Claiming Polish citizenship by descent
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Claiming Polish Citizenship by Descent – Complete FAQ Guide

Recent posts on Polish citizenship matters have focused specifically on obtaining Polish citizenship through Jewish ancestry and how British citizens of Polish descent can go about claiming their Polish citizenship certificates. So I thought it would be a good idea to cooperate with Polish Citizenship Specialist, Michał Petrus, once again to help compile a thorough FAQ guide on claiming Polish citizenship by descent.

Mr Petrus represents Your Roots in Poland, a Polish company offering genealogy services and advisory regarding Polish citizenship.


Claiming Polish Citizenship by Descent – Complete FAQ Guide

Many countries, such as the USA, follow the rule of soil/land in which you only have to be born on the territory of the said country to receive citizenship. However, Polish nationality law primarily revolves around the ‘right of blood’ (jus sanguinis). This means you can be born anywhere in the world and inherit Polish citizenship, as long as you were born to at least one Polish parent.

1920 was the year the first ever modern citizenship was introduced in Poland. One has to remember that Poland virtually did not exist between 1795 (the date of the last partition) and 1918, with small gaps for the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland. 

The 1920 citizenship law introduced Polish citizenship for all inhabitants of the former German, Austrian and Russian partitions which became Poland again. Therefore, if your ancestors left the partitions before that date, then, basically, they were not Polish citizens. There are some exceptions, such as Article 4 of the Little Treaty of Versailles. This specified that people with Polish ancestry and domicile in either the Russian, Austrian or German Empires, could apply for Polish citizenship.

Despite the exceptions, most Polish citizenship law firms and proxies treat 1920 as a cut-off date because the default citizenship for people who left earlier was either Russian, German, Austrian or stateless (Nansen passport holders). 

Overall, pre-1920 cases are unpopular among agencies, proxies and companies as the government may ask firms and proxies to provide additional documentation to prove the lineage.

Yes. Article 4 of the Little Treaty of Versailles specified that people who had domicile in either of the three partitions (Prussia, the Habsburg monarchy, and Russia), based on the law that was in place in those three empires, could be treated as Polish subjects if the only alternative was them being stateless. 

Claiming Polish citizenship by descent based on an ancestor who resided in Austria-Hungary can be complicated. Securing evidence of domicile in the partitions is not necessarily easier than securing evidence for an ancestor who resided in the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939).

The 1951 Polish citizenship law was a major liberalisation. Dual citizenship, holding a public office abroad, and military service abroad were no longer penalised with loss of citizenship. It also removed the ‘birth in wedlock’ requirement to inherit citizenship and the dependence of female citizenship upon the father/husband figure. Prior to 1951, these ‘offences’ had led to the loss of citizenship as a result of the 1920 Polish Citizenship Act.

“Public office” is a very broad term used by the government these days, as per judicial decisions made in Poland. It applies to any public sector employment, which during the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939), was treated as an official position – i.e. being a representative of the state. This led to absurd situations in which being a teacher, a medical professional or even a rabbi outside of Poland (before 1951) led to the loss of citizenship.

It depends. The only foreign military service that is permitted before 1951 is service in the Allied Forces during the Second World War. It follows the rule: the armed forces of the country your ancestor served in had to have the same enemy and the same common war goal. It is due to the fact that Poland collapsed in 1939 and many Poles were forced to join the British or French armies. Interestingly, the armies of the USA and USSR are also treated as Allied forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor (07.12.1941) and Operation Barbarossa (22.06.1941). 

If your grandfather’s service in the French military was only during World War Two, you should not be concerned. However, if his service was after World War Two and before 1951, he would have lost his Polish citizenship. After 1945, Poland became a Soviet puppet and a member of the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, Poland was an enemy of NATO. The major cause of the loss of citizenship was service in the Korean War, as it was before 1951, and Poland was on the Soviet/communist other side of the conflict.

When it concerns Polish citizenship law, the only foreign military service that is permitted before 1951 is service in the Allied Forces during the Second World War. If this service in the British Armed Forces continued after the war, then, unfortunately, it was a cause for loss of citizenship. In general, though, most Polish servicemen fought in the Polish Army under British command rather than joining the British Army outright. Fighting for the Polish armed forces under British command did not impact upon a soldier’s citizenship status.

If the marriage of your female Polish ancestor led to the acquisition of non-Polish citizenship, then it is an automatic loss of citizenship. In Poland, and many other countries in the first half of the 20th century, the citizenship of women changed with marriage automatically. 

The other issue concerns being born in wedlock or not. Even if your grandmother did not obtain foreign citizenship with marriage and therefore maintained her Polish citizenship, if your mother or father were born from that union in wedlock, and before 1951, they would have acquired their father’s citizenship due to the prevailing regulations in Poland. It was only possible to inherit citizenship from the mother’s side (before 1951), if one was born out of wedlock.

A lack of documents is the main reason descendants of Polish ancestors fail to get their Polish citizenship confirmed by Polish authorities. The 2009 citizenship law introduced a concept that the applying party is the one that has to provide evidence rather than the government. Old documents, especially from the interwar era, suffered substantial damage during the Second World War in Poland. The collections are in poor condition in most of the archives, especially in the east and south-east of Poland. Basically, if you do not have the right documents, you do not have the case. Using non-Polish evidence is rarely accepted. 

Another reason a descendant might fail to secure their Polish citizenship by descent is because they’re oblivious to the fact that their ancestors renounced Polish citizenship in the past. An ancestor may have renounced citizenship for their own safety if they managed to flee to the West. This decision is still valid today and extends to the descendants. It’s worth paying heed to the fact that renunciation is only treated as such in Poland if the person informed the Polish government about it. This almost never happened, at least before 1945. 

Overall, there are a number of disqualifiers from the period of 1920-1951, such as emigration, following female lineage (more prone to loss of citizenship), and service in other armies, such as the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Dual citizenship was prohibited before 1951. However, at the same time, your grandfather could not have lost citizenship as long as he was fit enough to be drafted into the Polish army. This creates the so-called ‘military paradox’. The maximum age of serving in the military changed a couple of times in Poland, and was the oldest from 1938 – up to 60 years old. Therefore, such an ancestor was still eligible for the draft and thus his naturalisation did not have an impact on his Polish citizenship. Generally speaking, people born in, or after, 1901 are always safe. 

The maximum age for being drafted was restored to 50 in 1950. Naturalisation was no longer punished when the 1951 new citizenship law was introduced. Doing the maths, 1901+50 = 1951 – all is ok. 

Here’s a case in point explaining why it’s not always necessary to go back two generations to the great-grandfather. Let’s imagine one’s great-grandfather was born in 1985 and naturalised in the US in 1930. He lost his Polish citizenship in 1950 when the maximum draft age was lowered back to 50 years old. However, his son was born in the US in 1924 and turned 18 in 1942. He was eligible for conscription into the Polish Armed Forces. Therefore, even though his father lost citizenship in 1950, the son himself did not.

You may be the first in your family to reclaim Polish citizenship, even not knowing the language, customs, or culture. It is a birthright. 

Regarding naturalisation itself, it was always negative for female ancestors before 1951. Men were protected by the ‘military paradox’ – they could not lose citizenship as long as they were fit enough to be drafted into the Polish army. 

After 1951, naturalisation was no longer a concern. Please note that even if your grandparents’ naturalisation is connected with renunciation of ‘any previous allegiances’, renunciation is only treated as such in Poland if an ancestor informed the Polish government about it. This almost never happened, at least before 1945.

Vital records themselves do not prove citizenship. It’s possible for one to be born, marry and die in Poland but still not be a citizen. 

Polish nationality law primarily revolves around the ‘right of blood’ (jus sanguinis). This means you can be born anywhere in the world and inherit Polish citizenship, as long as you were born to at least one Polish parent. 

Your great-grandfather’s birth certificate, for example, is tied to the rule of land – not the rule of blood. This document merely proves where your ancestor was born and who their parents were. Therefore, you aren’t able to base your application for citizenship on it. 

Unfortunately not, as the ‘rule of blood’ rather than the ‘rule of land’ is observed in Poland. You need proof of domicile or citizenship, such as population censuses, domicile books, voters lists, military documents, and tax/property documents. Such documents should indicate permanent stay or citizenship rights and come from official Polish sources, such as the National Archives.

Unfortunately, Polish citizenship does not extend to spouses. However, there is a chance for your spouse to claim Polish citizenship through marriage after they have fulfilled certain requirements related to residing in Poland on the basis of residence and passing a Polish language qualification at B1 level.

You should expect to wait around one year until receive your Certificate of confirmation of Polish Citizenship.

Yes. The majority of the communist-era rulings are no longer observed, such as forced renunciations of citizenship and illegal emigration.

You don’t as there are very many proxies, firms and agencies offering their support to foreigners who wish to obtain their Polish citizenship certificate by descent. Therefore, the process may be 100% remote.

No, you do not have to speak or write Polish to obtain Polish citizenship by descent.

Yes, anyone from your family can be the first to apply, if they are eligible.

There is no limit when it comes to generations. However, the cut-off date is usually 1920.

Only if you need to prove birth in wedlock. To inherit citizenship from the father’s side, it was required to be born in wedlock between 1920 and 1951 and then from 1962 till today. From 1962, you can also provide evidence of being acknowledged, up to one year from birth, as proof.

Death certificates are not needed for the procedure and are not considered proof of the “right of blood”.

The strongest documents to help claim Polish citizenship by descent are: old (even expired) Polish passports, ID cards, and questionnaires for said passports/ID cards. The next category includes proof of domicile or citizenship, such as population censuses, domicile books, voters lists, military documents, and tax/property documents. Such documents should indicate permanent stay or citizenship rights and come from official Polish sources, such as the National Archives.

Yes, but the date of issue is important as well. It may sound absurd, but if it’s too modern, it may be counterproductive. The government can argue your grandfather adopted citizenship recently, and as such, your father/mother and you were born without it. You need the document to be so old, that it was issued during your father’s/mother’s childhood or even predating their birth. Sometimes you can combine other older documents with the modern ID card in order to show continuation of citizenship.

Karta Rejestracyjna Reemigracyjna translates as “Re-emigration Registration Card”. It’s actually part of the Polish passport, which means it’s a highly valuable document. It was given to people coming from all around the world to settle in the Second Polish Republic, and sometimes then used to emigrate again.

Karta Meldunkowa is a proof of domicile, which, until 1945, equalled Polish citizenship.

The British MOD has almost all collections belonging to the Polish Free Forces – the Second Polish Corps under the 8th British Army. Particular documents available include Zeszyt Ewidencyjny – the Polish book of military records.

Those documents are usually 100% sufficient to prove Polish citizenship, as your grandfather had to be a Polish citizen to serve in the army. 

Fortunately, there are possibilities. There is the Central Museum of Prisoners of War in Opole and the databases which belong to the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.

Unfortunately, you are not eligible for Polish citizenship by descent as foreign military service before 1951 was prohibited, under the penalty of loss of citizenship. The only exception was service in the forces of an Allied power during World War Two.

If your ancestor arrived in Israel in 1958, that was after the 1951 Polish Citizenship Act which permitted dual citizenship. Therefore, he would not have lost his Polish citizenship automatically, although it’s true that emigrants were often forced to renounce Polish citizenship upon leaving the Polish People’s Republic. It all depends on what is found in the archives, i.e. whether it’s possible to prove the renunciation was forced. If the renunciation is deemed valid, you cannot apply as you were not born with Polish citizenship.

One of the most recent cases of a British person who acquired Polish citizenship by descent was Matty Cash, a football player for Aston Villa. He has Polish roots and wanted to play for the Polish national football team. The application to the government for dual citizenship is rather a private affair, so apart from famous cases such as Cash’s, we cannot know for sure who has two passports.

Yes, the government takes into account the border changes affecting Poland and Belarus which took place in 1939 and 1945. There might be some difficulties in completing the search in Ukraine or Belarus nowadays, but it is generally worth it, as documents there are in much better condition. The only disqualifier is if your family remained in the USSR after World War Two, until 1959 more precisely. In that year, a convention on limiting dual citizenship between Poland and the Soviets was signed. Many people in the east lost their Polish citizenship as a result. 

Nevertheless, most stories are centred on people from “Kresy” (today part of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania) who left for the west after the Second World War. You also might want to check the British MOD, as they may have been a part of the Anders’ Army. A lot of soldiers in this formation came from “Kresy”.

Yes, either originals or copies certified by the Polish consul or a Polish notary – in both instances you need to show the originals to them. 

It is not possible to use xerox copies, photocopies, non-Polish certified copies and laminated documents.

No, you need a proxy that will fill in the paperwork for you in Polish and with a Polish address for correspondence. The government does not send documents or letters abroad.

Yes, Poland has allowed dual citizenship since 1951.

No, compulsory military service was abolished in 2009. Even with the war in Ukraine, Poland only seeks to increase numbers in the professional armed forces, rather than turning to conscription.

Unfortunately, not much. DNA evidence is still not accepted by the government. However, it may reveal a great deal about your family’s past. With DNA evidence to hand, it may give you the impetus to intensify your quest to claim your Polish citizenship certificate by searching for the appropriate documents in the relevant archives.


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