ST. PAUL - In front of a packed room at the Germanic-American Institute in St. Paul, Fred Amram reclaimed a part of his identity that he thought he would never get back: his German citizenship.
Amram was just 2 years old when the Nazi Party passed the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which stripped him and other German Jews of their citizenship. He and his parents later fled to the United States and became American citizens.
During the ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 25, Amram - who's now 85 and lives in Minneapolis - was renaturalized as a German citizen by German consul general Herbert Quelle. He is now a dual citizen of Germany and the United States.
After the ceremony, Amram told the several dozen people in attendance that the moment was "bittersweet."
"It's sweet that we are building bridges, we are speaking about atoning, we are speaking about making amends," said Amram, an emeritus University of Minnesota professor, inventor and published author. "And yet it's bitter in that the Holocaust happened. To me, it's bitter that my citizenship was taken away, my birthright was taken away."
Bringing attention to refugees
After finding out about the renaturalization process in 2016, Amram asked a group of Holocaust survivors whether he should do it. Half said he should have nothing to do with Germany and the other half told him that renaturalization was "an opportunity to build bridges again."
Renaturalization ceremonies are typically small, "solemn" affairs that are held in the consul general's office, according to Quelle. But Amram said he decided to turn the ceremony into a teaching moment.
The ceremony was followed by a lengthy discussion on refugees and the issue of statelessness.
A record 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes last year because of persecution, violence or human rights violations, according to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency. Ten million of those individuals are considered "stateless," meaning they have been denied citizenship and access to basic rights.
What does it mean to be 'stateless'?
Stateless individuals cannot attend school, access health care, vote or own property because they lack a nationality, said Ellen Kennedy, executive director of the World Without Genocide group at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Kennedy was invited by Amram, who sits on the group's board of directors, to lead the discussion.
"I believe there is probably almost nothing in the world (that is) worse than to be stateless," Kennedy said.
Amram was stateless in the period between his citizenship being stripped and when he became an American citizen. He was 6 years old when his family fled their home in Hanover, Germany, and eventually settled in New York City. An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
"(Fred) was both stateless and a refugee. Think of more than 10 million people in the world who are like Fred. Everyone has the right to have rights and the right to have a nationality," Kennedy said.