1955 German ruling

Former Austrian who became German reverts to Austrian status

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 June 2011
Last updated 21 June 2014

OverviewPost-liberation nationality under internal, occupation, and international law
1955 German rulingAustrians have no right of choice of German nationality under international law
Comments Internal, occupation, and international law | A different legal principle | Moscow Declaration | Status quo ante | Rescinding the involuntary loss of nationality | A law presently before Parliament | Permanent residence

Overview of 1955 German ruling

Germany formally incorporated Austria into the Reich on 13 March 1938 by a legislative act, ratified by Austrians in a plebiscite held on 10 April 1938, in what was called the Anschluss (Anschluß), meaning "joinder" or "union". As the result of the Anschluss, Austrians acquired German nationality.

The term "Anschluss" was used to stress that the incorporation was not the result of an "Annektierung" (annexation), which would have implied the use of force -- though in fact Germany had threatened an invasion and sent military forces across the border to enforce what appeared to be a choice by Austrians themselves to "return" to the German fold. In other words, Germany saw the "unification" of the countries as a "reunification" of racially German people.

On 27 April 1945, shortly after the liberation of Vienna (Wien) by Soviet troops, while most of Austria was still occupied by German forces, a provisional Austrian government declared the Anschluss (Anschluß) "null and void" (null und nicht). On 10 July 1945, the Republic of Austria enacted a law that stipulated the conditions under which Austrians would be regarded as having lost their German nationality and reverted to their Austrian nationality retroactive to the start of the Anschluss (see below).

Austria, divided into Soviet, French, American, and British occupation zones following Germany's surrender, did not gain full independence until 12 May 1955. However, as an occupied protectorate of the four Allied Powers, Austria was permitted to govern itself and dismantle the legal order Germany had imposed on it in the process of nationalization.

German courts, invoking laws enacted by a provisional Austrian government established after the partial liberation of Austria in 1945, before the end of World War II in Europe, have ruled that Austrians who had become Germans on account of the Anschluss had reverted to Austrian nationality, pursuant to Austria's laws, and had no right, under international law, to a choice of nationality.

What I am calling the "1955 German ruling" was the final judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court of the Republic of Germany in a case which had been heard before two other German courts. The ruling is of considerable interest because of the distinction it made between (1) the right of an individual to choose a state's nationality, and (2) the prerogative of a state to offer individuals who meet conditions it determines to choose its nationality.

The same issue could arise in any state, but of special interest to me is the question of (1) whether Taiwanese and Chosenese, when losing Japanese nationality in 1952 upon the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, had a right to choose to remain Japanese, as opposed to (2) whether Japan had the right to determine if, when, and under what conditions it might provide such former Japanese, if not also their descendants, an opportunity to choose to become Japanese.

The 1955 German ruling concerned the somewhat convoluted case of a man who (1) had been born in Austria in 1927 to Austrian parents, (2) become a German national after Germany incorporated Austria in 1938 and declared Austrians to be Germans, (3) resided in Austria until his conscription into the German Wehrmacht in 1943, (4) was wounded in 1944 and captured by Americans toward the end of the war, (5) committed a number of larcenies in Austria and Germany and been sentenced in both countries, (6) escaped from an Austrian prison and fled to Germany, and (7) contested a move by Germany to extradite him to Austria on the grounds that was German and Germany's Constitution held that Germans could not be extradited to another country.

The Federal Constitutional Court reviewed the issue of the disposition of German nationality after the liberation of Austria in terms of the following areas of law (from received English summary, [bracketed remarks] and arrangement mine).

  1. internal [domestic] German law
  2. occupation law [during the occupation of under the United States, France, and Great Britain]
  3. a general rule of international law, either for all cases of state succession or at least for the special case of severance of part of a territory (emancipation)

And the court arrived at these conclusions (from received English summary, [bracketed remarks] and arrangement mine).

  1. issues of nationality arising from the severance of Austria from the German Reich's union of states have not yet been regulated by German law
  2. occupation law does not make any express provision for this matter
  3. a general rule of international law is not to be found either for all cases of state succession or for the present case of reestablishment of a state that several years before had lost its independence and was incorporated into a neighboring state ("disannexation")

A Japanese court would probably arrive at the same conclusions regarding the disposition of the Japanese nationality of Koreans (1) under Japan's domestic anytime after Korea's liberation or Japan's surrender, or (2) under SCAP rules during the Occupation of Japan, or (3) under international agreements or law anytime after the liberation or surrender.

When Germany incorporated Austria into the Reich on 13 March 1938, in what was called the Anschluss (joinder, union), it extended its nationality law to Austria. The term The term "Anschluss" (Anschluß) was used to stress that the incorporation was not the result of an "Annektierung" (annexation), which would have implied the use of force -- though in fact Germany had threatened an invasion and sent military forces across the border to enforce what appeared to be a choice by Austrians themselves to "return" to the German fold.


1955 German ruling

I have taken the liberty to cut and paste the text of an English summary of the 1955 German ruling from the website of the School of Law, University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Transnational Law, Foreign Law Translations, where the case is titled BVerfGE 4, 322 1 BvR 284/54Austrian Nationality.

I first retrieved the text from a cached Internet version on 28 August 2007. The following version was retrieved directly from the University of Texas website on 30 May 2011. I have reproduced the copyright protection information as received.

I have somewhat reformatted the received text, to the extent of indenting the post-liberation Austrian nationality act. "Anschluß" is shown as received, although elsewhere on this website I have also shown it as "Anschluss".

The underscoring and boxed comments are mine.

1955 German ruling
Austrian who became German owing to Germany's Anschluss of Austria
reverts to Austrian nationality upon reestablishment of Austria
and under international law has no right of choice of nationality

Case: BVerfGE 4, 322 1 BvR 284/54 Austrian Nationality

Date: 12 May 1987

Judges: Dr. Wintrich, Ellinghaus, Dr. Scheffler, Dr. Heiland, Dr. Heck, Dr. Scholtissek, Wessel, Ritterspach, Lehmann

Copyright: © Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft


All persons who would have been Austrian citizens on 27 April 1945 if the Austrian Nationality Law had remained in force without interruption have, as of that date, lost their German nationality resulting from the "annexation" (Anschluß).

Judgment of the First Senate of 9 November 1955 -- 1 BvR 284/54 -- in the proceedings relating to the constitutional complaint by F. contesting his extradition to Austria.


The constitutional complaint is hereby rejected.


I. The Federal Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Austria requested the extradition of the complainant on the charge of repeated larceny committed on 21 October 1952. By way of judgment of 18 June 1954, the Regional Court of Appeals (Oberlandesgericht) in Celle ordered confinement pending extradition, suspending execution of this, however, in exchange for bail. On 13 July 1954, the court in Celle granted leave for extradition.

With his constitutional complaint, the complainant challenges the judgments of 18 June and 13 July 1954. He contends that he continues to possess German nationality, which he acquired in 1938 by the Anschluß of Austria into the German Reich. The challenged judgments are therefore alleged to violate Art. 16(2), first sentence, of the Basic Law, according to which no German may be extradited to a foreign country.

The Federal Minister of the Interior considers the constitutional complaint to be unfounded, since the complainant lost German nationality on the date of reestablishment of the independent state of Austria, i.e., on 27 April 1945.

. . .

II. The history of the complainant's life reveals the following picture: He was born on 12 February 1927 as the child of Austrian parents in Waldzell in Upper Austria; up until his conscription into the military in 1943, he lived in Austria. As a member of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht), he was wounded in November 1944 and sent to a military hospital near Berlin. At the close of the War, he was captured by the Americans, this being, according to details provided by him in oral pleadings, in the vicinity of Wiesbaden; following his release, he left Wiesbaden for Austria, where his mother still lives today. On the contrary, in questioning by the Department of Public Prosecution at the Regional Court (Landgericht) in Hagen on 21 September 1951, he stated that he had been transferred to an Austrian military hospital prior to the end of the War, where he was subsequently captured. Upon his release, he repeatedly changed his place of residence, with the exception of a one-year stay in France beginning in mid-1946, between Austria and Germany. He was sentenced in both countries a number of times -- in Austria, on 9 November 1945, in January 1946, on 9 July 1948, on 10 October 1950 and on 19 April 1951, and in Germany, on 5 May 1950, on 24 October 1951 and on 5 November 1951. The complainant escaped from Austrian imprisonment in May 1946 and in May 1951 and fled to Germany. On 6 June 1952, he was extradited to the Federal Republic of Austria for execution of sentence.

Since 23 October 1952, he has once again resided in Germany, living since 2 February 1953 in Visselhovede, in the county of Rotenburg/Hanover.

During questioning on 21 September 1951 and 23 November 1951, the complainant stated that he was Austrian. On 25 April 1953, he received as "stateless person" an alien's passport from the County of Rotenburg. During a judicial examination at the County Court (Amtsgericht) in Rotenburg on 29 May 1954, he stated that he had been in Germany for the entire time following the War and had also applied for a determination that he possessed German nationality. He stressed to the court in Rotenburg on 25 June 1954 that he considered himself to be German and since 1945 he had only resided in Austria for the purpose of visits; he reiterated these assertions before the Federal Constitutional Court during oral pleadings.

III. The constitutional complaint is admissible. . . . (elaboration by the Court).

IV. The constitutional complaint is unfounded.

1. By way of the Anschluß of Austria, the complainant acquired German nationality.

This acquisition is based on the de facto change of sovereignty with respect to Austrian national territory, which aimed at, and actually resulted in, the complete incorporation of Austria into the German Reich [cf. Art. 1 of the Act on the Reunification of Austria with the German Reich (Gesetz uber die Wiedervereinigung Osterreichs mit dem Deutschen Reich) of 13 March 1938, RGBl. I, p. 237]. This is also the apparent basis for the Ordinance on Nationality in the State of Austria of 3 July 1938 [Verordnung uber die Staatsangehorigkeit im Lande Osterreich, RGBl. I, p. 790; see, e.g., 3(1), 4(1)]. It is irrelevant for the acquisition of nationality whether the Anschluß was consistent with or in violation of international law [BVerfGE 1, 322, 330].

2. The complainant nevertheless lost German nationality with the reestablishment of the Republic of Austria on 27 April 1945.

a) On 10 July 1945, the Republic of Austria enacted the Act on the Transition to Austrian Citizenship [Staatsburgerschaftsuberleitungsgesetz, StGBl. 1945, 81]. According to 1 of the Act:

(1) Austrian citizens are, as of 27 April 1945,

a) those persons who possessed Austrian federal citizenship on 3 [sic = 13?] March 1938;

b) those persons who in the period from 13 March 1938 to 27 April 1945 would have acquired federal citizenship through legal succession from an Austrian citizen (descent, legitimation, marriage), had the Federal Act of 30 July 1925, BGBl. Nr. 285, on the Acquisition and Loss of State and Federal Citizenship remained in effect without interruption in the version in force on 13 March 1938;
all of these persons, however, only when no circumstances arose with respect to their person before 27 April 1945 that are connected with the loss of federal citizenship in accordance with the provisions found in sec. b of the above-mentioned Act.

(2) All persons who are to be treated as "illegal" under the interdicting law are not covered by the acquisition of Austrian federal citizenship pursuant to para. (1).

Accordingly, as of 27 April 1945, all persons are Austrian citizens who would have been Austrian citizens on that date had Austrian nationality law remained in force without any interruption. It is not disputed that such persons, if living in Austria, lost their German nationality as of that date. There are also decisions of German courts that hold that the same applies to those Austrians who are living neither in Germany nor in Austria or who moved from Germany to Austria after 27 April 1945.

The issue is disputed with respect to Austrians who have been permanently resident in Germany since 27 April 1945. Widely held opinion, found in the literature as well as in case law, assumes that persons in this category have not lost their German nationality. This view has been adopted, in particular, by the Federal Administrative Court [BVerwGE 1, 206], which has examined the question of whether such a loss might result from internal German law or occupation law or whether it can be inferred from a general rule of international law, either for all cases of state succession or at least for the special case of severance of part of a territory (emancipation). The Federal Administrative Court determined that such positive provisions and rules do not exist and thereby inferred that there was no legal aspect that would justify the assumption that Austrians living in Germany since 1945 lost their German nationality with the reestablishment of the Federal Republic of Austria. According to Art. 16(1), second sentence, Basic Law, a law is required for this, possibly upon conclusion of a state treaty with or without the inclusion of a right of option.

b) The Federal Constitutional Court holds the conclusions of the Federal Administrative Court to be ill-founded. However, the Federal Administrative Court was correct in its determination that the issues of nationality arising from the severance of Austria from the German Reich's union of states have not yet been regulated by German law. As well, occupation law does not make any express provision for this matter, and a general rule of international law is not to be found either for all cases of state succession or for the present case of reestablishment of a state that several years before had lost its independence and was incorporated into a neighboring state ("disannexation").

Internal, occupation, and international law

internal law the laws that govern matters within an entity, whether within entity within a state, or within the state. Laws that operate within a state are generally called "domestic law" as I have called them elsewhere on this website. Because the Empire of Japan included several legal jurisdictions, its domestic law consisted of an internal law for each of the jurisdictions, as well as laws that governed the jurisdictions in common.

occupation law is the law imposed on an entity or state by an authority that militarily or otherwise occupies the territory and procedes to legally control it. This is distinct from "protection law", which refers to the laws established by an authority over an entity or state which becomes a protectorate -- though the conditions of occupation and protection often conflate. Such bodies of law are usually transitional for the period that such conditions continue. Questions arise concerning the validity of occupation or protection law in relation to sovereignty arrangements between the entity being occupied or protected and the occupying or protecting authority. In the case of Occupied Japan, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), as sovereign, issued directives, some of which amounted to decress. Most directives, though, were of the kind that instructed the Government of Japan as to how it was expected to revise and apply its domestic laws. In other words, most "occupation law" in Occupied Japan was effected through "internal law". The object of "occupation law" in the case of both Japan and Germany was to politically and socially reconstruct the occupied entities, through a reconstruction of their legal systems, such that their people would be able to assume full sovereignty, at which time the occupations would end.

international law is the body of law that has, in principle but not necessarily in practice, the authority to force the laws of states to comply with certain so-called "international" standards. However, as evident in the arena of "human rights" for example, such standards are works in progress that are subject to all manner of reservations a state may make when joining one or another international convention, to say nothing of situations in states which do not join such conventions.


This does not, however, rule out that the loss of German nationality for Austrians might follow from a different legal principle. In fact, upon consideration of the historical political relations and interpretation of the conduct by the parties in the reestablishment of the Federal Republic of Austria, the conclusion is unavoidable that all former Austrians have, with the reestablishment of the Federal Republic of Austria, ipso facto lost their German nationality acquired by way of the Anschluß.

"a different legal principle"

The following paragraph is of considerable interest with respect to (1) differences in the terms imposed by the Allied Powers on the German in relation to Austria, as opposed to those they imposed on Japan in relation to Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea (Chōsen), and (2) differences in how the Allied Powers actually went about treating German and Japanese nationality within occupied Germany and Japan and their former territories.


The will to reestablish the country's political independence, which was eliminated by the National-Socialist government, was never extinguished in Austria; during the War, this will was reinvigorated by the repeated declarations of the Allies that the reestablishment of Austria was one of their objectives in the War. This explains why directly following the occupation of Vienna, the leaders of the reformed antifascist parties proclaimed the reestablishment of an independent Austrian state and set up a provisional government without waiting for corresponding measures from the Occupying Powers. The Proclamation of 27 April 1945 termed the Anschluß to be an annexation that was forced upon the Austrian people by way of wartime occupation. With reference to the Moscow Declaration on Austria of 30 October 1943 and the announcement by the Tripartite Powers at the conference in Crimea on 11 February 1945 [reproduced in Verosta, Die internationale Stellung Osterreichs 1938 bis 1947, pp. 52-53, 55 ff.], the reestablishment of the democratic Republic of Austria was proclaimed in the spirit of the 1920 Constitution and the Anschluß declared to be null and void. At the same time, a provisional government was set up and -- subject to the rights of the Occupying Powers -- entrusted with complete legislative and executive powers. All military, civil and personal pledges made to the German Reich were declared to be void and non-binding and all Austrians once again placed in a relation with the Republic of Austria involving civil duty and loyalty.

Moscow Declaration

This declaration -- more formally called "Declaration of the Four Nations on General Security" -- was signed on 30 October 1943, during the Moscow Conference of 18 October to 11 November 1943, by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. China, the fourth nation, also participated in the conference.

The four powers, including China, pursuant to the United Nations Declaration of 1 January 1942 and other declarations, vowed to continue their respective wars against the Axis Powers, specifically Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union declared that the people of Italy would be allowed to establish a democratic government.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union also declared that Germany's so-called Anschluss (Anschluß) of Austria was null and void and agreed to establish an independent Austrian state after their anticipated victory over Germany.

The Moscow Declaration was the counterpart of the Cairo Declaration signed a month later on 27 November 1943 -- the day after the Cairo Conference of 22-26 November 1943 -- by the United States, the United Kingdom, and China, which held that Taiwan and other territories Japan had been "stolen" from China and would be restored to China, and which determined that, mindful of "the enslavement of the Korean people", Korea would become free and independent "in due course".


This Proclamation clearly demonstrates that the Republic of Austria was to be reestablished, i.e., that the Anschluß was to be cancelled. This is also the way in which this process was perceived throughout the world; it was considered to be such a self-evident consequence of the end of the War that neither the Occupying Powers nor the state entity coming into existence in Germany saw reason to announce officially the "severance" of Austria from the German Reich or even to reinforce this with a formal repeal of the Reich laws enacted via the Anschluß. These laws were correctly viewed as having become overtaken by political developments and thus meaningless.

This is the point of departure for a proper analysis under international law of this process and thus also of the consequences for the law of nationality associated with it: at issue here is not a typical severance of a part of a state from the whole of it (emancipation) but rather a very special case of state succession, an act to restore the status quo ante. The logical result of this is that the state of Austria, reestablished within its previous borders, may not be deprived of its former people. But it also follows from this that the persons belonging to this group are, from the date of the new formation of the Austrian state, no longer able to be claimed by Germany as citizens, such that they must have lost German nationality as of this date. This result is only logical, because the period of time since the Anschluß is so short that it is impossible to say that the Austrian people were completely absorbed by the people of the German Reich. In other words, it is relatively easy to determine the category of persons to be reintegrated into Austrian citizenship. The result is also logical for the reason that the new Austrian state in fact lays claim to its former people, such that there is no danger that the loss of German nationality would mean statelessness for these persons.

"status quo ante"

Applying the principle of "conditions the way they were before" to the establishment the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the former Japanese territory of Chōsen in 1948 -- in the context of Japan's having lost control and jurisdiction, and provisionally its treaty sovereignty, over Korea (Chōsen) in 1945, would seem to justify the position Japan took in the very first round of its talks with ROK in 1951 -- namely, that it had no authority to determine whether Chosenese in Japan were affiliated with ROK or DPRK -- that their affiliation was a matter to be determined between individual Chosenese and the Korean state they wished to belong to, if either. And as a matter of conventional practice in nationality matters, Japan would have to recognize the Korean state before it could recognize the state's nationality.

The "status quo ante" principle is very clearly the premise for the nationality dispositions described in the 19 April 1952 General Affairs Notification which separated Chosenese and Taiwanese from Japanese nationality, as a consequence of the separation of Chōsen and Taiwan from Japan's national territory that would come into effect from the effectuation of the San Francisco Peace Treaty on 28 April 1952.


The following result is reached: as of the date of the reestablishment of the independent State of Austria, the latter is once again exclusively assigned the people formerly belonging to it prior to the Anschluß. Its citizens accordingly lost their German nationality resulting from the Anschluß of Austria -- regardless of where they resided on the day of the declaration of independence -- in the same manner as they ipso facto acquired it on 13 March 1938.

3. The intention of the complainant to be a German is irrelevant in view of the matters set out here. There is no general rule of international law according to which, upon the emergence of new states in the course of severance, the affected population must be given the opportunity of choosing between the nationality of the new state and that of the old one (option). Even less can it be inferred from the above-described special nature of the disannexation of Austria that the loss of German nationality does not affect those persons who wish to retain it.

Nevertheless, one might raise the question of whether the extradition of the complainant must be viewed as impermissible in light of special considerations. If the complainant were to be extradited on the basis of the present formal state of the law, this might be contrary to good faith. This would particularly be the case if it were certain that a ruling by law or treaty is to be expected in the near future that would offer him the legal possibility of rescinding the involuntary loss of German nationality, such that he would subsequently have to be recognized as having been in uninterrupted possession of German nationality. This concept could lead to the situation where in applying Art. 16(2), first sentence, Basic Law in the extradition proceedings, the complainant is at this point to be treated as a German. In this regard, consideration must be given to the draft of a law presently before Parliament for the settlement of German-Austrian nationality questions [Bundestag, 2 d electoral period, Drucksache 1391]; this would give all Austrians who have permanently resided since 26 or 27 April 1945 in the territory of the German Reich as it existed on 31 December 1937, the right to express their desire to reacquire German nationality with retroactive effect.

"rescinding the involuntary loss of nationality"

Just as Austrians involuntarily gained German nationality, they involuntarily lost German nationality. The same can be said of Koreas and most Formosans. Japan and the Republic of China explicitly settled nationality issues in the peace treaty they signed on 28 April 1952, and Japan and the Republic of Korea implicitly settled nationality issues in their normalization treaty and status agreement signed on 22 June 1965.


"a law presently before Parliament"

Whether Japan was or remains obliged to offer qualified former Japanese "a legal possibility of rescinding the involuntary loss of Japanese nationality" appears be a matter of moral rather than legal obligation, in that it comes down to a question of domestic law, which comes down to is question of legislation, which then become a political matter. In other words, Japan's "moral choice" will ultimately be predicated on Japan is able, ready, and willing to do as a sovereign democracy whose laws are determined by its parliament, not by domestic courts, much less by international tribunals, and even less by historians and social critics.

There have, in fact, been a number of movements to create a bill that would offer Special Permanent Residents in Japan today -- meaning domiciled aliens who in effect "involuntarily lost their Japanese nationality" in 1952 and their qualified descendants -- an opportunity to acquired Japanese nationality, through a very simplified form of naturalization, if not through notification. However, such movements have so far failed, for a number of political reasons, not least of which is opposition from the more vociferous among the SPRs who would be given such an opportunity, and their supporters, who advocate the granting of rights on a par with those of Japanese nationals while remaining aliens.


Although the complainant has repeatedly asserted his German nationality and also expressed the intention of reacquiring it if need be, the Federal Constitutional Court is convinced that he has not fulfilled the requirement of "permanent residence." That which was able to be determined in oral pleadings with regard to his life's history does not justify the assumption that Germany clearly formed the center of his life following 1945, as would be required by the term "permanent residence." In other words, the complainant will, in all likelihood, not be affected by the foreseen rule. If he wishes to acquire German nationality, he is only able to do so by way of naturalization.

"permanent residence"

It appears to me that the intent of "permanent residence" here corresponds to "habitual residence" (where one generally resides as a matter of habit) in Japanese domestic law and international private law -- as distinct from either "domicile" (where one resides as a matter of having registered or otherwise established a legal address), and "permanent residence" (as a status of alien residence).


It is thus established that the complainant is no longer a German national and that his extradition is not opposed by Art. 16(2), first sentence, Basic Law, even should this be able to be applied.

The constitutional complaint is thus unjustified.

Judges: Dr. Wintrich, Ellinghaus, Dr. Scheffler, Dr. Heiland, Dr. Heck, Dr. Scholtissek, Wessel, Ritterspach, Lehmann

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