A uniformed Prussian soldier beneath family members wearing kippahs: The painting by the German-Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, created in the early 1830s, entitled “The Homecoming of the Volunteers from the Wars of Liberation to His Own Living According to Old Customs” was intended to demonstrate the compatibility of patriotism and Jewish tradition illustrate.
In fact, quite a few male Jews of the 19th and early 20th centuries hoped that serving with arms would also allow them to participate in society. However, laws that were supposed to give them equal citizenship were revoked after a short time – for example in Germany or France. Until the Nazi state then defined the Jews out of the people and ultimately out of being human.
Oppenheim’s painting, which is marked by confidence, is now on display together with numerous other exhibits in the exhibition “Citizenships. France, Poland, Germany since 1789” which will open in the Pei building of the German Historical Museum on July 1st, 2022.
The emergence and genesis of the Janus-faced concept of citizenship are conveyed from a historical perspective. Because this is an inclusion and exclusion mechanism that defines an outside with the inside, says the historian and legal scholar Dieter Gosewinkel, who is curating the show, in an interview with the Tagesspiegel.
“Such ambivalence has shaped citizenship since the French Revolution”. This gave birth to the citoyen, the citizen who, despite promises to the contrary, was only a citizen for a long time and not a citizen.
Égalité remained a mere ideal; for a long time, women were discriminated against in terms of citizenship alongside Jews. Banished from the spheres of political life, they only became full legal citizens in Germany, France and Poland from the middle of the 20th century.
A strict separation was also implemented in the French and German colonies – the European settlers and colonizers faced the disenfranchised and racialized, “the damned of this earth”. In separate, carefully designed rooms, the exhibition shows the struggles of these groups for social participation and recognition.
Multiple discriminations are also addressed: Jewish women from Eastern Europe had a particularly difficult time in Prussia – in a video game, visitors to the show can slip into the role of the young Rosa Luxemburg and understand how her life would have been if she didn’t have one Marriage of convenience to become Prussian citizens.
An exhibit that, similar to the Oppenheim picture, illustrates the hope of European Jews for full citizenship is an Alsatian-Jewish mappa, a synagogue cloth from the late 19th century, on which Hebrew characters are emblazoned in the colors of the French tricolor .
The fact that the legal situation for Jews in Germany, France and Poland was precarious, remained insecure up to the point of mortal danger, and culminated in complete lack of rights also shows that the civic idea could not free itself from ethnic considerations. In France, too, which is often cited as a prime example of the territorial principle, this often found itself in conflict with the principle of descent, says Gosewinkel.
In Germany, where citizenship as a legal concept emerged later than in France and Poland, a policy of “ethnic homogenization” began at the latest with the founding of the German Empire in 1871. In Nazi law, the “Volksgemeinschaft” became the only determining category to separate the “own” from the “foreign”.
The DHM exhibition provides insights into the debates that took place on dual citizenship in the 2000s, showing that the “ius sanguinis”, the principle of descent, is still relevant in this country and has only recently been replaced by an “ius soli”, a land right, was added. After all, children of foreigners who have lived in the country for a long time now have the opportunity to become Germans, even if ancestry is still a central marker of difference in many minds.
The fact that the principle of citizenship has repeatedly competed with other political, ideological and religious concepts of belonging since 1789 is to be taken into account by the exhibition with a program of events beginning in October. A series of discussions aims to show that collective identities are historically determined ideas that change over time.
Gosewinkel says that even beyond the ethnic charge of the concept of citizenship, it was often linked to national feelings. Accordingly, citizenship is not only a legal title, but also a strongly discursive concept that promotes feelings of community. “Citizenship is a relational category,” says the lawyer and historian. Only in contrast to other groups do the contours of one’s own become clear.
It is no coincidence that conscription in the 19th and 20th centuries was closely linked to the concept of (male) citizenship. The DHM exhibition also addresses the concept of the patriotic “soldier-citizen”. The ex-National Socialist Federal Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger still called the army “the school of the nation”, until Willy Brandt finally corrected him and declared the school to be “the school of the nation”.
Since conscription was suspended in Germany and Poland and abolished in France, the concept of citizenship has been defined primarily in civilian terms, says Gosewinkel. There is a historically not entirely accidental connection between citizenship and the modern nation state, and consequently also between that and nationalism. “But the concept of citizenship is not necessarily tied to strong national sentiments.”
And yet states are unthinkable without borders. As the final chapter of the exhibition shows, national European citizenships are today overarched by a transnational European citizenship. Last but not least, the Corona crisis has shown that freedom of movement within Europe can quickly end in barriers, says Gosewinkel.
It was Berthold Brecht who sarcastically called the passport “the noblest part of a person”. How privileged one is as the holder of a Central European passport only becomes apparent when one suddenly loses the freedom to travel from one part of the world to the other. “Some populate the globe, others are chained to one place,” said sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, referring to globalization. The exhibition addresses the fact that whether one can become a citizen of a country is decisive for life chances. What is somewhat neglected, however, is the fact that different citizenships have different values, some passports are nobler than others and the birth lottery determines fates.
German citizenship, for example, guarantees greater freedom of movement and settlement than Ugandan citizenship. Borders are also global “sorting machines”, as the sociologist Steffen Mau puts it. According to Mau, globalization has not promoted a general dissolution of boundaries, but “more selectivity”. Desired and undesired, productive and useless, harmless and dangerous people are clearly differentiated.
Whoever crosses the territorial border has not yet crossed the social border. In the DHM exhibition, for example, one could have conveyed the extent to which the linking of civil rights to the principle of citizenship creates problems of democratic legitimacy. For example, because people who have lived in Germany for a long time but do not have a Bordeaux red passport in their hands cannot help shape the laws that determine their lives through elections. The fact that anyone who is “sans-papier” without a valid residence permit and does not have easy access to institutions relevant to human rights such as schools or hospitals is also a major problem that citizens are spared.
It was the philosopher Hannah Arendt who formulated an unconditional “right to rights”. As a stateless Jew who had fled Germany, she had experienced first-hand that human rights are worthless to those who need them most. Their immanent contradiction consists in the fact that only those who are also civic legal subjects can effectively invoke them. In a state-designed world, belonging to the political community is the first and only human right.
The exhibition “Citizenships” impressively conveys how these have developed historically. “Today we are experiencing a simultaneity of global opening and renationalization,” says Dieter Gosewinkel. The show shows – as DHM President Raphael Gross explained at the exhibition presentation on Wednesday – that there is no “uniformly positive development towards more open and non-discriminatory forms or towards more transnational permeability”.
The ambivalence of citizenships will remain for the time being. The civilizational achievements that have been fought for with the concept can also be lost again.