The internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II is well known. Barely known is the internment of Germans and Italians.
|Residents of an alien internment camp in WWI built an authentic German village in Hot Springs, North Carolina.|
It happened first during World War I. Any German who hadn’t completed the naturalization process was suspect. They could be detained for association with ethnic organizations, or for statements that sounded disloyal or opposed US involvement in the war. Many were rounded up because someone with a grudge complained about them.
During WWII, more than 10,000 Germans and German Americans were interned. Many were taken away and their families had no idea of their whereabouts. Parents were taken and their young children left alone. Sometimes they were released within days; others were held for much longer.
They were given hearings, but not informed of the charges against them or who had made the charges. A United States Attorney tried to get a young mother to admit she’d named her son Horst after the Nazi martyr, Horst Wessel.
Besides detaining Germans in the United States, the government strong-armed Latin American countries to deport their German citizens to the U.S. The reason? They feared the Nazis would gain a foothold in the Western Hemisphere. Of the 4,000 internees, 81 were Jewish refugees who had experienced the concentration camps in Europe. A Catholic priest was detained because he was supposed to be a Nazi. The camp commander considered him to be “no more of a Nazi than I am.”
Larger countries like Mexico and Argentina resisted the American demand, but smaller ones like Costa Rica gave in when the US threatened to boycott all products from German-owned companies. Coffee, for instance, was dominated by German firms, and with the war on, Costa Rica wouldn’t have been able to ship it anywhere else.
Besides keeping these supposedly dangerous enemies from impeding the war effort, the internees could be traded for American citizens held in Germany. Some deported families included an American spouse and American-born children.
During wartime, we may be fighting for freedom, but freedom is the first casualty.