It’s been a while since I started working on my application for dual citizenship with Austria.
So long that I forgot I had already filled out the preliminary forms and emailed them to the Austrian Consulate in Los Angeles.
So long that I let my hair go Pandemic Grey and I am now I’m obsessing: If I put those grey-tressed images on my new Austrian passport (which I do not have), am I committing myself to aging gracefully–or at least transparently?
So long that I’ve read at least four more books about the Holocaust in Austria that confirm my mother’s assertion that the country was more antisemitic in many ways than Germany.
So long that I decided that I desperately needed to get my home office painted and my ENTIRE HOUSE decluttered, which meant moving my document files to an undisclosed—or at least un-remembered—location.
So long that, now that I’ve gathered all the required preliminary documents and excuses are running thin, I forced myself to sit down in my newly painted office which has the air-conditioning vent filter in upside down (partially my fault, because the handyman who painted the office forgot to put it back and I decided I could do it myself, which I did, but upside down, and standing on a step-stool and pulling something out of a wall is entirely different, aerodynamically speaking, than standing on a step-stool and pushing something in, so my office is hotter than the rest of my house while I wait for the handyman to return) and write this post to air my ambivalence.
I figure I will be shamed into either sending out those forms or to making a public proclamation that I am abandoning this whole dual citizenship meshugas, which would also mean having to find a different ending for my memoir which, not coincidentally, I’m having a really hard time writing, what with the rise of antisemitism, spot-on critiques of the manuscript from friendly readers, and the office being too hot and all.
Finding and Filing
I started the process in September 2020, soon after the amendment to the Austrian Nationality Act that allowed for descendants of persecuted ancestors to apply for citizenship went into effect. First step: Locate the Austrian Consulate in the US that would process the documents. Neither I nor the residents of many fine states had much choice but to choose Los Angeles.
On the consulate’s website, I found an online questionnaire. Among other things, it asks for the name and date and place of birth of my persecuted ancestor. Since I have two such ancestors, aka my parents, I could have applied based on my relationship to either one, but decided to go with the one to whose family’s persecution I devoted an entire blog and talk at Vienna’s Freud Museum.
Filling out that form was the easiest part of the whole process, which is why I had no problem doing it twice (it didn’t hurt that the information was cached).
Next, I had to confirm my relationship to my mother. This required me to get a certified and apostilled copy of my birth certificate
New York, New York
Most cities in most states have one office where you can get a certified copy of your birth certificate, which can then be sent to the state capital for an apostille.
Not New York City. The convergence of circumstances that led to my emergence into the world at Brooklyn Doctor’s Hospital meant I had to apply for the birth certificate in one office and then mail it to another office—about a block away in downtown Manhattan—to get it certified.
As it is officially described (with some omissions for the sake of length but not meaning):
Step 1: Obtaining the Record
If a person requires official proof of his or her birth in New York City with apostille or certificate of authentication, the applicant must first obtain a copy of the birth certificate with a letter of exemplification from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Vital Records Division, 125 Worth Street, New York, NY. … Applications may be made in person at the Department’s Office, by mail, or on-line. The charge is $15.00 plus $8.30 for mailing and service.
Step 2: Authentication by the County Clerk
Documents to be submitted for apostille or certificate of authentication must be authenticated by the County Clerk or a state official. A birth or death certificate must bear a letter of exemplification. A request for authentication must be presented to the County Clerk’s Notary Desk at 60 Centre Street, Room 141B. The request may also be submitted to the County Clerk by mail; if the documents are in proper order, the County Clerk will authenticate them and return them to the applicant by mail. The submission by mail must be accompanied by a certified personal check or U.S. postal order, payable to the County Clerk of New York County, in the amount of $3.00. No other form of payment will be accepted through the mails. Mail applications must include a stamped, self-addressed envelope for return of the documents by the County Clerk. The County Clerk does not have facilities to return documents by delivery service or postal express mail so the applicant should plan accordingly and submit the proper postage to ensure trouble-free return.
Of course if I still lived in or near New York and there had not been a pandemic, both these things could have been accomplished quickly. But I don’t and there was.
Here is where I confess that being forced to deal with the slow-turning wheels of New York bureaucracy could be karma. When I was in college, I had a part-time job as a file clerk at the Department of Finance, which was located just down the block from the County Clerk’s office. This was in the days before electronic tax filing (and identity theft) and I had to put original tax documents into file folders in alphabetical order. This was not a difficult task, but let’s just say that the inhalation of (then) illegal substances was involved during breaks with my fellow college students and, perhaps, some of the file placement might have been less than accurate.
Belated apologies, dear fellow New York taxpayers, for any inconvenience this might have caused.
This is also the part of the story where the post office issue alluded to in the title of this post comes into play. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy started messing with the mail around the time of the 2020 election. Expensive sorting machines were being taken off line, mailboxes were being physically removed… and yet I dropped my original birth certificate into a possibly dead mailbox.
At the time, I rationalized that it was conveniently near the CVS, one of the few places I was chose to enter during the pandemic, on this particular day, to stock up on sanitizing wipes and to buy a new thermometer. But when I got home I started thinking about how weather-beaten and abandoned that mailbox had looked. Even though it was physically there and hours were posted (though faded!), I wondered if a human postal person ever attended it.
Looking back, my action made no sense. I had driven to the CVS. I could have driven to an actual post office which, alert readers may notice, I had to enter to get the requisite $3 U.S. Postal order. Indeed I could have gotten all of Step 2 accomplished in one fell swoop by going into the post office with my birth certificate and an envelope addressed to the County Clerk’s Notary Desk and another envelope addressed to me and enlisted one of the nice distanced and masked clerks to figure out the postage.
At the least, I could have dropped my birth certificate off in a mailbox outside of the post office where even Louis DeJoy was not brazen enough to remove mailboxes.
Turns out, the mailbox was in fact alive. But my fear of its demise gave me something besides COVID to obsess about for about six weeks until the certification arrived.
But wait, there’s more. I now needed to get the authenticated document even more authenticated! You’d think it would be a lot easier for someone desperate for Austrian citizenship to just get a forged passport (like many of my ancestors did, though in hopes of going in the opposite direction) than to jump through all these hoops to pretend to be me, which, objectively and subjectively speaking, is not particularly desirable on most days. But okay.
Step 3: Issuance of Apostille or Certificate of Authentication
The third step in the process is the issuance of the apostille or certificate of authentication by the New York State Department of State. An application form must be completed. The documents in question, properly authenticated, must be attached and a fee paid. The fee is $10.00 per apostille or certificate.
Instructions regarding acceptable methods of return of documents submitted by mail are found on the application form.
I won’t go into what I did, U.S. postal system-wise, to delay receiving this item; suffice it to say, you can’t send a return envelope by certified mail and then not be home to sign for it.
And this is just the first part of the process. I haven’t even gotten to the part that involves the FBI.
To be continued…