assimilated" German Jewish intellectuals, these were seen as a major problem, as many of them conspicuously adhered to their traditional way of life, customs, habits and thinking.

  3. "11th Regulation Pertaining to the Reich Citizenship Law"