British Jews take German path to Europe after Brexit

British nationals of Jewish descent, whose relatives fled Nazi-occupied Europe, are taking the difficult decision to restore the citizenship stripped from them by the Third Reich as Brexit looms. We spoke to those affected.

British Jews take German path to Europe after Brexit
Some British nationals of Jewish heritage are restoring German citizenship. Photo: DPA

Two of British opera singer Simon Wallfisch's great-grandparents were shot in mass graves by the Nazis and another died in a concentration camp.

So it was with pangs of guilt and triumphant defiance that Wallfisch took on German citizenship once his country decided to leave the European Union after 46 years.

“I've had to use a major family tragedy to shore up some security for my future and my family's future,” Wallfisch, who is also a cellist, told AFP while taking a break from a protest performance of the European anthem outside the British parliament as MPs prepare for a historic vote on Brexit later on Tuesday.

“Of course there are mixed emotions,” the 36-year-old father of two said.

Rising tide 

About 70,000 Jews fled Nazi-occupied Europe to Britain in the harrowing years preceding World War II.

A rising tide of their children and grandchildren are now overcoming misgivings and using a clause of the German constitution to restore the citizenship stripped from them by the Third Reich.

Official Berlin figures show only 43 Britons applying for German passports in 2015 under the special exception for victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.

That number jumped to 684 when Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016. It grew again to 1,667 last year and reached 1,229 in the first nine months of 2018 as more and more people sought ways to preserve their EU right to work and travel freely across the bloc's 27 states.

Their decisions reflect the success of Germany's tortuous coming-to-terms with its history – and the anguish many Britons feel at their island nation's isolationist turn.

“On the one hand, I feel like I'm sort of a traitor to my great-grandparents,” Wallfisch said after a moment's reflection.

“On the other, I feel there's a triumph here. Me becoming German and remaining a European citizen, which I always believed I was, is a victory over the nationalists, the Nazis.”

SEE ALSO: How Brexit and the fight for rights united Britons across Europe

Identity crisis

Britain's planned March 29th departure from the European project was decided in a bitterly fought referendum that gave voice to the disaffected and those feeling abandoned by the ruling elite.

It also fed into social schisms that saw the number of anti-Semitic incidents and other hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales rise from 52,465 in 2014-15 to 80,393 in 2016-17.

Yet some taking the plunge and adopting a dual German nationality come from non-religious families that slowly shed their Jewish identities as they assimilated in the mostly Christian kingdom.

Senior Guardian newspaper reporter Amelia Hill said she was brought up in a secular household and decided to reclaim her German roots while watching “dumbstruck” as the referendum results rolled in on TV.

“I really enjoyed saying to people: I am making my family German,” she recalled.

“But when they accepted me and I had to go to pick it up with my children and my husband, I delayed that process, that last step for a long time because I suddenly thought: this isn't me, who actually am I, this just must be something I've done that is nuts.”

This identity crisis made Hill realise that she was a European Londoner at heart.

“Why would I want my children to not be able to live lives as Europeans?” she asked. “I refuse to let my identity and my children's identity be utterly changed by a minority” of the total population who voted to leave.

Overcoming history 

Some British Jews have had a harder time looking past history.

House of Lords peer Julia Neuberger – a Jewish community leader who is also a London synagogue rabbi — wrote in The Times that her mother “would neither visit Germany nor buy German things” after coming to England in 1937.

Yet Neuberger felt comfortable enough to herself try to reclaim her heritage when Brexit was voted through. She was denied on a technicality.

Popular former TV crime show presenter Nick Ross said he also got his passport “for the sake of saying something to Germany” in recognition of its struggle to overcome the past.

His decision pre-dated the referendum and he refused to blame fellow Britons too harshly for choosing a course with which he so profoundly disagreed.

Ross saw it as a natural product of the 2008-2009 global recession that eventually swept populists to power in Europe and Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.

“There was a rebellion against all these people who were all so smug, who still seemed to be doing very well for themselves,” said Ross.

But he said he did not expect ever to leave London because “I am actually fiercely patriotically British”.

“This is still by anyone's standards a very liberal society,” said Ross. “And as long as it remains that, I am going to do all I can to support that.”

By Dmitry Zaks

Member comments

  1. False argument. The rise in anti-semitism in the UK has nothing to do with the UK leaving the EU. The Labour Party – rife with anti-semitism – and the rise in the number of muslims are the reasons. Look at the French example.

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.