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Ellis Island, New York City  -- Temporary Detention Facility Fort Lincoln, Bismarck, North Dakota -- Dept. of Justice Internment Camp Camp Kenedy, Texas -- Dept. of Justice Internment Camp Fort Missoula, Montana -- Dept. of Justice Internment Camp Seagoville, Texas -- Dept. of Justice Internment Camp Crystal City, Texas -- Dept. of Justice Family Internment Camp Camp McCoy, Sparta, Wisconsin -- U.S Army Internment Camp Fort Stanton, New Mexico -- Dept. of Justice Internment Camp Stringtown Prison, Stringtown, Oklahoma -- U.S. Army Internment Camp Camp Forrest, Tullahoma, Tennessee -- U.S. Army Internment Camp Fort Meade, Maryland -- U.S. Army Internment Camp Sand Island and Camp Honouliuli, O’ahu Hawaii -- U.S. Army Internment Camps Cuba, Panama Canal Zone, Nicaragua, Costa Rica , and Colombia Staunton, Virginia --  Ingleside Hotel -- one of several State Dept. detention sites Angel Island, San Francisco Bay, California -- Temporary Detention Facility Gloucester City, New Jersey -- Temporary Detention Facility Sharp Park Temporary Detention Station Tuna Canyon Temporary Detention Station, Tujunga, California Terminal Island Quarantine and Detention Center, San Pedro, California Algiers Immigration Detention Station, Louisiana 4800 Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois -- Temporary Detention Facility East Boston INS Detention Facility Sullivan Lake, Washington -- One of several forest camp locations Omaha, Nebraska -- Good Shepherd Convent
US Department of Justice Internment Facilities

Crystal City, Texas Family Internment Camp

photo courtesy University of Texas, Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio
photo courtesy University of Texas, Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio

A current marker, funded privately and placed at the Crystal City, Texas Family Internment Camp in 1985, inaccurately states that only Japanese American civilian prisoners were held at this site during World War II. German and Japanese Latin Americans and at least one Italian Latin American family were housed here, as were German and Japanese American families.

The decision to intern Latin American families at Crystal City was based on the theory that the temperatures, which frequently reach 120º during the summer, but are considered mild by winter standards, would be similar to the countries from which they came.

Much of the following information is from Joseph L. O’Rourke, camp commander, who wrote a report on the Crystal City Internment Camp in 1945. (O’Rourke, Joseph L. Historical Narrative of the Crystal City Internment Camp, a report to W.F. Kelly, Assistant Commissioner for Alien Control Office, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Crystal City Internment Camp, RG 85, 101/161, 32, NA.)

Originally a migrant labor camp, the INS began expanding the site in the fall of 1942, anticipating the need to intern large numbers of enemy aliens and their families. 41 three room cottages and 118 one room shelters already existed there, as well as service buildings and sufficient utility services for the approximately 2000 people originally anticipated. There were 100 acres to be surrounded by 10 foot high fences, guard towers and brilliant spot lights, and another 190 acres to be devoted to farming, personnel residences, etc. The first internees, of German ethnicity, arrived on December 12, 1942, and were expected to work on construction.

Joint Japanese and German American work crew Crystal City, Courtesy  Schmitz Family Collection
photo courtesy of Gurcke Family

Six types of housing were eventually provided. One room shelters 12’ x 16’ were for couples and those with small children. Other buildings were divided into various sized apartments, for larger families. 20 used Victory huts were also moved onto the site. A few cottages had an inside bath and toilet, designed to house families with special needs, but most internees used centrally located facilities. An initial allowance of cooking utensils, furniture, bedding, etc. was provided, and could be replaced if the worn out items were turned in. (Additional pictures of Crystal City buildings )

At first food was brought to each family, but by September 1943 internees were issued a new form of camp money, “coupon checks,” a token system devised by camp officials to allow inmates to purchase needed foodstuffs or clothing items at a general store. Milk and ice continued to be delivered. Originally, a family of two adults with two small children were allotted $6.00 worth of coupons per month. In 1944 the amount was raised to $6.50.

Security for the camp was provided by two sets of guards. A Surveillance Division patrolled the fence line and provided the armed guards for the towers, while an Internal Security Division operated a small police force inside the compound twenty-four hours a day, “ to preserve order, count internees, and generally determine the state of affairs in the camp. ... Very few internee fights or displays of violence have occurred. There have been no escapes or attempted escapes.” (O’Rourke, 14-15.)

In the first winters, mud was everywhere. A 70 bed hospital, built in 1943, was surrounded with mud “practically up to the knees when it rained.” Medical staff had to store extra, clean shoes and stockings inside the building, to put on after they waded in and washed up, until a better walkway was constructed. (O’Rourke, 22.) The winter of 1942-43 was the coldest on record in the area, with snow on the cactus and icicles hanging from roof eves.

The summers brought intense heat and frequent dust devils. Internees encountered scorpions, red ants, rattlesnakes, and other insect and animal life they’d never known before. Sunburns and heat rashes were common.

Internees were employed in various camp enterprises, for ten cents an hour salary. A group of men cleared water hyacinths out of an old reservoir, which was then used as both reservoir and swimming pool. Over the years the camp became a small town, complete with grocery stores, butcher shop, furniture and mattress factory, beauty and barber shop, fire department, etc.

Women sewing in Crystal City
Internee men at lunch, Crystal City

When first opened, there were few diversions from the monotony. A perimeter road, dusty in summer, awash with mud in the winter, could be walked. A small library of donated books was available. A popular diversion was dreaming over Montgomery Ward (known as “monkey ward”) catalogues. Originally, women shared a few sewing machines, making curtains and children’s clothing. Owning cameras was banned until some time later. Movies were occasionally shown outdoors, against a building wall, in the early days. As the population swelled, internees were able to attend movies twice a week, swim once the pool was complete, and use their own funds to plant gardens around their dwellings.

A Supervisor of Education had been hired in April 1942, to plan the development of a school system. Setting up these schools and getting adequate teaching staff was challenging. Teachers fluent in English, Spanish, German, or Japanese were needed to work with the children. Both a German and a Japanese school were established, and by the autumn of 1943, an official school, based on Texas educational regulations, was in place for those students wishing an American education. Nursery schools and kindergartens were begun as soon as the camp opened and were run by the internees. (Additional pictures of Crystal City people )

The Crystal City camp was considered the show place of the internment program, so much so that the INS made a propaganda movie about it in the mid-1940s. Show place or not, it was a prison. (Alien Enemy Detention Facility, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1946. 16 mm videocassette, N3-85-86-1, N.A., College Park, Maryland.)

“From its inception through June 30, 1945, the Crystal City camp inducted 4,751 internees (including 153 births). Of this number, 954 Germans were repatriated in two movements (February 1944 and January 1945), and 169 Japanese were repatriated in August 1943. One hundred thirty-eight internees have been released or paroled, 84 interned at large, 73 transferred to other facilities, and 17 have died. In practically all cases, the women and children were voluntary internees.” (O’Rourke, 8.)

Christmas, Schmitz Family Collection

It is of interest that Joseph O’Rourke’s Historical Narrative concludes “...it is the general opinion of our staff that voluntary internment should not be permitted. ...our observation has formed the opinion that a woman, because of her usual emotional state, will generally develop an anti-American complex through internment, even if no such prior attitude existed.” (O’Rourke, 32-33.)

The Crystal City, TX Family Internment Camp closed in February 1948, and the remaining internees, most or all of German ethnicity, were sent to Ellis Island, N.Y.

Noverber 2002 reunion of internees, welcomed by a young Crystal City Resident

In November 2002 there was a reunion of former internees. Sponsored by the Zavala County Historical Commission and its able chairman, Richard Santos, the invitation coincided with Veterans’ Day and the Crystal City Spinach Festival, an annual event celebrating the mainstay crop of the area. (A statue of Popeye still stands in front of the town hall, as it did when busloads of enemy alien families were transported to the camp.)

Of the thousands of prisoners who passed through the camp during the war years, there were around eighty internees of German descent, originally from the United States or Latin American countries, a busload of Japanese Americans with ties to Peru and a handful of others. Most had been the children of the camp. Additional pictures of Crystal City reunion )

As collective Grand Marshal they were feted at receptions and memorial services and included in the annual Spinach Festival parade. The parade featured the Spinach Queen and her court, local school bands, floats, pickup trucks full of high school and junior high athletes, flag twirlers and former internees. The streets were lined with onlookers, many of whom cheered as the visitors walked by. Some were curious enough to walk along with them, asking about their time as prisoners, or talking about their memories of the camp.

While the activities of that weekend included ceremonies and speeches, the real story of the reunion happened over meals, in motel parking lots, in vans on the way to an event—everywhere the former internees and their families gathered. Sharing a common experience, they were able to share the pain and bewilderment many still feel. Uprooted from their lives and transplanted into a life behind 10 foot high fences, with armed guards watching every movement, many still wonder why.

For more first hand accounts, see Real People.


Fort Lincoln, Bismarck, North Dakota

Overview of Ft. Lincoln 1941
John Christgau Collection

Ft. Lincoln Gate and Guard Tower at Sunset
John Christgau Collection

Originally an Army military post, the brick buildings which remain on the site were built in from 1900-1910. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps used Ft. Lincoln as its state headquarters and erected many prefabricated wooden buildings. During World War II, the facility was converted into a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) male enemy alien internment facility for use by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) Ten foot double fences were erected around the facility and guard towers built. After the war, Ft. Lincoln served many governmental purposes, but in 1966 it was declared surplus. In 1969, it became the United Tribes Technical College. www.uttc.edu. Today, the UTTC continues to use many of the buildings used to house, feed and administer the WWII internees.

Hundreds of German and Italian seamen were the first internees at Ft. Lincoln. They had served on German and Italian commercial ships which were impounded in US ports when the war started in Europe in 1939. Records indicate that the Italians were transferred to Fort Missoula, Montana, but the Germans remained. As German civilians were arrested and interned, many were interned at Ft. Lincoln. A large number arrived from Camp Forrest, an Army-run camp in Tullahoma, Tennessee, in May 1943, when that camp was converted into German POW camp. Later, in February 1945, approximately 650 Japanese men who had renounced their American citizenship were sent to the camp for eventual deportation to Japan. Other Japanese nationals followed. The last internee left Ft. Lincoln in March 1946. By that time, 4,030 German and Japanese men had passed through its gates, including 2,150 Germans and 1,800 Japanese.

A stone gateway marks the college entrance along State Highway 1804, approximately ¼ mile south of the Bismarck Airport. Internees have visited the site over the years and struggle with long-suppressed emotions as they walk through the gates and stand in the buildings where they were incarcerated decades earlier. To date, no marker or memorial recognizes the fact that hundreds of men spent years interned at this site.

Ft. Lincoln served as the largest male internee camp during the World War II. The internees came from all over the country and Latin America, and from all walks of life. Most were middle-aged and engaged various trades. Few were professionals. Since there was no attempt to intern the men near their homes and families, many were thousands of miles from their loved ones who could not come to visit. As with all the camps, their only means of communication was through censored mail. Besides the emotional and financial trauma of internment, perhaps the biggest problem the men faced was simple boredom. Many engaged in athletic activities, such as soccer. Some were even allowed to construct a mini-ski ramp, while others played hockey during the long North Dakota winders. Others ran the canteen, helped in the kitchen and office, worked in the carpenter shop and helped maintain the camp. Those inclined toward the arts participated in theatre productions, choir, drew and pursued other handicrafts. Max Ebel remembers a wrestling area built for the Japanese internees who enjoyed it tremendously. (He also remembers getting trounced by the one Japanese man with whom he wrestled.) Some spent long hours writing letters appealing their internment decisions and some tried, unsuccessfully, to escape by tunneling under the fences.

Boxcar homes of the internee railroaders in North Dakota 1943
Max Ebel Collection

Internees performing their duties 1943
Max Ebel Collection

The Railroaders – Northern Pacific Railroad
As the war dragged on, many men from North Dakota enlisted in the military, leaving a dearth of males to perform rugged railroad work. The Northern Pacific Railroad working through the State Department and the German government obtained permission to hire internees to work outside the camp. Originally, over 500 men signed on to do the work, but eventually only approximately 100 were selected to do the work. Tension ran high among the internees who had very mixed feelings about the railroad work which was perceived to be aiding the US war effort. Some, resenting their internment, vehemently opposed it and made life difficult for the railroaders. Some original volunteers withdrew, but many others refused to be denied their chance to escape life behind barbed wire, even if it was to do hard labor and live in boxcars during the hard North Dakota winter. Max Ebel, was among them.

The internees were carefully watched as they performed their duties. They lived 6-8 in a boxcar with a coal stove and bunks. Guards checked on them throughout the night and watched them during the day. The work trains stayed in several North Dakota towns adjoining the railroad: Casselton, Buffalo, Steele and Mandan, among them. The men also worked in and on rail lines in the Standing Rock Lakota Reservation near Cannonball where some befriended the poverty-stricken Native Americans.

After writing many letters, one railroader, representing his fellow workers, finally persuaded the Alien Enemy Control Unit of the Department of Justice to grant rehearings to the railroaders. Apparently, the argument that the men had shown good faith in working for the railroad, thereby helping the government, worked. Many men were granted rehearings in 1944 and thereafter and were paroled. Some suspect though that the rehearings permitted the government to draft some of the men out of the camps which also occurred.

Max Ebel stands in front of Building L-33 where he lived, now a UTTC dormitory. October 2003.
Former German and Japanese internees at Ft. Lincoln (with family). October 2003

Ft. Lincoln Today

The UTTC graciously hosted the first reunion to be held at Ft. Lincoln in conjunction with the opening of the North Dakota Museum of Art’s Snow Country Prison exhibit in October 2003. this exhibit was the first compendium of pictures of the camp, beautifully interspersed with haiku by a former Japanese internee, Itaru Ina. Former German and Japanese internees and their families returned to the camp to share an emotional weekend of memories—together.

To date, no marker or memorial acknowledges that this site was a government internment facility for thousands of innocent men during World War II.

An excellent book on Ft. Lincoln during World War II is John Christgau’s Enemies—World War II Alien Enemy Internment, the first book to chronicle the internment of Germans during World War II. For additional pictures and information on Enemies, please visit www.johnchristgau.com. (Additional pictures of Ft. Lincoln life )


Above and below: German internees arriving at Camp Kenedy.
National Archives Photos

Camp Kenedy, Texas Internment Camp
Hoping to provide residents more employment opportunities, officials of the town of Kenedy, Texas, lobbied the government to establish an enemy alien internment camp on the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp near the town. Work began to enlarge the original facilities in February 1942 and the first civilian “enemy aliens,” men of German and Japanese as well as a few of Italian ethnicity, moved in on April 23, 1942. Most of the men housed at this site were from Latin America, although there were also some California Japanese.

Because the Immigration and Naturalization Service considered camp stays here temporary, conditions were originally bleak. Poorly insulated, leaking “Victory Huts” and old CCC barracks provided shelter. Housing was later augmented with over 200 new prefabricated dwellings for 5 or 6 internees.

Camp Kenedy was reserved for men, many separated from family members who were sent to other camps. The population of the camp and the nationalities housed there fluctuated greatly, as groups left for other camps or were shipped out to be repatriated. At first, there were no Spanish speaking censors assigned to this camp, so inmates from Latin America were not allowed to write letters in Spanish to their wives and children.

Troublemakers from other camps were often sent here. Fist fights, hunger strikes, production and drinking of alcohol and attempted escapes raised tensions and increased discipline problems. Frequent turnover of the population also made it difficult to create a stable, peaceful environment. Population ranged from around 600 to 1000 prisoners.

In spite of these problems, most prisoners were law-abiding and sought to be productive. Protestant services, offered in German every other week by Pastor Fritz Sandner from Guatemala and Catholic masses, offered almost daily in the German language by Father Hubert Kueches of Puerto Rico, were usually well attended. Classes were offered, taught by fellow inmates, and a library was maintained. Internees worked outside of the camp, as well as staffing the hospital, a laundry, and small store inside the barbed wire fence.

In a census taken in June, 1943, residents were 588 Germans from Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and El Salvador, 18 German internees from the US, 28 internees of assorted other nationalities and 19 Italians. Krammer, Arnold. Undue Process: the Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1997, 133.

When the Camp closed in 9/44, the German internees were moved to Fort Lincoln, ND. The U.S. Army then took over the facility and Kenedy became a prisoner of war camp.

German internees at Camp Kenedy, Texas in 1942, leaving for repatriation to Germany. National Archives Photo.

Ft. Missoula circa 1941

Fort Missoula Overview and Cross
Clarence H. Hewitt

Ft. Missoula, Montana
Even though Fort Missoula, located on the Bitterroot River, was built in 1877 for protection from the Nez Perce Indians, over the years, soldiers based at the fort actually saw very little military action. Only one real skirmish with the Indians occurred. After that the fort was used mainly as a training post. Beginning during the 1930s, The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) used Ft. Missoula as a district office. Then in 1941, partly because of its remote location, the fort was selected to become a detention center. At least 1000 Italian sailors were sent there in the fall of 1941, and later more than 1000 Japanese were also interned at Ft. Missoula. The CCC program was terminated in 1942 at which time The Ft. Missoula Detention Center was turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol who then ran it for the Department of Justice during World War II.

At various times during the tenure of the internment camp, a few German internees were also housed at Ft. Missoula---22 total. One of these men, Karl Vogt, was sent to the fort during the summer of 1943, after his June rehearing, to await the OK from Washington D.C. for his parole.

From 1944 to 1947, the fort held court-martialed American soldiers. Later it served as an army and navy training facility and reserve center. It is now home to The Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History and the Northern Rockies Heritage Center which is dedicated to the preservation and heritage of Ft. Missoula.

Ft. Missoula Monument

Camp Seagoville

Seagoville Ball Teams and Band c. 1943
UTTC-San Antonio
Children at Seagoville c. 1943
INS photo

The Seagoville facility is located southeast of Dallas and was originally a minimum security female prison. In 1942, it was converted into an interment facility to hold German, Japanese and Italian US resident and Latin American internees. Although it was intended to serve primarily as a facility for families in which both adults had been interned, many families were held there en route to other main family camp in Crystal City, Texas, or repatriation. Ultimately, it became a women’s only camp, although children were also held there with their mothers. The first Seagoville internees were from Latin America, married couples without children and some Japanese who arrived later. The peak population was 647 internees. Fox, Stephen, Fear Itself, Inside the FBI Roundup of German Americans during World War II, iUniverse, 2005, 115.

Many mothers were held at Seagoville, separated for long periods of time from the children which contributed greatly to their anguish. (See also: the Graber Family Story in Real People.) Others, pregnant upon arrival or interned there with their husbands gave birth. Still others suffered miscarriages from the stress of their internment. (Click here to view a Birth Certificate from Camp Seagoville.)

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, the prison was provided comparatively good accommodations: twelve colonial style two-story brick buildings with wide areas of lawn and sidewalks. It continues: a “high wire fence surrounded the camp, which had a single guarded entrance. A white line painted down the middle of the paved road that encircled the camp marked a boundary that internees could not pass. The six dormitories had single or double rooms and were furnished with chests of drawers, desks, chairs, and beds. Communal laundry, bathing, and toilet facilities were located on all floors. Each dormitory had a kitchen with refrigerators, gas stove, and dishwasher, as well as a dining room with four-person maple tables, linen table coverings, cloth napkins, and china. Internees prepared their own food under supervision. Other facilities at the Seagoville camp included a hospital and a large recreation building.” Housing had to be increased to accommodate more internees and 50 wooden huts were shipped to the site from another camp in Sante Fe, NM. Some families report living in Quonset huts which had to be hosed down periodically because of the heat. A high fence was added to surround the additional accommodations. The campus-like atmosphere of Seagoville did little to erase or ease the trauma of dislocation and uncertainty for the mothers held far from their families. (See also: the Schneider Story in Real People.)

In June 1945, the camp was closed and internees sent to other camps, paroled, released or repatriated. (See also: "World War II Internment Camps," by Emily Brosveen and Fox, Fear Itself, 115-116.) Today Seagoville is a prison for approximately 850 men. Visitors to Seagoville have been greeted courteously, although the prison administrators know little of its history as an internment camp.

Graber Family briefly at Seagoville en route
to Crystal City Family Camp 1943

Family with baby at Seagoville 9-23-44

Fort Stanton, New Mexico
Fort Stanton is located in a remote part of New Mexico, 35 miles north of Ruidoso. It was established by the Army in 1855 to protect Hispanic settlements along the Rio Bonito from Apache raids. After a colorful history involving the Civil War, Kit Carson, Billy the Kid and other notables the fort was decommissioned by the Army in 1896. In 1899 it was transferred to the United States Public Health Service to be used for a tuberculosis sanatorium for men from the Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Navy.

Before and during World War II, the fort was used as an internment camp. The first residents of the Fort Stanton Internment Camp arrived in 1939. They were the German crew of the German luxury liner Columbus, which had been scuttled off the coast of Cuba. At first these internees were labeled as “distressed seamen paroled from the German Embassy”, but when the U.S. entered the war, the U.S. Department of Justice formalized the seamen's internee status and tightened security at the fort by surrounding the barracks with barbed-wire fencing and bringing in border patrol agents as guards.

Later other internees were brought to Ft. Stanton, both German and Japanese. Some historians believe that many of the men sent to Ft. Stanton during this time, had, for some reason, been branded as troublemakers and were therefore sent here to be “segregated” from the rest of the internee population. Security at Ft. Stanton was said to be the most stringent of any of the internment camps.

In 1953 the State of New Mexico took over Ft. Stanton and continued to operate it as a tuberculosis sanitarium until 1966 when it was converted to Ft. Stanton Hospital and Training Center for the Developmentally Disabled. In 1996 the fort became a minimum security state corrections facility. It was used in this capacity until 1999 when it was leased to Amity, Intl. who currently operates it as a rehabilitation center.

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who currently operates it as a rehabilitation center.

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