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Post-Brexit Decision, A Rabbi Chooses To Return To Her Roots


Britain's decision to leave the European Union has caused a prominent London rabbi to apply for a German passport. Rabbi Julia Neuberger has made use of a law that allows descendants of people who were stripped of their German citizenship by the Nazis to have it reinstated.

Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who is senior rabbi at West London's reformed synagogue and is also the Baroness Neuberger and a member of Britain's House of Lords, joins us from the BBC.

Thanks so much for being with us.

JULIA NEUBERGER: I'm just delighted to be with you.

SIMON: Let me try and understand this. Is this a German passport to the exclusion of British citizenship?

NEUBERGER: No, no. I'm a member of the House of Lords, and I'm a proud British citizen. And, you know, if you want to meet monarchists, I'm about as monarchist as you can get. Now, I'm absolutely a proud Brit.

But I do want a German passport as well, which we're able to have, because I want to be able to travel freely throughout Europe. And I do feel that my ancestry is European. All four of my grandparents were German, and my mother and her parents came to this country before the war as refugees, and Britain was wonderful to them.

But now that I discover I am entitled to a German passport as well as my British one - I'm a proud British subject - that's what I'm going to do.

SIMON: Is your decision impelled, or at least hastened, by the vote on Brexit?

NEUBERGER: Oh, absolutely. I'm not sure I'd have done it if it hadn't been for that. Indeed, it was my son who got particularly concerned and particularly felt strongly as that he wanted to go for a German passport. So it's not only just me as my mother's daughter, but it's also her grandchildren who can apply.

And so once we've found some documents that I've been looking for and I know I've got somewhere, we will actually put in a formal application. But apparently, the German embassy here in London has been flooded with applications.

SIMON: Yeah. We were told about 400 British Jews have already applied for German passports.

NEUBERGER: Yes, and a lot more in the wings who are doing what I'm doing, trying to find the documents.

SIMON: You are a well-known personage in Great Britain, and I wonder if - what kind of reaction you've received from people.

NEUBERGER: I was expecting to have a very hostile reaction from some of the survivors and some of the refugees who are still alive. Actually, I was at a conference for the Association of Jewish Refugees here in Britain speaking - in fact, speaking about some of this as well, thinking that some of the older people there would have a real go at me.

What was fascinating was that, although most of them, in their 90s, don't want to have German citizenship back, they were saying that their children and grandchildren are also applying.

SIMON: I try to be careful with questions that are premised on what someone who is gone would think. But I'm going to chance one in your case. If your parents were here, what do you think they'd make of your decision?

NEUBERGER: I've been thinking about that a great deal. And my mother only went back to Germany once, and she only went back when my father said - my father was born in Britain - when my father said to her, Liesel, if you don't go to Germany now, I won't be alive, and I won't be able to come with you. And she went back. And she had an amazing time, and she saw her all old school friends. And what would she have felt? I think she'd have felt ambivalent, to be honest. My father would have just been completely relaxed about it, I think.

But it's been very interesting because my son feels very strongly that he wants German citizenship. My daughter's not at all sure. She can't see it, and she just says, you know, why would you want it, given the history?

But I have to say Germans - unlike, I think, other countries that were responsible for the Holocaust, Germans have tried to come to terms. They teach it. They are doing what they can. We can't forgive the perpetrators. How can we? The people who died are not alive to do the forgiveness. But nevertheless, I think the Germans have made a huge effort, and I admire them hugely for the number of migrants and refugees that they've taken in. And it was partly that that swung my decision.

SIMON: Rabbi Julia Neuberger from the BBC in London. We recorded this on Friday before the Shabbat. Thanks so much for being with us.

NEUBERGER: Thank you so much. I enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.