When Adolf Hitler was awarded German citizenship, he abruptly brushed off the congratulations: "You should congratulate Germany, not me!"
It was Feb. 25, 1932 and Hitler had just been naturalized after being appointed as a civil servant in the then-free state of Braunschweig -- a crucial step for the continuation of his political career.
Three quarters of a century later, Isolde Saalmann, a Social Democratic member of Lower Saxony's regional parliament, would like nothing better than to rescind this momentous bureaucratic act. The Austrian-born Führer, who has been dead for almost 62 years, should no longer be a German, in her view. Stripping him of his citizenship would be a "symbolic step," Saalmann believes. She has already proposed her idea to the leadership of the SPD faction in the regional parliament.
Saalmann is chairwoman of the party's local association in Braunschweig's Gliesmarode neighborhood -- and she's rankled by her city's historical connection to Hitler. She talks about a "Braunschweig complex" burdening the town, which prefers to advertize itself as the "lion city" due to its historical connection with Henry the Lion, the powerful duke who ruled the state in the 12th century. "If the Lower Saxony region, the legal successor to the former free state of Braunschweig, were to distance itself from Hitler's naturalization, that would perhaps help," Saalmann told the newspaper Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.
A stateless immigrant
The story of Hitler's naturalization process resembles something of a farce. The then-stateless would-be politician had long been pushing to become a German citizen -- a precondition for holding political office in the Weimar Republic. But, true to his characteristic megalomania, he refused to go and stand in line at the registration office like everyone else. He wanted German citizenship brought to him on a platter.
But the native Austrian's difficult moods foiled the first attempts at making him a German citizen. In 1930, a member of the Nazi Party arranged for him to be appointed chief constable of Hildburghausen, a town in Germany's Thuringia region. This would automatically have made Hitler a German citizen. But the future Führer made a fuss: The job as a village cop wasn't to his liking.
Then members of the Nazi party in Braunschweig -- a stronghold of the Nazi movement -- eventually found a way. Their first attempt to install Hitler as a professor at Braunschweig's Technical University failed, but they later succeeded in finding him a position with the Braunschweig land surveying office. Time was short, since Hitler wanted to run as a candidate in the imminent presidential elections. The Ministry of State then gave him the office of "administrator for the Braunschweig delegation in Berlin."
Devoid of all professional skills qualifying him for this position, the newly-naturalized immigrant immediately made several requests for vacation. And, as planned, he never took office.
The means by which Hitler obtained a German passport may have been unusual. But Saalmann's project of expatriating Hitler faces a small problem: German constitutional law prohibits stripping a person of their citizenship if they would then become stateless -- as Hitler would, since he had already surrendered his Austrian citizenship in 1925.
He ought really to have been expelled from the country a year earlier, since he had been found guilty of high treason and imprisoned following the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. But the sympathetic nationalist judge held that the relevant laws of the Weimar Republic couldn't be applied to a man "who thinks and feels like a German, as Hitler does." And so the Nazi leader remained in Germany.
Lawyers have their doubts as to whether a dead man can be stripped of his citizenship at all -- although Hitler was already stripped of his status as honorary citizen of Braunschweig in 1946. "Dead is dead," commented an official from Lower Saxony's Ministry of Justice. "There's nothing more you can take away from them."
Meanwhile, legal experts working for Lower Saxony's regional parliament are looking into Saalmann's odd proposal. It will probably take them a few weeks to reach a decision on Hitler's citizenship. Isolde Saalmann rejects allegations that her proposal is tailored to win her votes during the next regional elections. "This will be my last legislative period," she insists.