Tracking the Lorenz Family Through Franklin Roosevelt’s Internment

by Karl Malek

Early in 1942, while World War II was ravaging the globe, my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, and my great-aunt were being detained by the Peruvian government in Lima. Being Germans, they were deemed untrustworthy potential Nazis by Peru. Their detentions were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s larger internment program. The United States president cooperated with Latin American republics in the program, bringing their suspected Axis sympathizers to the U.S. My family made up a small part of the 4,058 Germans, 2,264 Japanese, and 287 Italians deported in such a manner.[1] They were shipped as prisoners and treated like criminals. FDR’s government went on to forcibly deport many internees, my ancestors among them, to the active war zone that was 1940s Europe.


the General Artigas

On November 17, 1934, Willmar Lorenz, my great-grandfather, set sail aboard the General Artigas’ “mittelclasse,” or middle class, from the city of Bremen in his native Germany.[2] The 24-year-old was on his way to start a new life in Montevideo, Uruguay. He had accepted a position there with Continental, a German tire manufacturing company. The ship’s manifest listed his profession as “Kaufmann,” or salesman, for the company.[3]


Willmar in Uruguay, 1935




1934 was also the year a German trade delegation first toured South America to establish the economic relationship that helped prompt the Roosevelt’s administration to advocate for Latin American internment. Willmar was entering a geopolitical pot that was about to boil over, but at the time he did not see himself as going abroad to serve the economic interests of his fatherland. With his job and Lore Brandt, his girlfriend, Willmar had every reason to stay in Germany, but he desperately wanted to escape the country. Just a few months earlier, Adolf Hitler rose to power. As a pacifist and a son of a Great War Veteran, Willmar felt uneasy with Hitler’s belligerent rhetoric. In the following years, while Willmar was making a name   for himself doing business for Continental throughout South America, Germany was inching towards war. Lore, Willmar’s girlfriend, was in Germany as it was falling apart. Willmar wanted her to join his wonderful new life, so he proposed marriage in a letter and was soon on his way back to Europe for the wedding.


the Munchen

It was not until January 1, 1939, that Lore and Willmar embarked on the Munchen return from Bremen, Germany, to South America, this time, to Callao, Peru. Traveling in a private cabin, Willmar had done well for himself with Continental and was ready to build a family with Lore in Lima.[4] Shielded by the Andes, Lima seemed a world away from Europe’s turmoil, as the rest of 1939 saw the Nazis invade first the Sudetenland and then Poland.

Shielded by the Andes, Lima seemed a world away from Europe’s turmoil, as the rest of 1939 saw the Nazis invade first the Sudetenland and then Poland. By 1942, Willmar and Lore had two babies at home: Heide and Jurgen. Nevertheless, like countless other innocent Germans living throughout Latin America, Willmar found himself on FDR’s Proclaimed List of Certain Blocked Nationals by March 27 of that year.[5]

photos in Peru by Willmar Lorenz

After the United States declared war on Axis Powers in December of 1941, Latin American governments began to arrest Germans on the U.S. Proclaimed List of Certain Blocked Nationals.[i] Roosevelt’s government pressured southern neighbors to allow these Germans to be brought to the United States.[ii] In all, FDR brought 4,058 Germans from Latin America to the United States.[6] When choosing whom to send over, some nations, such as Peru, where the Lorenz family lived, chose people who held desirable property. The Peruvian government confiscated the property of the 702 Germans it sent to the United States.[iii] In a March 27, 1942, Memo to the Attorney General,

Special Assistant Lemuel B. Schofield describes plans for “two vessels which will pick up the aliens from the west coast of South America, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.” The second of the two vessels would transport “250 officials” and “250 non-official Axis aliens, men, women, and children” to the United States for internment.[7]

Willmar, Lore, and their two kids, Jurgen and Heide, would be among this group of internees. In his Memo, Schofield reported that the ship “will arrive in this country [the United States] about April 27 to April 30.” On April 29, 1942, at 12:01 AM, the Acadia came into port in New Orleans, Louisiana.[8] Each member of the Lorenz family was named on the Acadia’s passenger list with physical and mental information reminiscent of some kind of prisoner description.