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…
Anna Redsand says
I still say, Go for it, in the name of restitution. Free access to Europe can’t hurt either. IMHO. A lot of tsuris, though.
Edie Jarolim says
Thanks, Anna. I’m still torn but I’ll probably push through…whether I opt to make use of the new passport or not.
Learned so many things in today’s post, not the least of which is the word “apostille” and that you’re rocking the chic new shade of hair known as Pandemic Gray. Sorry that you’ve had to go through so much paperwork hell, but Don’t stop now. I see a funny chapter (or at least an Afterword) forming for your book…
Edie Jarolim says
Yes, the term “apostille” was news to me too! And one of these days, I might even get up the courage to post a picture of the new Pandemic Grey me!
This inspired me to try again for the Polish passport, which never got past the idea stage. It also got delegated to something on the pandemic things to do list (which I must have written in disappearing ink)!
Love that in all of this you have hair questions…
Edie Jarolim says
Ha, nice to know you’re as conflicted as I am. Maybe we can have a two-person support group for this process.
And you know questions about my hair would be key!
Vera Marie Badertscher says
I focused on the ridiculously difficult and expensive rules in New York for getting records. As a Family Historian, I had to deal with paying some exorbitant fee and then waiting about 18 months–at any rate long enough to forget I had ordered anything–for a great-grandmother’s death certificate. But now I have someone to blame it on. The papers were no doubt misfiled by some loose-living college student.
Edie Jarolim says
Haha! When in doubt, I think it’s always safe to blame things on loose living college students.
Willy Van den Bergh says
My name is Willy Van den Bergh and for several years I am doing research on the Jewish refugees who stayed in the period 1938-1940 in Merksplas (Merxplas) and other locations in Belgium.
I collected a lot of information in different archives in Belgium. I am currently analyzing this data. Among these documents is the information I found about your father and your uncle. If you can send me your email address, I will send you a copy of these documents. Maybe I can help you to find answers for some questions
Edie Jarolim says
This is very exciting. Yes, I will send you my information — thank you!
Lia tH. says
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have also been extremely conflicted about the process. I am one of the last members of my family to apply ( except my mother, who refused). When my cousins first asked me if I was going to apply, I said no. I felt there was no way I was going to return to a country that systematically murdered or attempted to obliterate my entire family.
Three things made me change my mind, and I sent in the paperwork this week:
1. My kids who just crested into adulthood want the EU access. I want them to have every opportunity in the future.
2. All my first cousins, who live now in the US, are trying to secure a second citizenship as an escape route, should it become necessary (the irony is not lost on them). I want to be able to be wherever they are, should they decide to relocate. We have been scattered across continents around the world. I will not allow that legacy to keep dividing my family.
3. I turned it over and over in my head and I came to this conclusion: for me, the citizenship is not about forgiveness or acceptance. I don’t think those things are possible under the circumstances. It is however, about reclaiming our rights. My family had lived in Austria for many generations. It was our birthright, and it was forcibly removed. We are restoring that which was/is rightfully ours. (That does not mean that I don’t feel risk inherently tied to that choice, my husband, who never misses an opportunity for dark humour, said, ‘what if they’re just bringing everyone back to finish the job?’).
So, from one descendant to another, I feel you. Good luck in finding a conclusion that feels correct for you.
Edie Jarolim says
Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts here — and for your good wishes. One of the things that is different in my circumstances is that I have no immediate family that would benefit or who are interested — no children, no first cousins, and I am estranged from my sister (though I do have nieces to whom I am close, this is not something they’re interested in pursuing). So.
But I agree with you about reclaiming our rights. And I think what your husband said is hilarious and something my father might have said.
Born in New York City, the place where my mother at age 11, her sister at 8, and their mother, my Oma fled after leaving Vienna by train and Genoa by boat, has subjected me, too, to the indignity of double apostille. I’ll finish the process and get an Austrian passport. Mine, however, will have neither a J nor a swasticka emblazoned beside my image.
Edie Jarolim says
Nor the name “Sarah” added, right?! Good for you and best of luck to my fellow sufferer from New York bureaucracy. P.S. I would not have wanted to grow up in any other place.
Helen Levy says
I so enjoyed reading your blog and all the comments. It was as if my own thoughts were written down.
I applied for German restitution of citizenship in the 6th of August 2018. Yes, almost 3 years ago. I, and my kids, are still waiting for a decision to be made.
I found the process of searching for the details of the atrocities done to my maternal side, traumatic and far reaching.
My kids want EU citizenship and we are all tired of waiting. So, do we go ahead and apply for Austrian through my paternal side?
I feel paralyzed at the very thought. I can’t face it. It feels like struggling up a mountain with badly fitting shoes, even though I know we must have a very good case. My father, despite saying he had been born in Poland, received an Austrian pension and his parents names as on the list for the new Shoah memorial.
It is good, be it profoundly sad, to know my complex feelings are shared by others facing this process.
Edie Jarolim says
Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: This process involves searching for — or, at minimum, thinking about again — the atrocities inflicted on our families. How can we not be conflicted about wanting to return to the crime scene, as it were.
I completely understand not being able to face going through the process again, and your metaphor about the mountain was very apt. I’m getting the sense that Austria is making it easier, though, than German, so if you can bear going through it again, I imagine you’ll have better luck with the process, especially with your grandparents names on the list for the new Shoah memorial.
All the best in going through this new phase, if that’s what you decide to do. Getting your children EU citizenship is a goal definitely worth striving for. Blinders on!
Deborah Schabes says
Thanks so much for sharing!!
– I had the same ‘misfortune’ to have been born in NYC . The insanity of the apostille birth certificate bureaucracy has to be experienced to be believed.
Ditto for marriage certificate.
– completely agree with your definition of the citizenship as restoration of rights.
I too am descended from several generations of Austrian statsbuerger. My grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandfather & great-grand uncle, observant Jews , all served in the Austrian army in WWI .
My Viennese grandmother taught me both prayers & opera lieder My bittersweet relationship with Vienna is that everything is familiar – simultaneously good & horrible.
This process is only reinstating what I was supposed to be born with.
Edie Jarolim says
Thank you, in turn, for coming by and sharing your experience. Crazy to jump through those New York hoops, no?
The part about your relatives serving in World War I is particularly galling. My grandfather served too, and he was sent off to be killed in thanks. I wrote about that particular issue here: https://freudsbutcher.com/genealogy/samuel-singers-military-service/
I’m not quite certain how I came across your blog today, but glad, since our backgrounds are remarkably similar: Viennese on Mother’s side, family fled in September 1940 and remained on Ellis Island for 5 months (worth learning their story). I was born/raised in Manhattan, PhD, single. I found the FB group the day I passed all my papers at the Washington, DC embassy from two others in line behind me. Was fingerprinted 2/11 and await the crimson booklet. Shall we look for one another in FB? Linda
Edie Jarolim says
Thanks for writing! Yes, let’s connect on Facebook. As you’ll see in the group, I just published a piece in Tablet about my citizenship journey. Look forward to more contact with you.