Eighty years after Carla Wainwright’s Jewish grandparents were stripped of their German citizenship by the Nazi regime, she’s reclaimed it — for herself and her children.
Wainwright’s German-born grandparents left the country separately in the 1930s, fleeing Nazi persecution.
They met in the United States and raised a family, rarely speaking of their German past.
But now, their granddaughter has gone through a lengthy process to claim German citizenship, which is allowed under German law for those stripped of citizenship by the Nazis “on political, racial or religious grounds” and their descendents.
“My grandparents were Jewish, and they were Germans,” said Wainwright, who lives in Prince George, B.C. “Generations and generations of my family were German.
“I wanted to have that piece of our identity returned to us…. It’s an important part of who I am and our family’s cultural legacy.”
Grandparents faced persecution
Elsbeth Heinsheimer, Wainwright’s grandmother, was born in Karlsruhe in 1911. She wanted to become a dentist like her father, Wainwright said, and left Germany in 1935 after Jewish students were barred from studying dentistry.
A distant cousin helped Heinsheimer move to the United States, where she completed her dentistry training at the University of Pennsylvania. When Heinsheimer was hired at the Guggenheim Clinic in New York City, she was the only female dentist on staff.
Wainwright’s grandfather, Hans Heinsheimer, was born in Baden-Baden in 1900. He earned a PhD in musical copyright from the University of Heidelberg and worked as a musical publisher in Vienna, where he organized concerts of contemporary music, featuring music from composers like Bella Bartok.
Hans Heinsheimer was on a business trip to the United States in 1938 when he was told that Nazi officials had visited his work place with a warrant for his arrest, said Wainwright.
“Needless to say, neither of them returned to Germany until after World War II,” she said.
Wainwright said her grandparents met in New York in 1938, when her grandfather went to a dental appointment at the Guggenheim Clinic and ended up asking his dentist on a date. (The pair had the same last name but only share a distant ancestor, said Wainwright.)
They married that same year and stayed in New York City to raise their family.
Grandparents rarely spoke of German past
Wainwright said her grandparents rarely spoke to her about their connection to Judaism or their earlier life in Germany.
“They gave their children very Christian American names. They encouraged their children to integrate into American society,” said Wainwright.
The process to regain German citizenship was long, said Wainwright. She submitted everything from her grandparents’ old passports to a “manifest of alien passengers” from her grandmother’s transatlantic ship crossing to the United States.
Late last week, at her home in Prince George, Wainwright opened an email from the German consulate general in Toronto informing her that the application for naturalization for her and her three children, ages 13 to 17, was approved.
Germany ‘welcoming us with open arms’
The family will be presented with their citizenship certificates at the German consulate in Vancouver once pandemic restrictions allow.
“It felt kind of like closure, knowing what my great grandparents had to sacrifice to come to North America,” said Wainwright’s 17-year-old son, Liam Giroux, who will soon hold a German passport in addition to his Canadian one.
“It was very interesting that Germany was sort of giving back. They were welcoming us with open arms.”
According to the website for the German Embassy and consulates general in Canada, two different laws from the Nazi era deprived Germans of their citizenship, with the vast majority disenfranchised through the Eleventh Decree to the Law on the Citizenship of the Reich of 1941.
“This law stated that Jews living outside Germany could not be German citizens and mainly affected Jews who had left Germany in the years before or shortly after the beginning of the Second World War,” the site says.
“Former German citizens who lost their German citizenship under the Nazi regime due to political, racist or religious reasons and their descendants can apply for naturalization.”
This option has been available since 1949.
To hear the full interview with Carla Wainwright, tap the audio below:
Daybreak North7:26The Nazis took away her family’s German citizenship, but she’s getting it back