Nicholas Courtman

Dr Nicholas Courtman is a historian and Germanist working in the German Department at King’s College London. His research focuses on citizenship law and naturalisation practice in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949 till today, with a particular focus on the relationship between citizenship law and the aftermath of National Socialism.

Nicholas Courtman

He took a BA (Hons) in French and German at the University of Cambridge in 2014. After a year spent studying at the Humboldt University in Berlin with financial support from the DAAD, he returned to England and completed a Master of Studies in German at the University of Oxford in 2016, funded by a scholarship from the Clarendon Fund. He returned to the University of Cambridge for his PhD in German Studies, which he completed in January 2021, with stints as a guest doctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and the Free University Berlin.

Between January and October 2021, he worked as researcher at the Expert Council on Migration and Integration, a policy thinktank based in Berlin. While there, he co-authored an expertise on communal naturalisation practice and the efficacy of naturalisation campaigns in the Federal Republic of Germany, which was published by the Commissioner of the Federal Government for Migration, Refugees and Integration. He has also served as expert witness in two hearings on reparative justice in citizenship law in the domestic affairs committee of the German Bundestag.

Project description

Citizenship after Hitler: Continuity and Change in the Citizenship Law and Naturalisation Practice of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) since 1949

Between 1933 and 1945, National Socialist Germany weaponised citizenship as a tool for inclusion and exclusion in an unprecedented manner, and on an unprecedented scale. Hundreds of thousands of the regime’s political and racial enemies were stripped of German citizenship and rendered stateless, while millions of ethnic Germans in the territories occupied and annexed during the Second World War were automatically made into German citizens by decree. The National Socialists also altered naturalisation procedures, introducing explicitly racial and eugenicist criteria to the naturalisation process. At the moment of the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, the after-effects of the National Socialists’ actions in these realms were still to be felt. This was most evident in the pressing questions of the citizenship status of the ethnic Germans who had been expelled or fled from Eastern and Central Europe, and of those who had been stripped of German citizenship by the Nazi regime. But it also continued to be felt in less immediately evident ways relating to how citizenship was imagined, administered, and experienced.

Drawing on the files of state and federal ministries and administrative authorities, the papers of West German and international civil society initiatives and organisations engaged in the contestation of citizenship regulations, and ego-documents of individuals who went through the naturalisation process, this project will reconstruct and tell the political, social, and legal history of citizenship law in the FRG in the wake of National Socialism up until the present day. This involves examining heretofore overlooked questions, such as West Germany’s post-war naturalisation of foreign Waffen-SS soldiers and Nazi collaborators and the changing treatment of different groups who were victim to persecution under National Socialism. Simultaneously these findings will be brought into conversation with more frequently studied aspects of citizenship in West Germany, such as the country’s difficult and ongoing reckoning with its status as a country of immigration.

Explore what we do

Confront the past

Combat antisemitism

Protect minorities

Strengthen democracy

Reinforce critical thinking

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