In a certain sense you have an advantage over American citizens who were born here: you will be citizens by choice. You came here because you wanted to be here.
I came from Germany in 1952 and was naturalized in 1958 before the same United States District Court. I was already a professor at the College of Law, where I have taught for 45 years.
My choice to become an American citizen was dictated by circumstances. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, I was 13. I spent the war years being able to study because poor health prevented me from being a soldier. At the end of the war, I was a young lawyer in the final stages of my education. After the German unconditional surrender…there was no food and water, no electricity or transportation. The prisons had been opened by retreating German troops, and murderers and thieves roamed the streets. Everyone was concerned with immediate survival.
Though not yet admitted to the bar, I was drafted to the newly organized city police in Frankfurt. My task was to interview lower rank Nazi leaders ordered arrested by the American military government. They filled prisons to capacity and disposition had to be made whether they could be released or whether they posed a time were military rather than political.danger to Allied forces. Concerns at the time were military rather than political.
In the process of my work, I learned about a large Gestapo card file that had escaped destruction. I was asked to evaluate the content. Many years later, the results were published, both in the U.S. and Germany. The Gestapo had received its information from sources one wouldleast suspect — foreigners living in Germany andpersons who were opponents or victims of the regime. These collaborators received no money. Their compensation was a chance at survival.
When the courts reopened, I was an associate in a Frankfurt Jewish law firm, which handled thousands of restitution cases of persons who had been persecuted for racial, religious or political reasons.
I had to relive the years of the Nazi past, often in gruesome detail. People had been deprived of civil rights and citizenship,forced to surrender property and businesses, to flee the country or be carried away to concentration camps and probable death. I could have worked on cases more related to civil and criminal matters, but I wanted to help undo some of the damage that had been done.
I and a few other German lawyers were invited in 1952 by the U.S. Department of State to visit Washington, D.C. After my return to Germany, I applied for immigration, and in summer 1953 immigration was granted. Aside from relatives in Florida, I had no connections and could not transfer money. My partners encouraged me to go.
I made my choice. I was an established lawyer in Germany, 33, facing an uncertain future in the U.S. Economically, I was better off in Germany and would be even now. But I wanted to be in the U.S. It is a unique country because the Founding Fathers built a nation around ideals. Nowhere has this been better expressed than in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. There is no other nation founded on pronouncements of such sweeping power.
This does not mean these ideals have always been realized. When the Declaration was adopted in 1776, slavery was legal and women had no equal rights. When I came to UF in 1957, it was as racially segregated as the rest of the South. I had almost no women students. We still deal with the vestiges of this history. Much of the law I learned and taught in the U.S. has dealt with the continuing struggle for equal and civil rights.
For months after my immigration I could not find a job. As a German lawyer, I was either overqualified for ordinary jobs or underqualified for firms. I mostly ate potatoes, apples, bread and some sausages. From 1953-57 I studied law again, acquiring law degrees from Georgetown and Harvard and eventually a second doctorate at Yale. I lived in substandard, roach-infested rooms and, of course, could not afford a car. But I had made my choice, and the question of returning to Germany never came up. I am here because I wanted to be here.
My choice resulted in rewards beyond expectation. A significant number of judges and lawyers practicing in Florida have been my students. As a legal scholar I gained insights in numerous ways. I have learned the importance of facts and that neither facts nor theories can be fully trusted, controversies have multiple arguments and solutions, and final solutions are not always satisfactory. Much of my teaching and writing would not have occurred had I stayed in Germany. On the other hand, some of my publications would have never occurred to me if my background had been purely American.
You will find in your own experience that your life will be enriched in numerous ways hard to predict. You will have opportunities based on what you learned and experienced in the past and what you will learn and experience in the future, to the benefit of us all. Congratulations on your naturalization. I wish you luck.”