My name is Bernard Levermann. My parents Kaethe and Bernard emigrated to the US from Northern Germany in the late 1920’s. I was born on June 25th, 1941 at New York Hospital. During World War II my family was interned in Crystal City, Texas. Because I was only a baby at the time I do not remember the events that led up to our family’s internment. I only know what my Mother told me years later.
It was 1942 and wartime hysteria was at an all time high. Because my parents were German and not US citizens they were classified as enemy aliens. My mother and father were members of a German social club. Like most German social clubs of the time, this was a place where German Americans could gather to celebrate holidays; drink, dance and most importantly have fun. According to my Mother it was not a place where political discussions were welcomed particularly that of the Nazi Party. None the less the members of the club were put on an FBI watchdog list. Who would have thought that something as simple as a name on a list could change your life forever?
As a result, in 1942 the FBI started coming to our house and inspecting it room by room trying to find something that would connect my father to the Nazi Party. They came unannounced many times but never found anything to connect my father to the Nazi Party. When they came the last time in 1943 they told my parents that they were sending them to an internment camp for our protection. We had to leave everything behind except for clothes and personal belongings that could fit into a few suitcases. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the things in our home except that after the war they were just gone. After several days on a train bound south we ended up in Crystal City, Texas – our home for the next year and a half.
As I mentioned before I was very young, and only learned of how we ended up in Crystal City years later. As a condition of our release from internment, my parents had to sign a document stating that they would never speak of this experience and what the government had done. Until my mother’s dying day she was still afraid to speak of our family’s internment experience.
Some of my first memories are of that hot and dusty camp in south Texas. I remember our small one room tarpapered house. My father had great carpentry skills and my mother was a wonderful seamstress and together they worked hard to make this as comfortable a home as possible. I remember the pool where I use to play and keep cool during the hot summer months. I remember the beer hall that my father helped to build. I remember the armed men in cowboy hats who stood watch from the enormous guard towers. I remember the tall barbed wired fence that seemed to go on forever. For a three year old the camp was an amazing playground for me to explore. For my parents it was a completely different experience and I can only imagine the difficulties they faced on a daily basis.
From what little information I was able to piece together, I learned that the government approached my parents with a deal. They were told that if they remained in the camp that eventually they would be deported and never allowed to return to the United States again. But if they chose to repatriate back to Germany they could come back to America after the war with no problem.
In January of 1945 we were shipped to Germany on the Grips Holm. We left Crystal City with our clothes and a few personal possessions that my father and mother had made while in the camp. When we arrived in France all of our possessions were taken from us. From France we were taken to Switzerland where we were exchanged for American civilians stranded behind enemy lines at the beginning of the war.
My Grandmother lived in Drangstead, Germany and we were able to stay with her on the family farm. This experience was much different then our stay in Crystal City. The war was still going on in Germany when we arrived and the allied air campaign was in full swing. I remember waking up to loud sirens and running with my parents to air raid shelters as bombs dropped around us. I remember standing in the kitchen and watching everything exploding around me as a fighter plane strafed our farmhouse with machine gun fire. I remember there was never enough food to go around and always being hungry. I remember children fighting with me. I was an American. I was the enemy.
After the war ended and the occupied troops came in, the English wanted to take over my Grandmother’s house. When the English found out that I was an American Citizen they sent the US Army to visit us. They told us that the English could not take over our house but we could rent out the upstairs of the house to them, which was a much-needed source of income for us. They also arranged Red Cross packages for us to receive. Despite the Government’s promise at Crystal City we found it impossible to get back home. An American GI’s family befriended us and took us under their wings. In 1950 they sponsored my family and we were finally able to return to the United States.