The following is a repost of a blog post by Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, coeditor with Margaret Walton-Roberts of The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept. The post first appeared on Howard-Hassmann's personal blog in October of 2014, and presents a short memoir written by her father about his experience as a stateless person in Europe in the leadup to the Second World War.
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About 25 years ago, when “citizenship studies” was just beginning as an academic discipline, a colleague from the University of Toronto asked me if I knew that there were people in the world who were stateless. I replied that I did, as my father had been stateless for over 30 years. Now I have just co-edited a book with my colleague at Wilfrid Laurier University, Margaret Walton-Roberts, called The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept; it will be published soon by University of Pennsylvania Press. There’s a section on statelessness in it.
Most people who study statelessness refer to Hannah Arendt’s discussion of it in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (pages 276–81). Arendt herself was a German Jew rendered stateless by the Nazis, and German Jews were one of the groups she was referring to in her discussion.
My father was a “half-Jew” from Germany, but he had been stateless all his life, for reasons that he reveals below. This is a short memoir that he either wrote or dictated after he arrived in Switzerland in early 1939. It describes the odyssey of one stateless man seeking refuge from the Nazis. I used this memoir in my introduction to The Human Right to Citizenship because of its poignant plea for human rights, a plea I discovered only some years after my father’s death, despite my own lifetime of writing about human rights. My father wrote, “you’re so utterly powerless, so impotent… What ever happened to human rights? Is there such a thing anymore? Is it not a mockery of all humanity, when, today, millions are forced to wander about aimlessly, at the behest of a megalomaniacal criminal!? [Hitler] When every country spits them out again like outcasts....”