Hermann Ringel citizenship

Hermann’s war service

I don’t have in my possession any kind of German nationality document for Hermann Ringel, but there is ample evidence that he enjoyed both the rights and responsibilities of German citizenship during the following 30 years, until the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 stripped away those rights. 

Hermann served the German Reich honorably in the Great War. War service in the German military by itself did not confer citizenship, however. Witness the well-known difficulties in obtaining German citizenship after the war encountered by a certain Austrian corporal in the German Army. That corporal’s name was Hitler, and he did not become a German citizen until obtaining a special decree in 1932. But Hermann’s situation was different because he served as a German citizen, not a foreign national. 

In 2012, when Joanne applied for restored German citizenship based only on our Ringel documentation (we had not traced the Wohlgemuth history at that time), the [State Citizenship Office] readily approved her citizenship claim. Thus, the ultimate arbiter of German nationality confirmed in 2012 that Hermann Ringel was a full German citizen after 1906, despite his Austrian parentage. 

Hermann obtains full rights at age 21

So what Hermann was up to in 1906? Among the documentation I have there is also a fascinating Polish language document that is a certification of Hermann’s place of origin. This is dated on August 13, 1906, a few months before Hermann’s twenty-first birthday. This document will play an important role again later when Elly uses it in 1940 to obtain a Polish passport during her flight from Europe. 

But in 1906 it seems that Hermann had a need to document his legal status as the German-born son of Austrian parents. He must have applied to the municipal authorities in Rzeszów, his father’s ancestral home, and received this formal certificate of his status as a citizen of (or depending on translation, “a national of” or “belonging to”) the municipality of Rzeszów in the kingdom of Galicia. Around the border we see all the geographical designations: Royal Free City of Rzeszów, District of Rzeszów, Kingdom of Galicia, Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. 

This document provided proof of Hermann’s legal status at the time of his birth. Together with a copy of his 1885 birth certificate with the 1888 amendment, which Hermann obtained four months later, he now— shortly after reaching his twenty-first birthday—had the necessary documents to satisfy the Brandenburg legal requirements to obtain German citizenship. 

Hermann Ringel’s citizenship status

Now let’s take a step back and look at the citizenship question for the Ringel family members in Berlin. Schija and Feigel were not German citizens but permanent residents from the neighboring state of Austria-Hungary. Baby Hermann had a slightly different status since he was born on German soil but of non-citizen parents. At this time, the relevant citizenship law was that of the State of Brandenburg, of which Berlin was a part. (The confederated German states honored each others’ laws but there was not a federal citizenship law until 1913, the same law that with amendments remains in effect today.) 

I have not yet determined the Brandenburg law governing Hermann’s circumstances, but his later actions suggest it allowed for a native-born child of alien parents to obtain German citizenship upon reaching the age of majority. Such a child would have lived continuously in Germany since birth and would become eligible for citizenship at the age of twenty-one.

Since my mother’s death in 2005, I have had in my possession precious original documents including Hermann Ringel’s birth and death certificate, Feigel Kaufler’s death certificate and Helga Ringel’s birth certificate. I studied them during earlier phases of my research but only now have realized that two of them were not from the original dates but were copies obtained by my family members at a later date. 

To be specific, Hermann’s birth certificate documents his 1885 birth and includes a handwritten update about the parents’ 1888 marriage, but the copy of it that I have was actually issued in December 1906. Similarly, the copy of Helga’s 1924 birth certificate that I have was actually issued in 1936. 

Our German-Jewish birthright

In another chapter of this book, my sister Joanne describes how she was able to reclaim our mother's stolen German birthright under Article 116 of the German Constitution. She also explains why—alas—my older brother and I were not eligible to do the same thing.

In this chapter, I explore our mother's family roots to discover the historical circumstances that conferred German citizenship on the family to begin with. I look at the history of two family branches—the Ringels and Wohlgemuths—to show how differences in their legal status and cultural outlook resulted from their differing points of origin in Austrian Galicia and German West Prussia. 

As for the parenthetical part of the title, I found I couldn’t leave that out. I’ll show how much good their cherished citizenship did for them after the Nazis took over, which is to say almost none. Our centuries-long family history in Germany and Austria was snuffed out at that time, but family members like our mother who managed to get out in time carried with them some cultural DNA that was passed down to future generations. Today, Joanne’s reclaimed citizenship and that of her daughter Elana affirm our ties to the family’s history in the pre-Nazified German lands. 

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