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The Homefront, Then and Now

Enemy Aliens Interned in Special Camp in Texas

German internees, working on a volunteer basis and paid 10 cents per hour, build the camp swimming pool. To comply with Geneva Convention requirements, each nationality had to have equal access to recreational facilities.
When Japanese bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor on that peaceful Sunday morning in 1941, the United States was suddenly at war. Nearly everyone was caught off guard. Overnight, German, Italian, and Japanese nationals living in the United States for diplomatic, military or business reasons became enemy aliens. And Americans living in those countries abroad likewise found themselves caught in the wrong country at the wrong time.

There was instant worry in the U.S. about what harm these aliens, who numbered in the thousands, might cause; they could be spies; they could be saboteurs, possibly with plots already in motion. It was up to officials at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Justice to detain these unwanted visitors where they could not harm the nation until they could be exchanged or repatriated.

And there were known German sympathizers in South America. There were many Japanese in Peru. A new phrase came into being: hemispheric security. The U.S. government negotiated with several Latin American countries: they could ship their aliens to the U.S., where they would be confined until being exchanged for American diplomats and citizens stranded overseas.

But confined where? As it happened, the Farm Security Administration had erected a camp for migrant workers 110 miles south of San Antonio near the small town of Crystal City, Texas. Containing forty-one 3-room cottages, 118 1-room huts and and some administration buildings, it was available. German internees arrived in December. Japanese from the West Coast came in March of 1943. In many cases, the man of the family had been arrested first, and the rest of the family asked to join him in Crystal City.

The camp, made up largely of cottages, was more suitable to family life than other camps where Japanese were interred. There was running water, a kitchen and a bathroom with shower in each cottage. To satisfy the requirements of the Third Geneva Convention, the Germans and Japanese were placed in individual sections. The German section had a bakery, mess hall, and school. The Japanese area included a Japanese School, a citrus orchard, tennis courts, a football field. Both had community centers, canteens, took turns in the newly built swimming pool and had access to a hospital. Almost all of the children were American born, and the American School provided the basic programs that were required of Texas schools.

But they did not have freedom. A ten-foot fence, augmented by guard towers and floodlights surrounded the camp. A mounted guard patrolled the perimeter. Vehicles entering or leaving were searched. All mail was censored. The camp grew exponentially, and housing units were increased until they held 3,326 in 1945. Because some people resisted being repatriated to a country they had never known, they eventually gained permission to stay in the U.S. ,and final closure occurred on Nov. 1, 1947.

For more information see, http://www.thc.state.tx.us/preserve/projects-and-programs/military-history/texas-world-war-ii/
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