By Marcy Oster
A Vienna-born Israeli man who left Austria 76 years ago at the age of 8 became the first Jew to receive Austrian citizenship under a new law that allows those who were persecuted by the Nazi regime and their direct descendants to obtain Austrian citizenship without giving up their current passports.
Ben Zion Lapid, 84, received his official passport at the Austrian embassy in Israel Sept. 4, days after the new law went into effect. Thousands of Jews around the world are expected to apply for Austrian citizenship under the new law.
Lapid told the Austrian newspaper Der Standard that his grandchildren urged him to reclaim his Austrian citizenship.
“I’m in the autumn of my life, I don’t care who or how I am, but I want to leave something to my four children and eight grandchildren. You can now also become Austrians, and if you ever have to leave here and need refuge, then you have a place,” Lapid said he told his family.
“For me it comes full circle. … I didn’t go of my own will; I was a child. Israel is my home, of course, but it’s also something like coming home. Because I still speak German and I’m interested in what’s happening in Austria. And because my brother lives in Austria,” he told the newspaper. “Now I’m coming back as Ben Zion Lapid after 76 years.”
Lapid fled Austria with his mother in 1946, residing in Slovenia and Italy before boarding a crowded boat for Mandatory Palestine. The British intercepted the boat and he spent nine months in a refugee camp in Cyprus, separated from his mother, before being smuggled into Israel. He was later reunited with his mother.
He said he chose his surname, Lapid, which means torch, because to him it represented freedom.