Internment of German Americans in Hawaii under Martial Law
By: Doris Berg Nye—My Memories of the War Years
My parents and my older sister were interned in Honolulu. My Dad and Mom on Dec. 8, 1941. My older sister, Elle, age 18, was taken five days later. My younger sister, age 9, and I, age 11, were left as abandoned children. All five of us were German-American U.S. citizens. The internment and all of its ramifications was not supposed to happen to us. After all, as U.S. citizens, we were protected by the Federal Constitution, its freedoms, civil liberties and certain “inalienable rights”. That was not the case. On Dec. 7, 1941, all of that went out the window. Our American citizenship and our Constitution did not protect us after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For years, we could not talk of the internment. The pain was too great and the injustice was too horrible to even contemplate. My sisters and I did not speak of the episodes between us. Neither did we speak to my mother; she would have become too upset. My father would become very angry. All of our experiences from Dec. 7 through Aug. of 1943 remained buried. It was a lot easier to pull coverings over our festering emotional wounds and to pretend that all was fine rather than to open a Pandora’s Box and to expose the horrific, heartrending pain.
My father, Frederick Berg, was born in Cologne, Germany in 1902 and graduated from the University of Cologne. He became a U.S. citizen in Hawaii in the mid 30’s. My two sisters and I were born in Honolulu, the Territory of Hawaii. My mother’s parents, Heinrich (Henry) and Anna Louis Andermann, emigrated from Germany and were among the first contingent of German workers for Lihue Sugar Plantation in 1880. Bertha Andermann, their youngest child was born on Kauai in 1897 under the transitional government after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy.
In 1914, she was pushed into an arranged marriage on Kauai to a long time resident of the islands who was a German alien. He had not gotten around to applying for citizenship. She bore a daughter in 1922, my sister, Elle. She despised her husband, however, divorced him and sailed to Europe where she met my Dad. By marrying him, she lost her U.S. citizenship; however, she denounced her German citizenship in 1930 and was repatriated to the U.S. There she regained her U.S. citizenship in June 1930, eleven years before the war in 1941. In 1938, my grandparents in Germany asked for my oldest sister Eleanor to visit them. She did. With thousands of other refugees and with her fiancée, a newspaper journalist with a New York newspaper, she escaped Nazi Germany in the beginning of 1940. She was back in Hawaii by the end of 1940. I was born on January 6, 1930 and my little sister two and a half years later.
My parents, who had started the first private nursing home in the Territory of Hawaii with their first patient in 1935, had 19 patients. Their place of business was in a large three story home on upper Liliha St. The rooms of the residents were on the first two floors and we slept on the third floor. One day around November of 1940, one of our residents approached Mom and said that “so and so” who had a bedroom on the 2nd floor—(and which was located right beneath my parents’ on the third floor)–was reporting information to the F.B.I. Mom laughed and said, “Don’t worry that is O.K. We are American citizens.” She did not give the conversation much thought. Also during this time Mom had taken in a patient who came to her with the reputation of being quite the trouble maker—–sowing dissention by concocting untrue stories between patients. I remember him as having a glass eye and a stiff leg. Mom and Dad treated both residents very professionally and were not concerned.
On Sunday Dec. 7, I was in my parents’ bedroom on the third floor. My Dad was reading the Sunday comics to me. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion that rocked our home to its foundation. I leaped up and peered out of a window. Pearl Harbor was partially hidden under a huge ominous dense cloud of black smoke. Dad said that maybe one of the huge oil storage tanks had caught fire. I dashed down stairs to where my Mom was fixing breakfast and turned on the radio. A harried announcer was declaring: “This is the real McCoy. We are being attacked. This is not a maneuver this is the Real McCoy.” “Pack food and clothing.” “Be prepared to escape to the hills.” In answer to my question, Mom replied, “Yes, start packing food and blankets.” I hauled out two empty card board boxes and began to fill one with food the other with warm blankets
We kept the radio turned on all day. Then it went silent which was more frightening than being on. Both Mom and Dad dealt with the residents and their relatives. That evening, we observed all of the new orders. “Stay off the streets.” “Keep your lights out.” “There is a complete black out for all of Hawaii. Anyone, not complying will be severely punished.” “We are expecting a 2nd attack!! Any lights showing will be shot out!!” We went to sleep early. As a child I felt as a child, Mom and Dad were there. I felt safe–all was well. This was exciting. I had no clue as to the real horrors of war. My feelings would change radically the next day.
The next day, Monday, Dec. 8, Dad complied with one of the announcements for all personnel to report to their work. Dad’s 2nd job was at Sears. He left as soon as he heard the announcement. Later in the day, as I was in the yard, a black car drove up with two men in it. They looked like the Elliot Ness types, with hats and suits. I thought that they were members of a resident’s family. They asked to see my Mom and I said for them to wait, that I would get her. I ran up the back stairs to the kitchen, to my disbelief, the men were right behind of me. I found Mom. They started talking. She asked if she could put on some lipstick, I was horrified when they followed her right into the bathroom. My eyes were as big as saucers. I could see that they had revolvers. When they emerged, she said to me, “Doris, these men want to ask me some questions. Take care of your sister and the patients; I’ll be right back!” The hours went by and she did not return. That night, I waited out on the 2nd story porch. I listened to the silent radio, spinning the dial to try to find some information–any bulletins, police conversation. Dad had not returned either. I knew that something horrible had happened to them. I watched anxiously. A car would slowly creep up the street in the dark. A long time later –another. The hours went by and none of the cars stopped. At one point, I heard shouting on the street–gunshots. Someone had turned on a light–my little sister on the third floor. Up the stairs, I ran, screaming turn off the light! More gun shots. I lunged for her and the light switch all in one swift motion. She forgot it was blackout! I was terrified, apprehensive, sick with worry. I was not gentle, and how could I be? Then down the stairs and back onto the porch. I waited and waited. As the hours went by, a cold realization started to set in. They would not return for both Mom and Dad were dead.
By the next afternoon, our help had left. We were alone except for some patients who had not gone yet. I was sick with worry, but had to control my emotions for Mom relied on me. I have snatches of memory making some pancakes for those who were hungry. That afternoon, there was a very low key party, as if a small group of people were toasting to my parents departure. They did not know that my sister and I were near by sitting on the inside stairs, concealed by the shadows…
The next day, a group of persons who we did not know, came into the kitchen and started to take our food. My sister held on to a box of corn flakes. One of the men allowed her to keep it.
I had lost track of time. Approximately five days later, my older sister was driven, by a friend, into the yard. She had returned from Molokai. My little sister and I were elated to see her. We told her what had happened and that we thought Mom and Dad were dead—for, they had just vanished!! I was so relieved to have her back, for now the responsibility was off of my shoulders.
The next day, as I was in the yard, again, exactly the same thing happened! A black car drove in with two men dressed like Elliott Ness, hats, suits. This time, they asked for my sister, I “lost it” hysterically screaming “No, no!” as I raced up the back stairs, up the next, and up the third flight of stairs. She was in our bedrooms, sorting clothes, I tried to push her into the attic, to hide her but the men were right behind of me, I screamed: “Elle, they are going to kill you too!” I beat the men with my fists, trying to pull her away, as they took her down the stairs. All the while, I screamed, “Don’t take our sister! Don’t kill her too like you killed Mommy and Daddy!” “Take us, too, and kill us, too, but don’t leave us!” I beat them ferociously as they led her across the lawn and into the car. They peeled my fingers off of the door window, and they slowly drove off. My whole world collapsed. I threw myself on the lawn, screaming and screaming and pulling the grass up in chunks. Another loved one would be dead. After awhile, I pulled myself together, I had to think. I still had my little sister to take care of—I had to think about where we could go!
A few hours later, the telephone rang. I ran to grab it and it and it was my sister Elle. I asked, “Where are you?” She replied, “I can’t say.” I said, “Have you seen Mommy and Daddy!” She said, “No,” then asked “Are you guys O.K.?” I said, “Yes!” Then she asked, “Where will you go?” I said, “I will take the “little one” and go to Molokai.” (My aunt lived there, who I loved dearly.) She then stated, “I have to go!” and hung up. I suddenly had hope! If she was still alive, then maybe, just maybe, Mom and Dad were also. We would not go to Molokai; we had to stay right there—just in case Mom or Dad did come home! They would not find us if we were gone. The next day, I phoned another aunt who lived in Honolulu. She was the oldest of my grandmother’s children. She was very formal and straight laced. I do not remember what we spoke about, except I knew that I had to be serious, rational and not wimpy. She hired a nurse to stay with us. And we waited!
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, Mom and Dad were being held at Fort Armstrong Immigration Station. As the men had driven away with Mom, she kept asking, “What is going on?” They replied, “You will find out.” They then went to Sears and picked up Dad. Then both were driven to the FBI headquarters and interrogated. My Dad was asked what his name was and he replied,“Fred Berg.” He was asked, “What was your former name before you changed it?” He replied, “Fritz Berg” (he had anglicized it when he proudly became a US citizen) He was asked, “Why did you change your name?” They accused him of being a spy under an assumed name. Other outrageous accusations were flung at them. They kept insisting that they were U.S. citizens but they were not believed. They were then driven to the U.S. immigration station where very nervous young men holding loaded rifles tipped with bayonets herded them in to separate areas. Mom was brought to a large room with 35-40 other women of all races and walks of life. She kept asking why was she being treated like this. Her guards shouted, “You are an alien Nazi!” She didn’t want to argue too much with them, for the way that they were handling their rifles, made her fear that, accidentally or not, they could go off! It was an experience of bewilderment and horror. She was worried sick about her children at home. It was blackout, and Oahu was expecting another attack. She could only resort to prayer. It was Monday, Dec. 8, 1941.
Around the middle of Dec, 1941, Mom was told that since she and my dad had valuable property she must sign a power of attorney over to a Mr. Reed–a somewhat acquaintance– or the government would confiscate all of it. What choice did she have? So she decided to allow the FBI to contact Mr. Reed who was also a realtor. Unwilling, and with great reluctance, she signed the document. In another part of the building, so did Dad.
My sister told a more detailed account of how she was taken around Dec. 13, 1941. She said that she was confronted by two FBI men who showed their identification and said that she should accompany them to their offices for questioning. She could not forget her screaming and crying sisters. On arrival at the FBI headquarters, flanked by the two agents, she was fingerprinted and photographed with a number as an enemy alien. After several hours of harassing “we don’t believe you” style of questioning, she was ordered to get into a car and was told, “You are a prisoner, an enemy alien and will be detained.” She knew that she was a U.S. citizen but no one told her why she was detained. She was driven by the two FBI men to Fort Armstrong Immigration Station, where upon she was handed over to an Army soldier, who marched her up a flight of stairs with the bayonet of his rifle at her back. He gave her over to a Matron-Guard who searched her and locked her in a large type of barred room (cell) crammed with the thirty-five to forty other women. It was in this ward that she was reunited with our mother. No one knew why they were being detained. No one had a change of clothing. Their Army cots were one foot apart. There was one toilet and one sink. There were no lights and everyone was on edge with fear and worry for their children, husbands and family. They were not allowed any contact with anyone on the outside. No telephone calls or any other communication was permitted. She learned that Dad and her birth father were being held in the same complex, in another ward with a large group of men of all racial backgrounds
In the latter part of December 1941, Mom, Dad and Elle had their hearings in front of a tribunal consisting of Army personnel and some local citizens. (Mom’s was on Dec. 20, her 44th birthday) Each hearing was separate from the other and they were not permitted any contact with the other. They were not allowed to have an attorney present. Mom, Dad and Elle were asked outlandish questions. They did not know from whom the accusations had come and they could not confront their accusers. Mom and Dad each were cross examined about Nazi meetings in their bedroom. Each emphatically said, “NO!” They did not know of what they were guilty. They were not charged with any specific act. Statements were read to them and questions asked and that was all. Everything was kept in secret. The hearings were not hearings in the judicial sense, because they consisted mostly of reports of investigations and cross examinations. The hearings lasted about five to seven minutes. My parents and sister were to be detained indefinitely.
After about 2 months of that “living hell” at the Fort Armstrong Immigration Station, everyone was moved, under armed security, to the Sand Island Camp. Here the women were confined to an Army barracks, surrounded by two approximately ten foot barbed wire fences which were patrolled day and night by Army guards with rifles. The men had been moved to Sand Island weeks earlier and confined to barracks surrounded by 10 foot barbed wire fences and patrolled by Army sentries.
It was from this “make-shift” internment camp that my older sister was released on conditional parole at the end of March 1942. Prior to her release, she was handed several documents and was told she had to sign all of them or she would not be granted the parole. She was not allowed to read any of the documents and was told that she had to report to an Army parole officer once a month, indefinitely.
In the meantime, around Dec. 17, 1941, my younger sister and I went to live with my Aunt Anna. She was not too happy about it. We were not allowed to say who we were or to speak to any of the neighbors. My aunt had told everyone that we were war refugees. I couldn’t blame her, for, of course, she and her family were German American and afraid for their own safety. She was strict but fair. She had told me that she received a note from her sister, my Aunt Marie, on Molokai, in which Aunt Marie explained that she could not possibly take us in, that she only took in family. I still loved her despite what I heard. I knew that there must have been a reason. Of course, they were afraid for themselves also. She had three sons–two sons were in the military and she and my uncle entertained military of high rank, generals and colonels, on their ranch. If we were with her, how in the world would she have been able to explain that her nieces’ parents, her own sister and brother-in-law, had been picked up by the FBI? We were poison to stay away from.
One day in January, a woman came to the house. We were still living with my Aunt Anna then. She and my aunt were at the far end of the living room speaking in very low voices. I tried to listen, which I did not normally do, so I must have heard something that referred to us. After the woman left, my aunt gave me a letter. It was written to both my younger sister and me. I will never forget its smell of tobacco. It was a letter written by my mom. It was written in pencil on the back of a laundry slip and it appeared as if it had been folded very small and hidden in a pack of the woman’s cigarettes in order to be snuck out. It was the very first time that we had heard from our mom. I don’t remember specifically what was written. However, it was with a sense of relief to know that she was all right. I learned either from my aunt or the letter, that she was being held at the Immigration Station
A few days before Christmas, Mr. Reed, came with a number of presents that my parents had bought. They had been hidden in the attic of or our home on Liliha St. I saw a gift that for two years, I had wished for– a Jig-Saw. I was not allowed to keep it. We were allowed to keep two or three gifts and all else was given to the Salvation Army. Mr. Reed also took us back to our three- story home to see if there were any clothes that we could find. There was nothing. Everything had been trashed or stolen. I saw my precious Kitty-cat, my best friend. She was happy to see me and was purring around my ankles. I tearfully pleaded for Mr. Reed to take her, or for me to take her with us. She could not be just left. He refused and I was not allowed to take her with me. I gave her a big hug and put her down. No one would be there to feed her. I had to leave her to fend for herself. I was devastated. I cried a flood of tears. It was as bad as leaving a loved one forever, knowing they would die.
That night, I did something that I had never done before, I wet my bed.
At my aunt’s home, my oldest cousin, threatened us with being sent to the orphanage, a horrible place, we were told where the children were beaten starved and all kinds of evil things were done to them. He resented us and could not wait for us to leave. At the end of March 1942, my aunt had a heart attack! That same oldest cousin took over all arrangements. He told me to run next door to get the doctor. Not having spoken to the neighbors and not knowing what each did, I did run next door and did talk to his family. The doctor was not in, plus he was a dentist and not a physician. My cousin was furious. But how did I know that the doctor was a dentist? He then told us to pack for now we would be sent to the orphanage where we should have gone in the first place. My little sister and I were standing in the kitchen, with our arms around each other—crying. We were scared. For now what would happen? A very black hour. I looked up and I could not believe my eyes. Like a guardian angel, there, at the back door, stood my oldest sister. What a miracle!! We gathered our things and left. We three were now on our own. Because Elle was underage, she was not supposed to have us. I hid our identity by lying. She had to report to her parole officer once a month and was not allowed to go near military sensitive areas. I were terrified of being separated and sent to an orphanage. After having been split up for months, I could not go through that again.
In February of 1942, while we stayed at our aunt’s and Mom and Elle had been transferred to Sand Island, unbeknownst to us, my dad, with a contingent of Germans and a couple of Italians (thirteen of whom were American citizens) and 170 Isei Japanese men, were to be sent to Camp McCoy in Sparta, Wisconsin. They still had on the same attire, summer clothes, that they had been wearing when picked up in December. Their accommodations were in the cramped hold of a ship traveling in convoy through submarine waters heading towards Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.
The ship that my father was on was a troop ship with military personnel who were being shipped to the mainland and then to the war in Europe. My dad and the others were confined in the steerage section. None of the internees was brought up on deck for fresh air. They were under heavy guard. Their food was served by some of the military men. One day, down in the hold Dad saw a familiar face. It was his nephew! One of my Aunt Marie’s three sons! My dad said later that he was very hurt when his nephew, after making eye contact, refused to look at him and pretended not to know him at all. This was the same favored nephew who had always stayed at our home, his home away from home, in 1940-41. When he was not on maneuvers, he would always come by and share his adventures with us, have dinner, spend the night or week end and borrow the car. For years, my dad did not forget the insult. But he eventually forgave him.
On the other hand, I can imagine my cousin’s shock and wanting to disappear into the woodwork when he saw his uncle bedraggled, in the company of other disheveled men—many days, weeks, growth of beards, rumpled clothing under heavy guard. Rumors fly and many must have heard from the guards that the men were unsavory creatures– Nazis who had been picked up by the FBI.
On the train ride from San Francisco, the weather and scenery became bleaker, and they did not know to where they were being sent. As the weather became colder, and in order to keep warm, they stuffed their light summer clothes and shoes with newspapers.
At Camp McCoy, my dad and the other U.S. citizens were trying to convince persons in command that they were American citizens. My dad complained of not having any money. Mr. Reed was supposed to have sent him some. Internees had to pay for cigarettes, combs, razor blades, soap and etc. for their hygiene. He was envious of the German aliens being sent well filled care packages from their relatives. Other persons from Hawaii received little also. Most relatives in Honolulu did not know that the men had been shipped out. Since Mr. Reed was in touch with the FBI, he knew.
At first, Mom had heard through “whisperings” that their men had been shipped out, but to where, she did not know, until she received a letter from Dad. The American citizens were writing letter after letter to anyone who could possibly help them. A lawyer donated his time pro-bono and filed for habeas corpus. One internee, was able to get in touch with a newspaper reporter, who was prepared to write an article on what was happening to U.S. citizens. Convinced, the camp commander was flabbergasted. He could not understand what was happening in Hawaii–that they would intern U.S. citizens..
After Elle’s release and before my dad’s return, Mom was found to have a large tumor. St. Louis College had been converted into an Army Hospital and she was sent there for an operation. My older sister told us about the surgery (her parole officer had told her) and where Mom was. My little sister and I caught a city bus to go up to see her –that is, if we could. But, we were not able to. There was an Army guard with a rifle standing in front of her room. He stopped us and kept us outside at a distance. I tried to look around him, but I couldn’t see her. The room was dark.
While at the hospital, she had asked a woman volunteer if she could have a piece of paper and a pencil to write her children that she was O.K. The woman replied that they did not give free items to Nazi spies and walked out. However, a woman from the Salvation Army dropped by one day. She did give her the piece of paper and pencil. Mom was so grateful, and said that the woman was very kind hearted and human. Mom did write the letter, but we did not receive it. Because of the woman’s kindness, she never did forget that organization. When Mom was released from the hospital, she was supposed to take it easy, for she had received quite extensive abdominal surgery. The matron at Sand Island said that no way does a Nazi get to take it easy, so made Mom mop the floors and carry heavy buckets of water. Mom developed a large hernia but did not dare tell anyone. She was afraid of what would be done to her next. She had the hernia and wore a hernia belt until she was quite old.
In April of 1942, four months after the attack, my sister Elle had said that we could visit our Mom at Sand Island. That was a harrowing experience. There was a Navy launch waiting for passengers at dockside. On the launch, all of the relatives, including some children, were too terrified, it seemed, to look at each other. Everyone looked down (including me)-perhaps from shame or fear that each could be next. Anything could happen, daily I lived in fear. We landed at the small wharf at Sand Island. Then had to walk the mile (it seemed) over the white coral to the concentration camp, as we called it. As we got closer, we could hear the cries of the women in the camp! We could see them hanging on the barbed wire. They had their arms outstretched to their loved ones, who they had not seen, since the day they were interned. What a joyful reunion. We walked thru a baffled entry (to keep light from showing at night) into a large mess hall barracks. There I ate the most delicious cookies and fudge that I had ever tasted. We were allowed to sit with Mom on benches at the mess tables. She introduced us to some of the other internees. It was a low key meeting, for we were watched by the Matron and Guards which were located at each end of the “dining room”. Our visit ended too soon, then we had to leave, back over the coral, we waved and waved until we could not see our mother or the others anymore. We just visited with Mom, Dad, of course, was not there. Since February he had been at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.
Finally, around May in 1942 in the Sand Island Internment Camp, my parents were reunited. The other men were also reunited with their wives. Each couple was assigned their own tent. They had cots that they slept on. The couples had been moved into the women’s side of the camp. All were still surrounded by barbed wire fences and sentries. All ate in the large mess hall with the “baffled entrance” where we had visited with Mom.
It was after the couples were reunited that we finally saw and were able to be with our father again. What a joyful reunion. We had not seen him since the morning of December 8, 1941. Now, my little sister and I were able to visit my parents and to spend weekends with them. In the tent, there was a coral floor that Mom had swept so that all of the bigger stones were brushed aside and only the smaller coral pieces like sand were left. It was quite hot during the day—so Dad raised the flaps around the sides of the tent to let some fresh air in. Every Friday, he had to make sure to keep the ones to the windward side lowered. Mom did not want her sand floor blown about because every Saturday morning the Captain who ran the camp would walk through the tents with some other military men and conduct a “white-glove” inspection. To make the area a little more attractive, Dad was able to find clumps of grass that he and Mom planted in front of the tent. He also built a little bench for them to sit on in the evening. It was wonderful to be with both my mom and dad and to feel loved again. They would cuddle us at night. I remember some happy moments like trimming the grass with an old scissors. Or gorging on delicious fudge that a certain German lady made for us when she knew that we would be spending the week-end.
Sometime in February 1943 my parents were sent to Camp Honouliuli in the Waianae Mountains. This time their tent had a wooden floor. A luxury. (They lived there until their release: Mom in June 1943 and Dad in August of 1943.) Fortunately, we were able to visit them again on weekends. Again, Dad built a little porch this time with an awning for a roof. In front he had planted Morning Glories which he trained up on strings. I planted a small vegetable garden in front of it, which they tended. I also remember the cardinals with their red feathers sitting on the fences chirping their calls. Now whenever I hear a cardinal, my thoughts immediately go back in time to the bitter sweet memories of Honouliuli.
The military internment camp at Honouliuli as I remember consisted of three compounds surrounded with tall barbed wire fences interspersed by guard towers. One of the compounds was for the Germans, another for the Japanese and a third for the Japanese Prisoners of War from the Pacific war theater. Sometimes, I would get a pass to go over to the Japanese side of the Camp. Everyone was so nice and friendly there. I remember seeing a dentist office, run by an American Japanese dentist. However, I liked the P.X the best for it sold delicious goodies. I always came away with a bunch of candy bars that I bought. I had to use the script that the internment camp issued to the internees. When visiting the Japanese side of the internment camp, I needed to pass the barbed wire enclosure that contained the Japanese prisoners of war. They had short cut hair and wore loin clothes; they had “pup” tents for shelter. They certainly did not look like the parents of my Japanese friends but looked foreign. As I passed their enclosure—they looked at me with fierce looks —I ran.
On our own, we had a difficult time. After leaving our Aunt Anna’s home in 1942, Elle was able to find a furnished two bedroom house about a half mile walk away from school. Although she was working, it was not easy for her to pay for rent, food, clothing and all else out of her meager salary. In the summer of 1942, we moved to a small two bedroom home in Waikiki. The rent was cheaper. My clothes were becoming washed out and faded. There were many times that I was hungry. Very fortunately for us the home was very convenient to the ocean. Also, in its front yard, there were three coconut trees. My sister and I would go to the beach and hunt for edible sea-weed to eat or I would climb the coconut trees for their nuts.
In December of 1942, our second Christmas without our parents was slowly approaching. For me, it was a time of sadness. I did not realize it, but I had slumped into depression. I had not cried since the day that my aunt had a heart attack and we were going to be sent to an orphanage. There was an extremely tall Norfolk Pine tree in the neighbor’s yard. I had climbed to its top many times, looking towards Sand Island. (Later, when my parents were at Honouliuli I was able to make out the area where the gulch and my parents were housed. Honolulu’s air was still quite clear—no auto exhaust fumes yet.) One night in the middle of a thunder storm, I climbed the tree again to the very top. As I huddled there in the rain, from somebody’s loud radio, I heard a brand new song by Bing Crosby—I’m Dreaming Of a White Christmas. The words, triggered tears and I cried and cried, I missed my parents so much. Since then, every Christmas when I hear that song, for a short time, I am transported right back there, into that stormy night. I have a lump in my throat, but quickly, I snatch myself back to the present.
Although my thirteenth birthday was on January 6, 1943, we celebrated it in March on the German side at Camp Honouliuli. The German Chef had been the Head Chef of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, when he was arrested. (It was feared that he might poison the officers who used the Royal for rest and recuperation. The whole hotel had been requisitioned for military officers). Emich, as I knew him, baked an elaborate birthday cake for me. Everyone sang Happy Birthday.
In 1943, right after my thirteenth birthday, I went to work. Since Mr. Reed was not giving us any money, I decided to work for some. I was in the seventh grade. Aliiolani, my school, had a split school day. I went to school in the afternoon. Since I had time off in the morning, I thought that I would work at a little ice-cream parlor, across the street from the beach. Although I was thirteen, I lied and said that I was fifteen. One day four or five sailors came in and ordered ice-cream. I served them and when they were finished I gave them the bill. One of the sailors handed me a ten dollar bill and said, “Keep the change.” My immediate reflex was to throw up my fists like a fighter, and glare! They thought that I was crazy and I could not blame them. My reaction haunted me for years, until I was finally told that I had gotten used to so many negative surprises, that I had developed that type of body language to ANY surprise.
Our home in Waikiki was located right on a corner. Although, there was a sidewalk on the main street, there was none on the side street. There was about 4 feet of packed sand between the house and the road also there were about 4 sash windows that overlooked that area. My mother had always suspected a certain client as an informer. He had a glass eye and a stiff leg. She had reprimanded him for harassing one of the nurses. One day I was standing in the living room of our home, and just happened to glance out of one of the windows. There a car was slowly, slowly rolling by and in it was that same man with the glass eye. We made eye contact. Like a bolt, fear ripped through me and I dropped to the floor. I was terrified. How did he know where we lived? Would he report us? Would the three of us now be forced apart and sent to an orphanage? For days, I waited for those Elliot Ness men to make an appearance. But, gratefully, after about two weeks, no one showed up and my panic began to subside. However,I always lived in fear of discovery (Germans were hated), separation and the orphanage.
Mr. Reed who also was handling other properties for my parents did not give us a cent. He was pocketing the rent money and the bills were piling up. Because of not having enough money (he said), he sold off a beautiful piece of property in Manoa. From that sale, he kept a large amount of money, (we found out later) the rest was used (he said) to pay off a mortgage.
Mom continued to fight to keep what property was left. However, being kept isolated and in a “cage” was a huge handicap. She had tried to contact various banks, savings and loans if they could please help to manage her property. They were helpful, but after speaking to Mr. Reed, they immediately declined. For example, in response to her letter, she received the following from the Secretary of Federal Savings and Loan:
“You asked if there is any law in the Territory of Hawaii or Federal Statute that gives American citizens protection if detained. This Territory is under Martial Law that supersedes all other laws in times like these. In my opinion Uncle Sam isn’t going to room and board a person at his expense unless he has a mighty good reason to do so and your being held in detention, apparently, looks as though it was no one else’s fault but your own, and there is nothing that can be done about it but to take your own medicine.”
It was obvious that Reed for his own greed was lying and painting my parents as Nazi sympathizers.
Not allowed to speak with anyone directly, Mom had to pass all letters through regular channels. In 1943, she wrote a letter to Brigadier General Boyd requesting permission for an attorney friend to visit her. Her request was denied. She also requested that a physician friend visit her. She was told that her request would have to go through the regular channels. It was obvious that Boyd could not be bothered.
On June 21, Mom was finally released on parole with instructions to report back once a week. The next day after her release, she went down to Territorial Savings and Loan and just barely prevented the sale of the property. In Aug. 1943, my dad was released also on parole. Such an arduous journey for Mom, Dad and my sister, because of a few lies from sick people. On Oct. 24, 1944, Martial Law was finally ended. But that was not the end of our family’s unhappy journey. The torment scarred our psyches in ways that would haunt us for the rest of our lives. It is amazing that Mom and Dad just did not give up and go under. The internment caused the breakup of many of the couples. However, Dad and Mom loved each other dearly as if they were teenaged sweethearts. I believe their strength came from the support they gave one another. It almost seemed that adversity made them stronger.
Our family did not address its experiences for years. Life went on, but the scars were deep, however, after awhile we did open up. A private relief bill was introduced to Congress by Hawaii’s Senator Inouye on behalf of my mother. It was not passed, and was sent on to the Senate Judiciary and there it collected dust. We were dismayed that so many people knew nothing about the German American Internment. My hope is that my story will help to get information out so that the school children are taught that the German Americans were also interned and to make sure that the internment of innocents based on erroneous hearsay information, never happens again.