The Most Precious DocumentsPosted: April 11, 2013
In Nazi Germany, labels could be deadly. If a person was labeled as Roma (Gypsy), Communist, homosexual, mentally retarded or Jew, it could be a death sentence. It is not surprising, then, that those who escaped sought a brand new label, the most secure in the world: American Citizen. It is hard for people born here to appreciate what a treasure an American naturalization certificate was for those who came here from that most brutal regime. When I was very young, my father taught me that if there was ever a fire in the house, the first thing I should grab was a certain red leather folder — the folder that contained his and my mother’s citizenship certificates — and then get out of the house. You have to be a resident of the United States for five years before you’re even allowed to apply for citizenship. My father’s parents, Rudolf and Josephine came to the United States in 1934, shortly after the Nazi takeover, and applied for American citizenship as soon as they could. My grandfather Rudolf’s citizenship certificate is missing from our large family archive, but that of my grandmother, Josephine, shows she received hers just over five years after her arrival.
My father, Johannes, didn’t leave Germany until November 1938, and my mother, Elfriede, was not able to get here until November 1939. Both of them, however, applied for and obtained their Citizenship Certificates in the minimum time allowed.
A cherished privilege of citizenship was the right to vote. My father registered for the November elections in 1944. Neither he nor my mother ever missed an election from the day they obtained their citizenship until the day they died. I, too, have never missed an election since the time I was old enough to vote.