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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
Temporary Detention Facilities 

After arrest by the FBI or another police authority, people were held for periods of several days to months in temporary detention facilities, usually near their homes, but not always. Traditionally, the detention facilities were operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) on behalf of its parent agency, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). Because the INS was responsible for aliens in the US, this was logical, but far from ideal. The facilities were frequently way stations for foreign seamen or others coming to the US. They were not set up to imprison many detainees for months and had to be quickly adapted to perform this service. Other temporary facilities included jails, hospitals, hotels and convents (for women). Jails were particularly harsh because the inmate population was seldom friendly toward the suspected “subversives” in their midst.

After their hearings, the detainees remained incarcerated until DOJ rendered its decision. Once an internment order was issued, the detainees were transferred to more permanent facilities. They were transferred from camp to camp, crisscrossing the US until they arrived at the camp to which they were ultimately assigned. Early in the war, the US struggled to locate, retrofit and staff appropriate internment sites for the thousands it had decided to intern.

Ellis Island – New York City
Immigrants viewing Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island National Archives Photo

Ellis Island Great Hall National Archives Photo

The most famous and ironic of the temporary detention facilities was Ellis Island where millions of immigrants were welcomed to America from 1892 until 1924. A mostly artificial island of approximately 27 acres, Ellis Island is located in New York Harbor not far from the Statue of Liberty. (See also: the National Park Service’s historical summary of Ellis Island.)

One will find little information on Ellis Island’s seven year history as a World War II detention site in historical literature, on the internet or at Ellis Island itself. What one does read about it, particularly regarding the German American experience, is largely wrong or simply omitted.

For example, the National Park Service’s highly regarded manuscript Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites by Jeffery Burton, et al. (1999) states that Ellis Island was basically a detention center for German and Italian nationals awaiting their hearings and that most were transferred or released within 1 to 4 months. (p. 380) Ellis Island performed many more functions during World War II. By some reports, over a period of 8 years, several thousand men, women and children of German, Japanese and Italian ancestry (including Enzo Pinza) were detained on Ellis Island. German immigrants were there awaiting hearings, awaiting transfer to other internment camps, awaiting deportation and departing for Germany to be repatriated and exchanged for Americans in Germany. Internees tried to continue life as well as possible despite their incarceration and the lack of control. One artistic inmate recounts the well-meaning Easter bunny’s ill-fated visit to the island. The facility is remembered by those who were there, including women and children, as one of the worst —bad food, bad medical care, overcrowding, lack of exercise and unhealthy conditions, including rats and urine-soaked mattresses.

By the end of the war, six exchange voyages had departed from Ellis Island carrying approximately 2650 German immigrants and their American-born children back to Germany on Swedish vessels, MS Gripsholm and the MS Drottningholm.

After the cessation of hostilities with Germany, DOJ camps were progressively closed. President Harry Truman issued Presidential Proclamation 2655 required all “dangerous internees” currently in camps to be deported and many remaining internees were transferred to Ellis Island where they were incarcerated for years fighting deportation and pleading for release. The last German internee was released in 1948. (See also: the Ludecke v. Watkins document and the Langer Bill in the History section and the firsthand accounts in Real People.)

Ellis Island Life
Internee Exercise area at Ellis Island
Eberhard E Fuhr Collection
Families in the Ellis Island Dining Hall
Arthur D. Jacobs Collection

Serveral internees awaiting release at Ellis Island 1947 Eberhard E. Fuhr Collection


MS Gripsholm Exchange Voyages

Gripsholm in New York Harbor preparing for repatriation voyage. National Archives Photo Repatriate Children on the Gripsholm with Manhattan Skyline National Archives Photo

Repatriates from the US and Latin America await departure on the MS Gripsholm National Archive Photo

Repatriates departing on the Gripsholm

National Archives Photo
Ellis Island Facilities

Ellis Island Visitation Area 1945
National Park Service Photo

Ellis Island German Internee Family Cooking Area 1945
National Park Service Photo

Ellis Island Ferry Slip 1947 National Park Service photo

Gloucester City, New Jersey Internment Facility

Female internees at Gloucester City dancing for Justice Department audience in 1943, reportedly hoping to win their release. Note fence around facility. National Archives Photo.

The US Immigration Station which held detainees near Gloucester City, New Jersey was a large, converted Victorian house on South King Street, in an industrial area across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. It held male and female detainees temporarily who were on their way to other more permanent facilities. Many women, however, were held for extended time periods. The facility held approximately 50 individuals at a time. Reports indicate that the internees were reasonably well cared for and liked the officer in charge very much. Pictured above is a field day in which the internees performed German songs and folk dances for DoJ officials, many original compositions. Fox, Stephen, Fear Itself: Inside the FBI Roundup of German Americans during World War II, iUniverse 2005, p. 170-171. “Women were issued a pair of shoes and a dress, men shoes and work pants, plus two free packs of cigarettes each week for both. Internees could earn 80 cents a day making handicrafts and were allowed to keep up to ten dollars at a time. Anything more was held in an account. … As in all camps, all internees were entitled to regular visitors, although strict rules of nondiscussion and message censorship applied.” Arnold Krammer, Undue Process: The Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees, Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, p. 86-87. One craft item the women keep for themselves: a small leaf with two acorns. The back of the pin had a tag with the wearer’s date of arrest with a blank for the date of release. Fox, Fear Itself, p.171.

Although a model camp, Internees tell of much anguish, however at the camp because many of the women were mothers of young children. According to Stephen Fox, in his book, Fear Itself, one internee wrote a group letter to Attorney General Francis Biddle, begging him to release the women. She wrote that despite the good care they received, the “’sudden and unexpected separation’ from families, their removal from useful occupation, and the suspicion cast on their characters and reputations had caused a general decline in the women’s health.” DoJ’s response was that the married women apply for transfer to the family camp. Fox, Fear Itself, p. 171. (See also: the Crystal City Internment Camp section above.) Another example of the difficulties of mothers and children being separated is the story of this then 9-year old son of a former internee. He speaks bitterly of the fact that he had to be placed in an orphanage while his mother was interned because his father could not work and care for him.

The Gloucester City facility has been renovated and is now the headquarters of Holt Oversight and Logistical Technologies seen above.

East Boston, Massachusetts INS Detention Facility
Google Earth Photo
Located in Boston Harbor, before World War II, the East Boston INS facility had been used as temporary housing for foreign seamen. During the war, it was used to incarcerate German, Italian and Japanese detainees awaiting final internment orders for months. Visitation rights were limited and always under guard. (See also: the Max Ebel Story in Real People.) The facility was modified for to use to hold detainees for extended periods of time. A high fence was erected and a modest exercise area created. Recent visitors have reported speaking with a security guard who recalled talking to detainees through the fence. The facility was abandoned and is deteriorating.

Angel Island San Francisco Bay, California
An aerial view of the Immigration Station, administration building in foreground, dentention barracks on right, hospital to the left, and Julia Morgan-designed employee cottages at the top of the photo. Source: California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Detainee barracks at the Angel Island Immigration Station. (Angel Island Foundation)

Known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” this 740 acre island in San Francisco Bay was originally built as an immigration station in 1910. During World War I, German citizens, most from ships harbored along the west coast, were temporarily interned here as “enemy aliens,” until they were sent to permanent detention facilities in North Carolina.

In December 1939, the crew of the German liner, S.S. Columbus, scuttled her rather than risk capture by the British. The passengers and approximately 400 man crew turned themselves over to a U.S. ship, and were taken to Ellis Island and then on to Angel Island. They remained, as “guests” of the government, until they were sent to Fort Stanton, New Mexico, in 1941.

In 1941, the Immigration Service turned the facility over to the Army. A prisoner of war processing center was established, using the old barracks in what was now known as the North Garrison of Fort McDowell. Besides Japanese and German prisoners of war, civilian “enemy aliens” of German, Italian and Japanese ethnicity were housed here, as were civilian internees from Hawaii, prior to being transferred to other facilities.



Men's Barracks at North Garrison, Fort McDowell, Angel Island, CA Source: Angel Island State Park Website

4800 Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
4800 Elis Avenue in 2003. Eberhard E. Fuhr Collection
The temporary detention facility at 4800 Ellis Avenues in Chicago was used to house German detainees who were awaiting their final internment orders. The government leased it for use as a detention facility. Eberhard Fuhr was there for several weeks and shares his memories of the facility below. (See also: the Eberhard Fuhr Story in Real People.) Mr. Fuhr believes it was used to detain internees from July 1942 until November 1944. Little other information is available at this time.

“The old mansion on Ellis Avenue had and still has a six foot wrought iron fence around three sides. There was a guard house next to the front door. All the guards were armed and would run off people who approached the fence. The main floor had a huge main room about 30 x 30, where we assembled at two guard shift times to be counted. It also had several smaller rooms serving as offices. I recall that on Easter Sunday 1943, there were 34 inmates in a service conducted by Father Schmuecker, a Roman Catholic, and Father CuCu, an Orthodox Romanian, both inmates. The maximum population was approximately 50, all German detainees, plus two Italians.

The kitchen was of generous proportion presided over by a "contract" cook whose food was mediocre at best. Next to that was a "butler pantry" equipped with stainless steel countertops, expansive cabinetry and storage for canned goods, bread etc. The basement was used for meal preparation performed by rotating “details.” Those “details” washed dishes on the main floor. The back stairway from the upstairs bedrooms down into this pantry made it possible for us to commandeer rye bread for the goodies that visitors brought. Unlike me, the other detainees were mostly from the Chicago area and got frequent visits. They shared their booty with us as long as we could find the bread for the wurst und kaese.

From the main floor assembly area, the living room, there ascended a wide staircase with two turns. The woodwork was all oak of high quality workmanship. The second floor was all bedrooms off a center area meant originally performance or dance area. Floors were uncovered hardwood, oiled, not finished. There were 6 or 7 bedrooms, each with a tiled bathroom permitting tub or shower. Each bedroom had four Army cots. They were steel and had thin mattresses on a metal suspension system, like the GI beds in Crystal City and on Ellis Island. Beds had to be made by breakfast time, with "hospital corners" using only the khaki blankets issued. You were permitted to sit on the bed only after lunch time. Night stands were orange crates.

The third and top floor was used for recreation. There was a ping pong table there, but when the population exceeded about 25, they used it as a dormitory. We were counted at night in bed at the 11 PM shift change, one hour after lights out. If the count did not conform to the previous shift’s count, they would turn on the lights and recount until they had agreement between the two shifts. There were no curtains, only tan "blinds" which we had to pull down whenever lights were on, because shots had been fired into the bedrooms.

As noted, the building has a six foot fence around three sides. The back wall was brick, but only the "garden details," like me, were permitted in the backyard. In the back northwest corner was a carriage house two stories high, about 40 x 40 feet, which was used for storage by the administration and for gardening tools and equipment. It also had a big locked cabinet filled with guns, which we gardeners observed one day when it was opened in our presence, perhaps by mistake. I requested the garden detail in order to get out of the confined space inside.

I believe the mansion was built about 1890. The University of Chicago is located five city blocks away, ironically where Fermi conceived and built the first atomic pile which became the atom bomb ending WW II. It is located in a neighborhood of mansions originally built for Chicago industrialists. In the 1940's, it was a declining area. Now each of these "mansions" is being refurbished, some into multiple units, and prices have soared. 4800 S. Ellis went on the market for $2.6 million.” See also Arnold Krammer, Undue Process: The Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees, Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, p. 87-88.

Sharp Park and 801 Silver Avenue Temporary Detention Stations—San Francisco, California area
Aliens at the Camp Sharp Detention Station prior to transfer to internment camps. Photo by Clem Albers, Bancroft Library, UC-Berkeley

Photo from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website

Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, was the official Immigration and Naturalization Station for the area, but in 1940 a fire destroyed three buildings at the site. The arrests of civilian “enemy aliens” from Northern California in World War II soon filled a temporary station, set up at 801 Silver Avenue in San Francisco, to capacity. Sharp Park Detention Station (later referred to as Camp Sharp Park) was then opened in March 1942 by the INS, at the site of a former state relief camp 12 miles south of the city.

A ten-foot high fence and additional barracks were built, increasing holding capacity from 450 to 1,200. The German, Italian, and Japanese immigrant detainees were held here temporarily, until sent on to more permanent facilities. On July 15, 1943, 119 Peruvian Japanese were also housed at the Station, but were soon sent on to Fort Missoula, Montana. Sharp Park closed in 1946.


       2008 photographs of 801 Silver Avenue, San Francisco Immigration

       and Naturalization Service Station for Northern California, housing

       internees during WW II (photos courtesy of Kurt Voester)


Algiers Immigration Detention Station, Louisiana

Camp Algiers, a former INS quarantine station, was used to house enemy aliens during World War II. Located across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, this is where many of the civilians deported from Latin America entered the U.S. At the Algiers INS station, new arrivals were stripped, showered and then sprayed with insecticide. (Bannerman Report to Fitch 3-28-44) (More information on the Latin American Program )

Like Angel Island and Terminal Island, in California, arrivals were interrogated and given hearings to determine their "right" to enter the U.S. Since most had been forced to surrender their papers to U.S. officials on the transports that brought them to the U.S., they were declared to have entered the country illegally. This allowed indefinite detention, and was used to justify U.S. officials' attempts to repatriate them to the countries of their ethnic origin at war's end.

The facility had kitchens for family meals, while single men ate together. There was no canteen. Work was available for internees at various camp duties. Handicrafts made by the inmates were sold in New Orleans stores. While most stays were temporary, a small number lived here for some length of time. Latin American Jews, militant German nationalists, and a handful of avowed anti-Nazis coexisted here, not without incidents. (Krammer, Undue Process, p. 180.)

Terminal Island Quarantine and Detention Center, San Pedro, California
Reservation Point is at the very southwest tip of Terminal Island, which includes the US Quarantine Station and a federal prison. Photograph from "Terminal Island." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Terminal Island currently houses one of eight Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention and Removal Operations Service Processing Centers. Here “undesirable unauthorized aliens” are held until they can be deported to their country of origin.

During World War II, the Island’s resident Japanese American population was ordered to relocate with one week of notice. The facility was then used to process Latin American civilian prisoners, deported from their homes in Central and South America to be interned in “enemy alien” internment camps in the U.S. (See also: the Gurcke Family Story in Real People.) It was at centers like these that Latin Americans internees were charged with illegal entry into the country, which allowed the U.S. to detain them indefinitely or repatriate them.

Tuna Canyon Temporary Detention Station, Tujunga, California

Located seventeen miles from Los Angeles, in Tujunga, California, Tuna Canyon was the site of an old CCC camp, converted to a temporary holding facility for enemy alien men. The inhabitants were mostly of German and Japanese ethnicity, a number from Latin American countries.

Wooden barracks, divided into 2 man rooms, housed the inmates. Although the camp had a capacity of 320 people, it seldom held more than 100. Barbed wire fences surrounded the site, and visits from family members were conducted through the fences. Only English could be spoken, effectively cutting off almost all communication for some prisoners.

The site had a small hospital, and a doctor visited daily. There was a canteen and, a rarity at internment sites, a 50x50 foot swimming pool. A minister held Protestant services, in English, on a weekly basis. The camp closed its doors in 1945.

Tuna Canyon Detention Station—mess hall, circa 1933  Photograph courtesy of

the “Pacific Citizen” http://www.pacificcitizen.org/index.htm

Homes of the Good Shepherd

During World War II many women detainees were temporarily housed in Homes of the Good Shepherd located in Buffalo, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago and Milwaukee.  They were also housed in Good Shepherd Convent in Omaha.

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