Germans Interned in WW2
Crystal City, Texas, and such
There were 10,905 German and German-American internees in WW2. The
Alien Enemy Act of 1798 allows the detainment of foreign nationals of any country with whom the USA is at war. Thus, there were internees of Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Internment is different from the better known relocation of enemy aliens from a war zone. Internment is an arrest process by the FBI with internment administered by the Justice Department and, during WW2, detention through the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Requirements for internment were that a non-citizen be born in an enemy country with allegations of having said something positive about their home country. One proof was evidence of postal contact with persons in Germany. Most were recent arrivals who had not held residence long enough to become naturalized citizens. A hearing board, with the defendant unrepresented by council nor before witnesses, determined there was some justification of a sympathy to Germany. Example, if your bother's son from Germany appeared at your door asking to be put up for the night, would you let him in? An answer of "Yes" meant the German resident was declared a dangerous enemy alien to sent to internment camp. Arrest, of course, meant the people lost their jobs, businesses, homes and possessions as well as
suffering the dislocation and stigma of internment. His family, now without a breadwinner could elect to accompany the detainee, which caused spouses and children to be confined that may have been born in the United States . About 300,000 German-born U.S. resident aliens were not detained; they and their families, were required to carry I.D. certificates limiting their travel and seizing of their personal property such as cameras and radios.1 The family was asked during the FBI interviews if they desired voluntary internment for their safety.
The internment camp at Crystal City, Texas, held, in the course of its life, 10,905 people,
including 250 born there and 17 that died. There was a full spectrum of political opinion -- some were full-Germans who happened to be in the United States when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Some were totally Americanized. Once sent to Crystal City, they were either deported to wartime Germany, which some had never been before or kept in internment up to a year and a half after the war ended. Crystal City camp was disbanded in 1947. There are reports that 400-600 German-Americans were also kept at Ellis Island after the war, kept there in bureaucratic limbo.
A citizen exchange of Germans and Americans was arranged on a one for one basis. Using bureaucratic logic, unnecessary arrests were made of foreign nationals to show larger numbers to be used as bargaining chips of international diplomacy. Those exchanged, about 2,000 people, were transported on neutral Swedish ships. Strangely, some of those who were returned to Germany had fled Nazism and returned home to the US soon after the war. Some of those sent by Germany were arrested for offenses by the US. We can suppose the lives of those sent from the US were equally grim back in Germany.,
This page was sparked by a
BBC Radio 4, half hour program, "Lost Voices of Crystal City" available at
The radio report speaks of this as a secret of WW2, yet an immediate internet search found
134 references including this government movie showing the good living conditions at the Crystal City while it was a wired enclosed village. Yet it remains a little known fact of WW2 that deserved mention.
Crystal City was the largest of the Department of Justice "Alien Detention Centers" run by the Immigration Service as a family oriented facility for internees of all nationalities detained under the Alien Enemy Act of 1798. Originally a migrant worker camp of 100 buildings, the facility grew to cover 500 acres with 600 cottages plus hospital and administration buildings. Families could voluntarily join the detainees after having lost the bread-winner and been ostracized by their community. Japanese truck farmers from California tended the gardens and the Germans provided mechanical repair. Five languages were spoken -- English, Japanese, German, Italian, and Spanish. An early count showed 15,000 Japanese, 11,000 Germans and 3,000 Italians of which 1,600 were minor children, all of whom continued schooling and some of whom went on the Universities in Texas or to nursing schools while calling the detention center their hometown.
The detention center housed people different from the enemy aliens relocated from the Pacific war zone. Those were free to relocate anywhere outside of the war zone (West coast and 70 miles inland during 1942-43). However, a plaque representing that group commemorates the Japanese kept at this "WW2 Concentration Camp", it does not mention European and Hispanic nationals who also lived here and that it was not a place of extermination or torture which the words concentration camp bring to mind.
There were about 70 INS holding facilities used during WW2. Most were temporary at county jails or military stockades; the records are not available of all. The Crystal City, Texas, facility was the largest and was kept open until 1947 to house complicated cases such a multiple citizenship, multinational families, or international residencies. Other facilities were at Santa Fe, NM ; Bismarck, ND ; Fort Missoula, MT.
As cases were processed during the war, eligible Japanese were sent to relocation centers. As Japanese were relocated to non-combat areas of the US, the relocation centers were consolidated and those centers freed were used for housing the increasing number of German POWs.
As with all of the stories of injustice, the facts are given by innocent victims : the guilty are not telling these stories. And are obviously told through the eyes of people young at the time, who hold citizenship by birth whereas their parents were foreigners from countries at war, and we do not know of the degree of strength of their parent's political views or ties to the old country at that time, sixty years ago.
Italian Experience About 600,000 of the country's 5 million Italian born had not been naturalized - for lack of time, language skills, or any sense of urgency -- and therefore were enemy aliens when the country of birth declared war. They were required to register as enemy aliens, carry photo ID booklets and to surrender guns, shortwave radios, binoculars, cameras, flashlights, and other "contraband."
Many were assigned a night-time curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Non-citizens could not travel more than 5 miles from home without a permit. Aliens living in the immediate area of military and defense facilities were forced to move. Many blamed themselves for their troubles for not obtaining naturalization. On Oct. 24, 1942, Columbus Day, restrictions were lifted.
Hawaiians The Honouliuli Camp held more than 3,000 interned American citizens
Why Latin? About 4,000 German and Japanese detainees were provided as undesirable aliens by over a dozen Latin American
countries. They were transported and housed at American expense as part of the numbers game of repatriation that both sides played.
Return to: WW2 Pacific Menu 1. See New York Times articles about those who tried to avoid registration as enemy aliens. And Relocation Timetable About this page: German.html -Internment during World War II.
Last updated on June 27, 2005 -- add Italians. Oct 25, 2006-- add Latin. Nov 2, 2011 -- add Hawaii.
Contact us at