This article was written as a result of interviews with Ms Agata Ewertyńska, Deputy Director of the Department for Foreigners of the Mazovian Voivodeship Office in Warsaw and Mr Mateusz Sora, Director of the Department of Citizenship and Repatriation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Applications for the confirmation of the status of Polish citizenship are lodged with the relevant local Voivode whereas applications for reinstatement of Polish citizenship are lodged with the Minister for Internal Affairs. As part of the process of confirmation of Polish citizenship, the applicants must show their ancestors were Polish citizens and that no event took place in the lives of the applicants or their ancestors indicating loss of citizenship.
In the past, Polish citizenship regulations were more restrictive and, generally speaking, countries around the world preferred to limit the number of people with dual citizenship. In Poland, after independence was regained, pursuant to the 1920 Act on Citizenship of the State of Poland, people’s citizenship could be lost without their knowledge.
The current regulations applicable in Poland, commencing with the 1951 Act, allow for dual citizenship. Polish citizenship is acquired through one’s parents – this is regulated by the so-called law of blood (ius sanguinis). Therefore, it is important to determine whether one of the applicant’s parents was a Polish citizen. Additionally, the so-called law of soil(ius soli)applies, as per the first Citizenship Act of 1920, followed by the Acts of 1941, 1962 and 2009. In all of these, the law of soil applies as supportive legislation in relation to children that were abandoned, lost and found or whose citizenship was undetermined. In most cases, people applying to the Polish authorities who wish to confirm their Polish citizenship need in fact to establish in the first instance whether their parents or grandparents were Polish citizens.
Is completing the application form the first step in applying through your office?
The Mazovian Voivodeship Office has set up a special information unit for people wishing to verify their Polish citizenship status. Our officers provide instructions on where to start: where the documents can be found, what is involved in the procedure, what are the obligations of the applicant and how the Office can assist its clients. Enquiries can be made over the phone or in person. We can also help with filling in the forms. Languages we assist in are Polish, English and Russian.
Earlier, you mentioned “checking” if one of the ancestors was a citizen, does it mean that part of the responsibility for verifying one’s citizenship status lies with your Office?
No. The current Act and its legal interpretation mean that most of the documentation is to be submitted by the person wanting to verify their citizenship status.
From the point of view of people who are going through the process of verifying their citizenship and after a year of the new Act being in force, what would you say are the key differences in comparison to the previous legal system?
The applicants are required to lodge documentation confirming their Polish citizenship. It’s a legal obligation and applies to all documents that can confirm their Polish citizenship status. And although their Polish citizenship might have been lost pursuant to various Acts, for us to assess their case, it is important to determine whether the person was born before or after their mother or father lost his or her citizenship.
What type of documents are not accepted by your office as evidence?
Every document can be a hint, indicator or source of information. Unless it is a forgery. Often, applicants don’t even realise that the documents confirming their parents’ or grandparents’ Polish citizenship are already in their possession, because the documents do not contain explicit notes on Polish citizenship. However, other details can indicate indirectly that a person was a Polish citizen. This is why applicants should submit all available documentation on their parents or grandparents. Sometimes, documentation and information on other family members, for example documents of siblings of the grandparents, prove to be very useful.
If the applicant does not have proof of citizenship but does have the proof of loss of citizenship and a birth certificate dating prior to that event, is it the same as having confirmation of citizenship?
In these circumstances, we assess whether the evidence is sufficient. If the person is able to show significant difficulties, we can then request research to be carried out in the national archives via official channels. The applicant must, however, show their inability to find the documents on their own – which is also a new element introduced by the Act. Of course, it could be that the person is for some reason unable to acquire the documentation. Then the burden of initiating the research will rest with our Office. So the process prior to the implementation of the 2009 Act, whereby the applicant would submit the passport details and the office would „blindly” start looking for documents no longer exists. Any applicant claiming that his or her father or mother, grandfather or great grandfather or all of them were Polish citizens, must provide documentation to prove it.
What is the process of verifying that a person did not renounce or lose their Polish citizenship? Or is it assumed?
If the autobiography or other documents indicate loss of citizenship, for example that the applicant’s father immigrated to Israel before 1951 and became an Israeli citizen, it is assumed – as a result of compulsory military service there – that he served in Israeli army and, as a consequence, lost his Polish citizenship. In such cases, the applicant must prove the assumption unfounded by providing appropriate documentation to show that the father did not lose his citizenship after all because, for example, he did not serve in the Israeli army.
Army service in foreign states meant loss of Polish citizenship until 19.01.1951. People who were conscripted into a foreign army in a foreign state lost their Polish citizenship. World War II was an exception.
If there is no evidence to indicate loss of citizenship, I understand that it is assumed that the event did not occur?
That’s exactly right. However, just one word on a document can indicate such an eventuality and we are required to check if it concerns the period of time during which loss of citizenship may have occurred. Sometimes, this information may come from a consul. Pursuant to the 1920 Act, just joining the military service without the permission of the Polish authorities was sufficient, and people who did not apply for a Polish passport at a later stage, did not realise their citizenship was lost. Similar rules applied to holding a public office in a foreign state. In such cases, the loss of citizenship occurred automatically.
And what about rabbis?
In Poland, rabbis were considered civil registry officers until 1946 and received a salary. So if someone was a rabbi, as a government official, they had to have Polish citizenship and therefore his children were automatically Polish citizens.
I understand, however that since the law does not work retrospectively, the issue is not so much whether the person was a rabbi but whether this information reached the Polish authorities of the day and as a consequence, the person lost his Polish citizenship?
No. It’s not that rule. In 1951, the loss of citizenship occurred automatically, in other words, the moment that an event took place, for example by someone accepting public office in a foreign state. There was no decision issued as such and it didn’t matter if the Polish authorities knew about it or not. Nevertheless, this information was often entered into residential registers where it can be currently found. The Polish consul — if he or she knew about it – would then have the ability to pass this information on and if we can confirm that the information did reach Poland at the time, this in effect proves loss of citizenship.
How often would this type of information get to Poland?
Almost every time.
Did these documents mostly survive?
It depends on the region; in some areas, documents survived the war. Generally speaking, approximately 70% of residential registers remain intact.
In your opinion, is the loss of citizenship by the applicant or the applicant’s ancestor exactly the same as never actually having citizenship?
From the legal view point, a person who lost their citizenship can apply to have it reinstated. If the person’s ancestors had Polish citizenship and lost it, they can use this circumstance to apply for Polish citizenship.
Does your office check documents in registers such as PRADZIAD, ELA, etc.?
Yes, we do use them. However, less so nowadays, since the onus of submitting documents has been transferred onto the applicant. We frequently advise applicants, however, where the relevant information and documents might most likely be located. Our role is mostly to verify the information supplied – even if, according to the applicant, it is not indicated at all whether loss of citizenship occurred.
How does your office view people who left Poland during, or just following World War I, when they were not able to be included in the process of receiving their citizenship in the Republic of Poland?
Legal precedent in these matters is already established. The names of people who immigrated before 1920, when the Act was adopted, were entered in the permanent residents register. If their names can be found in the registers – also depending on where they left to – they can claim citizenship. So for example, in the United States, people could advise the consul they were of Polish origins and could acquire Polish citizenship. The law of soil was in force in Poland specifically so that the status of people who immigrated earlier or who, due to the changes in borders found themselves outside of Poland could be regulated. In this case, the entries in the permanent resident registers are the basis of the assessment. The applicant must also prove that he or she did not acquire foreign citizenship. At the time, the law allowed only one citizenship.
If the person left the Polish territories before independence was announced, or shortly thereafter, but without any proof of citizenship, the descendent of the person can claim his or her rights in a variety of ways, depending on the area of partition concerned. In the case of the Russian partitioned territories – and here we need to distinguish between the Polish Principality and the Russian Empire – the state registers would have to be found, namely to include city dwellers, noblemen, etc. In those cases, we are talking about a relic of the feudal system in the territories partitioned by Russia. The agreement between Poland and USSR required the USSR to return these documents, amongst others, to Poland, but it happened in very few cases only. We know, for example, that the city of Grodno has a very good archive, and it does provide information locally, charging very high fees.
Co jeśli potrzebujemy potwierdzić, że doszło do zmiany nazwiska podczas emigracji, albo niedokładnie zapisano datę urodzenia?
W takiej sytuacji to wnioskodawca musi nam uprawdopodobnić wszelkimi możliwymi środkami, że chodzi o tę samą osobę. Oceniamy każdy przypadek osobno i nie ma sytuacji z góry wykluczających, tylko dlatego, że w dokumentach np. amerykańskich funkcjonuje inne imię i nazwisko. Nie mamy wiedzy kompletnej, więc korzystamy z instytucji, które się w tym specjalizują; występowaliśmy też w takich sprawach o pomoc do Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego.
What does the law say about people who left Poland as a result of the 1968 events?
This issue has been quite clear for some time now – these people have not lost their Polish citizenship. The problem is that they have rejections dating back several years in relation to their confirmation of citizenship. You cannot assess the same thing twice, so the applicants cannot apply for the confirmation of their citizenship again. They can, however, appeal the previous decision and overturn it.
How can access to permanent resident register be obtained?
The registers can be found in local branches of the National Archives. Some of them have been indexed. We consult the database of the National Archives where the relevant registers from cities and villages are held. If no other citizenship is shown in the registers, the person residing in those areas was most likely a Polish citizen. We then assess whether the loss of citizenship occurred and, of course, the applicant must show his or her relationship to the person in question. The cases of people originating from West Ukraine are different. They have to apply for documents from the archives themselves or provide a certificate confirming the records did not survive. There are, however, other documents: very well preserved voting registers, the Beyond the Bug River Archives or civil registry office records. Even if permanent resident registers of the population did not survive, vital records from the town or village may indicate permanent residence of the ancestor and other family members there, and this assists in proving the applicant’s ancestry.
What was the condition of being registered in the permanent resident register? Would people have to spend a specific number of years in an area?
The authorities at the time had to confirm that a person was a permanent resident. We don’t know, whether there have been cases of people who were not in the registers who did consider themselves permanent residents. In those documents, the head of the family is listed, date of birth, often the occupation and other notes, for example, that the family moved from another town.
Sometimes, people immigrating out of Poland did not have a passport but other documents survived, such as certificates of good conduct, issued by people who received Polish passports for immigration purposes, medical certificates, ship passenger lists. These types of documents should also be submitted. The Central Army Archives could also be helpful in many cases because people who served in the army were Polish citizens. The Archives have a relevant catalogue, but, to be able to find details, you need to indicate the army unit. Only the officers’ details are catalogued alphabetically.
Is it possible, let’s say for an extra payment, to find someone in the army archives using a different index, when we’re looking for a private or non-commissioned officer and the unit they served in is unknown?
We’re afraid not, as this is simply how the catalogues are indexed by the Central Army Archives. We often apply just with the name. The workers at the Archives are sometimes able to find the person by, for example, a person’s uniform, which shows the unit (colour of the band on the hat, platoon insignia) or the place where the platoon was stationed. Sometimes, we might receive a reply that the person’s details cannot be found due to the above reasons, but the applicants get invited to view the records individually at the viewing room.
Do the applicants apply themselves to you or VO or via lawyers?
As a rule, it is better when applicants are represented by professional agent in these kinds of matters, although it must be said that not all representatives take due care in managing their clients’ cases and it leads to delays.
The regulations contained in the Administrative Procedure Code require persons residing in overseas to nominate an authorised representative to collect correspondence in Poland. In the past, the process in some cases would take years, because the correspondence would remain uncollected. This is why these rules were introduced a few years ago.
In our procedures, similarly to civil procedures, the burden of proof lies with the applicants themselves.
When is the final decision made?
Voivode decisions are declaratory in nature and are issued pursuant to the evidence gathered. It means that the decision can change if new information or documentation is found.
And what happens if we need to confirm that a name change took place overseas or the date of birth has been recorded incorrectly?
In those cases, the applicant must provide evidence with all available resources that this concerns one and the same person. Each case is assessed individually and there are no situations where the applicant is excluded in advance just because a different name appears, for example, in a US document. Our knowledge isn’t complete so we do use other specialist institutions; we have asked for assistance from Jewish Historical Institute in these matters.