British Jews apply for German nationality as Brexit looms

Holocaust survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, center, her daughter Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch, left, and her grandson Simon Wallfisch, right, the son of Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch, pose for a photo after an interview with the Associated Press in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (AP)
Updated 30 January 2019
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British Jews apply for German nationality as Brexit looms

  • Britons holding dual citizenship from an EU country like Germany will retain the privilege of free movement and work across the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc

BERLIN: Simon Wallfisch grew up in London as the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor who had sworn to never return to the country that murdered her parents and 6 million other Jews.
But more than 70 years after the Holocaust, Brexit has prompted Wallfisch and thousands of other Jews in Britain to apply for German citizenship, which was stripped from their ancestors by the Nazis during the Third Reich.
“This disaster that we call Brexit has led to me just finding a way to secure my future and my children’s future,” said Wallfisch, 36, a well-known classical singer and cellist who received his German passport in October. “In order to remain European I’ve taken the European citizenship.”
Britons holding dual citizenship from an EU country like Germany will retain the privilege of free movement and work across the soon-to-be 27-nation bloc.
Many Britons whose ancestors came from other parts of Europe have been claiming citizenship in other EU member states so they can keep ties to the continent. But for Jews whose families fled Germany to escape the Nazis, the decision has meant re-examining long-held beliefs about the country.
The German Embassy in London says it has received more than 3,380 citizenship applications since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 under article 116 of the German Constitution, which allows the descendants of people persecuted by the Nazis to regain the citizenship that was removed between 1933 and 1945.
In comparison, only around 20 such requests were made annually in the years before Brexit.
Wallfisch’s grandmother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, was 18 in December 1943 when she was deported to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where more than 1 million Jews were murdered.
She survived because she was a member of the camp’s girls’ orchestra. As a cellist, she had to play classical music while other Jews were taken to the gas chambers.
In November 1944, she was taken to Bergen-Belsen — the concentration camp where diarist Anne Frank died after also being transferred from Auschwitz at about the same time — where she was eventually liberated by the British army in April 1945.
Lasker-Wallfisch immigrated to Britain in 1946, got married and had two children. Her career as a famous cello player took her around the world, but it took decades until she overcame her hatred enough to set foot on German soil again in the 1990s.
In recent years, Lasker-Wallfisch, 93, has become a regular visitor, educating children in Germany about the Holocaust and speaking last year during the German parliament’s annual Holocaust memorial event.
On Sunday’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Lasker-Wallfisch, her grandson Simon and her daughter Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch performed for the first time together on stage at the Jewish Museum Berlin in commemoration of their family. They played music with other members of their extended family and read letters from the past as a tribute to those who survived and those who perished in the Shoah.
Before the show, the three generations sat together on the red couch in the museum’s dressing room and told The Associated Press about the emotional thoughts that went into the younger two’s decision to take German citizenship.
“We cannot be victims of our past. We have to have some hope for change,” said Maya Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch, a 60-year-old London psychotherapist who is Simon’s aunt and is still waiting on her German citizenship to be approved. “I feel somehow in a strange way triumphant. Something is coming full circle.”
More than just retaining the ability to travel easily or maintain business ties, Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch said there are other, more emotional reasons to acquiring German citizenship, with Britain due to leave the European Union on March 29.
“I feel an aliveness here (in Berlin) that I have not experienced before, but it totally makes sense because after all I am German,” Jacobs Lasker-Wallfisch said. She added that if the country behind the Holocaust is now one that welcomes the descendants of the victims, “that’s a good thing.”
But Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, remained skeptical and pessimistic.
“Jewish people never feel secure,” she said to her daughter and grandson, reminding them of her own past. “I had German nationality — it did not buy me security.”


Daesh link to Sri Lanka attacks raises fears of South Asia terror ‘recruits’

Updated 22 min 14 sec ago
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Daesh link to Sri Lanka attacks raises fears of South Asia terror ‘recruits’

  • Investigators believe Daesh worked with an obscure preacher
  • In Sri Lanka, too, Daesh has been recruiting for years, according to Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on militancy in the region

ISLAMABAD: A video that emerged following the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka showed seven black-clad, masked figures led by an eighth man, his face visible, pledging allegiance to Daesh.

That man is thought to be Mohammed Zahran Hashim, a little-known radical preacher from Sri Lanka believed by investigators and experts to have masterminded the terror attacks that have left 359 dead and more than 500 wounded.

On Tuesday, the Daesh terror group claimed responsibility for the bombings, and issued threats of future attacks in both Arabic and Tamil. It also released a video of eight bombers allegedly involved in the strikes. 

However, even with Daesh claiming responsibility for the attacks, many questions remain, including whether the bombers were core fighters from the extremist group or members of local outfits who have pledged allegiance to the organization.

The Sri Lankan government has previously said the attacks were the work of a local Islamist group, the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), along with another group, Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim.

Now investigators are scrambling to determine if Daesh merely encouraged these groups to carry out the bombings or if the attackers included core extremists from the terrorist organization. Whatever the links, the Daesh claim suggests that the terror group remains a threat despite the recapture of its territory in Syria and Iraq. It has also heightened concerns about the organization’s growing influence in South Asia, reflected in the FBI, Interpol and other foreign intelligence services joining the investigation.

“Clearly a group as powerful as Daesh won’t go away quickly, and its role in this attack would suggest that it remains perfectly prepared to stage, or help stage, the deadliest attacks imaginable,” Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told Arab News.

Daesh has built networks in a number of Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Maldives, the Philippines and Indonesia. In Sri Lanka, too, Daesh has been recruiting for years, according to Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on militancy in the region.

“Sri Lanka is the only country in Asia where Daesh has not carried out an attack despite having a network for a considerable amount of time,” he said. Gunaratna said that Daesh had received considerable help from the radical preacher Zahran Hashim, a former member of the NTJ who broke away and created the Al-Ghuraba group. “That is the Daesh branch in Sri Lanka,” he said.

The ‘main player’

With no history of Islamist extremism in Sri Lanka, NTJ  was the main contender for involvement with Daesh.

A government official who declined to be named said that the NTJ had split into three groups in 2016 since many of its followers disapproved of Hashim’s “extremist ideology.”

Hashim’s increasingly militant views came from his growing “international connections and links with Islamic groups in southern India,” the official said. 

The preacher is believed to have received his early schooling in Kattankudy, his hometown in eastern Sri Lanka. Unconfirmed media reports say he traveled to India to study Islamic theology, but abandoned his studies. Since then, he has reportedly traveled between India and Sri Lanka.

Last year, Hashim came on the radar of intelligence officials after three Buddhist statues were defaced in central Sri Lanka. Interrogation of the young men responsible revealed they were students of Hashim. That investigation also led officers to a large weapons cache, including 100 kg of explosives and detonators, on Sri Lanka’s northwest coast.

Hilmy Ahmed, vice president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said Hashim had been turned away by the people and moderate clerics of his native Kattankudy because of his hard-line views. It was then that he turned to YouTube. In the past two years, he gained thousands of followers with impassioned sermons against non-Muslims on YouTube and a Sri Lankan Facebook account, which he called Al-Ghuraba media.

According to Robert Postings, a researcher, Hashim had been a supporter of the group at least since 2017 when he began posting pro-Daesh propaganda on Facebook. In many of Hashim’s videos, the backdrop shows images of the Twin Towers burning after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Experts with knowledge of the investigations said that Hashim’s faction of the NTJ was almost certainly the “main player” in the Easter attacks.

Given the unprecedented scale, sophistication and coordination of the bombings, and the fact that foreigners were targeted, it was likely that he had worked with support from international “players,” they said.

“It’s hard to imagine that the attacks were purely domestic in nature,” said Taylor Dibbert, a Sri Lanka expert and fellow at the Pacific Forum. “Most Sri Lankans had not heard about National Thowheed Jamath before,” Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, said.

The group lacked the power to coordinate the attacks, he said. “There is someone behind them, a handler.”

Specter of violence 

Sri Lanka endured several suicide bombings targeting government officials and installations during the decades-long conflict with ethnic Tamil separatists that ended in 2009. Since then, the country has enjoyed relative calm. After a lull in violence for 10 years, the trauma and anger over Sunday’s suicide bombings have been heightened with revelations that top officials failed to order tighter security arrangements despite the threat of violence. “Sri Lanka was an easy target,” Perera said.

Most importantly, those behind the attack were aware of the deep dysfunction within the Sri Lankan government and exploited it, experts said.

According to an April 11 intelligence report seen by Arab News, police had received a tip-off of a possible attack on churches by the NTJ this month. Reuters also reported that Indian intelligence officers contacted their Sri Lankan counterparts two hours before the first attack to warn of a specific threat on churches.

A minister said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had not been told about the warnings and had been shut out of top security meetings because of a feud with President Maithripala Sirisena. 

Sirisena fired Wickremesinghe last year but was forced to reinstate him under pressure from the Supreme Court. Their relationship is said to be fraught.  “The threat of an attack was known well in advance of Sunday, yet didn’t lead to any efforts to preempt it. That suggests you don’t have people communicating with each other at a high level,” said Kugelman.

“This government dysfunction, driven by tensions between the president and prime minister, could be something that the militants sought to exploit. In effect, they knew they would have a greater chance to pull off this horrific act because a hamstrung government wouldn’t be in a position to prevent it.”

The next few weeks will be critical for Sri Lanka as experts fear that festering tensions between Buddhists and Muslims could explode, raising the specter of the country descending into violence. 

Isolated attacks on Muslim-owned property have already been reported in the past three days.

“The government will need to step up and try to bring together a grieving nation that risks becoming more divided,” Kugelman said. “That won’t be an easy task for an administration that is itself deeply divided.”

Dibbert added: “The government needs to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation in order to fully understand what transpired on Easter. A heavy-handed response targeting ethnic or religious minorities would exacerbate tensions and further destabilize the situation.”