Minutes of Meeting
May 10, 1998
Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: Enemies are Human: Germans Interned in the United States during World War II
Speaker: Prof. John Heitmann, Department of History, University of Dayton
Host: Arthur and Judy Auster
PRESENT: Connie Breen, Co-chair; Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Phyllis Brzozowska, Bert Buby, Phyllis Duckwall, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Agnes Hannahs, John Heitmann, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, John (Jack) Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Harry, Koenigsberg, Paul Landolfi, John Magee, Eileen Moorman, Ken Rosenzweig, Lou Ryterband, Robin Smith, Bill Trollinger, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman.
Connie called the meeting to order at 8 PM. Arthur and Judy delivered the invocation in honor of mothers on this day which is Mothers Day. Arthur read a Jewish prayer for mothers. Judy read a letter written to her family by a non-Jewish man who lived in her family's house. The letter discussed the then recent death of her mother. The poignant letter extolled the wonderful traits of Judy's mother, including her cheer, tact, and common sense. It concluded by saying that she gave her best and her life should be a benediction. At this point, Judy passed around an old photograph of her mother.
Connie announced that Harold Rubenstein was not feeling well, and members of the Dialogue are encouraged to telephone him to cheer him up. Also, Shirley Flacks is visiting in New York to see a play, entitled Boom, the Lost Generation, written by her granddaughter. Jack then introduced Father Paul Landolfi, S.M. who is visiting in Dayton He is from Long Island, New York, and is a member of the Rockaway Christian-Jewish Council. Jack also showed a copy of the book, The Deputy, which covers the history of Pope Pius XII with respect to the Holocaust.
Connie called for the election of the new Co-chairs of the Dialogue. Robin and Felix were elected unanimously. Connie then reviewed the programs of the Dialogue over her term. She said the Dialogue has touched her heart, and she has become more sensitive to the issues of Jewish Christian relations. Two weeks ago, she visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Her son has married a Jewish woman, and they were married under a Chupah (canopy under which Jewish marriages are conducted). She then thanked the Dialogue members for the opportunity to serve, and turned the meeting over to one of the new Co-chairs, Robin Smith.
Jack then suggested Reunion, a film starring Jason Robard, for showing to the Dialogue at a meeting. The film tells the story of an elderly Jewish man who journeys back to Stuttgart, Germany, to seek out a boyhood friend he hasn't seen since leaving for the U.S. in 1933. Phyllis endorsed making the film the focus for a Dialogue meeting.
At this point, Ken introduced the night's speaker, John Heitmann. John came to the University of Dayton in 1984, and is currently a Professor in the History Department. He has previously served as Chairperson of that department. He has an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Davidson College and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from the Johns Hopkins University, and has authored one major monograph and numerous scholarly papers. He has also served as consulting historian for Dayton Power and Light, General Motors, the United Auto Workers, the University of Dayton Research Institute, and the Sherwin Williams Company. His interest in the internment of Germans during World War II resulted in a recent paper presentation at NYU, and is the result of a very personal link to his own family history.
John Heitmann's Presentation
John began his presentation at about 8:15 PM. John said he would show some slides at the end of his formal presentation. The title of his presentation, Enemies are Human, came from a 1955 book by Pabel. The central idea of the author of that book was the necessity of looking at people as individuals rather than members of some focal group. John said that approximately 10,000 German aliens were interned in the United States during World War II. He emphasized that this internment was nowhere near as large as the internment of Japanese Americans during that time and certainly is in no way comparable to the torture and murder of millions of Jews and others in the Shoah. However, John pointed out that many individual freedoms were lost during the war. The bureaucratic web created to further the war effort was hard to overcome. Most Americans do not know about the internment of German aliens. This internment has been totally overshadowed by the Japanese internment and other more horrific events. One author, Winkler, denies that the German internment happened. Recent historical scholarship has connected World War I and World War II anti-German hysteria. Between 1941 and 1947, this hysteria was acted out in a number of ways. Numerous unwarranted apprehensions occurred during the war years. Latin American Germans were interned wholesale. Many were forcibly brought to this country, and some remained interned until 1948.
Some significant court cases have arisen out of this internment. Recently, a book by Arnold Kramer, Undue Process, has come out about the German internment experience. Much remains to be explored in this area. John has spent time at the FBI looking for documents on this topic. It is difficult to extract the documents. Unfortunately, pieces of the puzzle will be lost as the parties who can provide information die off. The most active group of people who are trying to get the story out are those who were child internees, who voluntarily lived in the camps with their parents who were interned.
In the early part of the war, Germans were interned in camps which were under military authority. Generally, the military camps were for males. Some of the German aliens were repatriated to Germany. Repatriation started in 1942 and went through 1945. No photographs are available. Participant memories of these events are more clouded than usual. The repatriation program was only announced by the US government in 1944. Questions that need to be addressed include how did the civilians handle the pressure, and what forms of coercion were placed on the people. At least 53 different facilities were used to house the internees. Included were Fort Meade in Maryland and Camp Forrest in Tennessee. Treatment of the internees was covered by rules, which included the 1929 Geneva convention. There was a real attempt by the US government to make sure that rules for treatment of the internees were followed so that American internees in Germany would not be harmed. Apprehensions were at gunpoint by FBI agents. The internees were not charged with a crime. Franz von Hohenlowe was one of these internees who John has talked with. Personal property which the internees left behind when they were detained was almost invariably lost or stolen. Internees were sent in shuttered trains to Fort Meade in 1942. The welcoming committee at Fort Meade was far from hospitable. The military viewed these internees as prisoners of war. Men were housed in 4 man tents. Barbed wire, off limits signs, and machine guns were used to enforce the internment. There were incidents of gunshots directed at the internees' barracks at Fort Meade. A case file John observed at the National Archives describes the means of intelligence gathering from the internees. This included mail surveillance and analysis of association (observing which internees associated with which other internees). As a result of the mail surveillance, mail was very late which intensified the anxiety of the internees. By July of 1942, there was a new influx of internees at Fort Meade. As a result, the author, Ludecke, points out there were 3 broad categories of internees at Fort Meade: older Germans who had nothing to do with Nazis, anti-Nazis, and pro-Nazis. Ludecke himself was an internee who was an informant to the US government who was due to be released because of his cooperation. Besides the 3 categories, there were also a few psychologically incapacitated Germans who could not be classified. The big question the internees faced was whether they wanted to be repatriated to Germany.
The most unusual case at Fort Meade was an internee named Kurt Sanger who was unabashedly Jewish. He was born in Vienna in 1920. He had left Vienna in 1939 and went to the US in 1940. He was living with his mother's cousin in New York state. On January 3, 1942, he was apprehended by the FBI. He was given no reason for his being detained. In fact he had been accused by a man named Smith that he hardly knew. Was it possible that Sanger was a Jewish Nazi spy? In fact, it is more likely that Smith accused Sanger in order to advance his own career. Smith accused Sanger of being a Major in the Nazi intelligence service, and of finding drunk marines in the streets and using them to find out US Naval secrets. This is implausible since Sanger was only 20 years old.
John pointed out that during this period, Communist leanings were as much of a criteria for internment as Nazi sympathies. Sanger had favored a union at his company. Sanger had been asked by associates about the conditions in Europe. For example, since he was in Vienna at the time, he was asked about the Anschluss, and he replied that the majority of the Viennese were in favor it. This remark placed him under great suspicion. Sanger received at least one serious beating at Fort Meade. Even though he was supported by several Jewish institutions, it was not until late 1942 that he was released.
John noted that the internment information form had a space for religion which was nearly always filled in. Sanger, however, left this space blank. Another internee named Haberle also did not have his religion blank filled in. It could be that Haberle also had a Jewish background which he was hiding. While the German internees' physical needs were met by the regimented camp routine, they experienced a lot of emotional uncertainty. Later in 1942, the German internees were moved, many from Fort Meade to Camp Forrest and other points west, including Texas.
Camp Forrest also had its distinctive culture. Internees lived in green wood huts. There was a regular camp newspaper which recorded many of the events of that time and published some photographs of camp life.
Strong leadership on the part of the internees themselves was important to maintaining the stability of camp life. There were petty thefts and a peeping tom. Internees spent a lot of their time taking courses. In mid 1943, the military internment of Germans ended, and the Germans were moved to family camps. It is unclear to what extent the feelings of the internees were affected by pro-Nazi feelings or merely a feeling they had been given a raw deal. In any case, the war years had inexorably shaped these people's careers and lives. In contrast to the British interment of German nationals which was universal, the US had only a selective internment.
In conclusion, the camp experience of German internees was not nearly as bad as the experiences of work or extermination camp inmates in Europe or even those of internees in the Japanese internment camps in the US. Nevertheless, the challenge of being interned was formidable.
The discussion period began at about 9:10 PM. Steve said that the fears of the American authorities of espionage by the German nationals were not entirely unjustified. Hitler often used the Ausland Deutsch (overseas Germans) to further his cause. Steve questioned why the German internees who were Jewish did not attempt to become American citizens. This would have reduced the level of suspicion of their loyalty. Steve noted that after the war, his family, who were German Jewish refugees, were encouraged to take out American citizenship immediately.
John admitted that the "fifth column" issue was important. Steve noted that certain German communities were hotbeds of pro-Nazi activities. One important center for pro-Nazi activities was in Yorkville, New York. John noted that the FBI was expanded about five fold after 1939 and through the war years. The Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, frequently used the "fifth column" argument. Felix raised the question of whether there may have been legitimate reasons for the internment of the Germans. Felix asked if there was a reason they were interned that is documented. John replied that much of the information that was used to justify internment was hearsay.
Arthur shared some experiences with respect to the camps for Japanese Americans. Unlike the Germans who were interned, one only had to be 1/6 Japanese to be interned. With regard to pro-Nazi sympathies of German Americans, Arthur pointed out that from 1937 until 1940, in Yorkville, New York, hundreds of brown shirted people paraded on the streets calling out pro-Nazi slogans. The German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization for Americans of German descent, was powerful in various US cities. Arthur also referred the attendees to a book by Carlson about how the Germans in the 1930's and early 1940's attempted to infiltrate key institutions in America. John said that a lot of these internees had actually lived in the US since the 1920's. Steve asked how these aliens got into the US. John replied that there were various reasons why these people came.
Eileen asked about the sponsors of these German aliens. Why were they not suspected of collaboration? Therefore the internment was hit or miss. Steve asked whether the subject group were POW's. John pointed out that in contrast to the German internees he is investigating, the people referred to in Carlson's book who sympathized with the Nazis were all naturalized US citizens. John stated that the real problem may have been those Germans who rushed to get naturalized.
At about 9:30 PM, John showed some slides. These included a drawing from Camp Forest in Tennessee, a photograph of a typical cabin living quarters at Camp Forrest, a drawing of a human pulled wagon (perhaps for the fetching of spent ordinance [artillery shells] on the artillery range), a drawing of the camp latrine, and some family photos of the internees which John has acquired. John also showed some photos from a camp where Germans were interned in Crystal City, Texas. Ken asked if all internees were male. John said no; there were female camps. Public relations photos from the time show a more positive view of the internment than really existed. They show the internees engaged in various activities such as arts and crafts, tennis, wood shop, and sunning on chaise longues. In fact, there were a number of suicides and psychological problems among the internees. Bill Trollinger replied to Steve's point that Germans did not have it so bad. Bill stated that he is not sanguine about J. Edgar Hoover's work as an anti-Communist. Erica said that the Germans should have been grateful for being interned since otherwise they might have faced abuse and discrimination from the public which had become anti-German because of the war.
Arthur talked about another small group that was interned. These were European Jewish orphans who were interned for the duration of the war at Lake Oswego, New York. John shared the story of another unusual group of people who were interned in the US: Panamanian Jews He also referred the Dialogue members to a 1994 NBC Dateline report on the internment at Lake Oswego. John said that the US Government did not do much to help the internees. John's major point is that it is important to study individuals in small groups who were interned because these events were very important in setting precedents which can be later used against other larger groups. John's conclusion is that individuals are very vulnerable during wartime and that beauracracies can take advantage of them in this environment of war and uncertainty.
Remarks by new Co-chair, Robin Smith
Robin told the attendees about her religious background. She was raised in a fundamentalist household. However, she was baptized as a Catholic at 16. At that time, she was interested in different religions and she visited Beth Jacob Synagogue where she felt very welcome. This made her Baptism more meaningful. The way she became involved with the Dialogue is that she was contacted by Arthur Auster to help him staff a booth at the Montgomery County Fair to oppose the "Zionsm is Racism" resolution of the United Nations. As a result of that experience, Arthur invited her to a Dialogue meeting. Robin has always been interested in the Holocaust. She has lived in Germany and has visited several Concentration Camps. She looks forward to working with the members of the Dialogue to create a truly informative and meaningful program. The meeting adjourned at about 9:45 PM.