America's World War II Prison Camps

Most Americans have never heard of the prisoner of war camps in the United States during World War II. Hans Sennholz, a Luftwaffe pilot and later a Misesian economist, worked on a prisoner-run farm in Arkansas after he had been shot down by British anti-aircraft fire in North Africa. They sent him from Britain through Canada to the West Coast and then to Arkansas.

Most estimates that I have seen place the number of prisoners of war in the U.S. in the range of 50,000 to 70,000, but one reputable and detailed Website says it was 425,000.

More than 150,000 men arrived after the surrender of Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in April 1943, followed by an average of 20,000 new POWs a month. From the Normandy invasion in June 1944 through December 30,000 prisoners a month arrived; for the last few months of the war 60,000 were arriving each month. When the war was over, there were 425,000 enemy prisoners in 511 main and branch camps throughout the United States.

This is a good example of history that never gets to the general public. This is a little-known and long-forgotten story, but it is not shocking.

What follows is shocking. I begin with low-level shock.

The Japanese Camps

Most Americans know about the concentration camp system that the United States created for Japanese residents of the West Coast. There were 120,000 of these internees in a dozen camps, mostly in the mountain states, but with two camps in eastern Arkansas. A few Americans know that the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover had opposed these mass arrests. Fewer still know of the forced sale of everything these people owned at substantial discounts. They were only allowed to bring into the camps what they could carry in their arms in one trip. But until this year, only a handful of Japanese-Americans knew that in 1944, the U.S. government drafted the young men housed in these camps, and about 300 refused to be inducted. They said they were prisoners who were not being treated as citizens, which they were. So, some of them were put in jail for draft resistance, and the others became pariahs in the camps. The other Japanese internees regarded them as traitors. This story became public knowledge only this year, in law professor Eric Muller’s book, Free to Die for Their Country (University of Chicago Press, 2001). You can get chapter one on the Web.

The Western Hemisphere Kidnap Camps

The following story would be a great case study for Memory Hole 101 (second semester). I stumbled onto it about three years ago. It was on the Website of a local affiliate of NBC television. That Web page is long gone, but because of, I was able to track down other pages in a few minutes. I used these search terms: Japanese, Germans, Peru, World War II, Texas, camps. Of course, had I not found that NBC affiliate site three years ago, I never would have known which search terms to use. I never would have known about this story. Prepare yourself for a shock. This is from the Handbook of Texas Website. Its title is “World War II Internment Camps.” And what remarkable camps they were! You will find no reference to these camps in any textbook on U.S. history, I guarantee you.

Although many Americans are aware of the World War II imprisonment of West Coast Japanese Americans in relocation centers, few know of the smaller internment camps operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Under the authority of the Department of Justice, the INS directed about twenty such facilities. Texas had three of them, located at Seagoville, Kenedy, and Crystal City. Prisoners included Japanese Americans arrested by the FBI, members of Axis nationalities residing in Latin-American countries, and Axis sailors arrested in American ports after the attack on Pearl Harbor. About 3,000 Japanese, Germans, and Italians from Latin America were deported to the United States, and most of them were placed in the Texas internment camps. Twelve Latin-American countries gave the United States Department of State custody of the Axis nationals. Eighty percent of the prisoners were from Peru, and about 70 percent were Japanese. The official reasons for the deportations were to secure the Western Hemisphere from internal sabotage and to provide bartering pawns for exchange of American citizens captured by Japan. However, the Axis nationals were often deported arbitrarily as a result of racial prejudice and because they provided economic competition for the other Latin Americans, not because they were a security threat. Eventually, very few Japanese ever saw Latin America again, although some Germans and Italians were returned to their Latin American homes. The majority of Texas internment-camp prisoners were Axis nationals from Latin America. . . .

In addition, prisoners were taken to Crystal City from other INS internment camps in Hawaii and Alaska (not states at the time), the United States, Puerto Rico, the West Indies, and South and Central American countries. . . .

As we shall see, there is some debate about the numbers of these victims of American-supervised international kidnapping. Was it 3,000, total? Or were there more? I think there were far more, for reasons that you will soon see. In any case, what you have read so far is a whitewashed version of the story. It gets worse — much, much worse.

Add one word to the Google search list: “exchanged.” Again, had I not found that NBC affiliate site, I would not have known to use this term. This brought me to a site run by the Freedom of Information Times. This revealing site specializes in World War II internment of German American civilians.

Here, we read the grim reality regarding what other use these kidnapped Latin Americans had for the American government. I will bet that nothing that you have ever read mentioned this legacy of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Facts: During the hearings before the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Edward J. Ennis, the Director of the Alien Enemy Control during World War II, on November 3, 1981 testified:

Mr. Macbeth [a member of the Commission]: Did you have any experience with the internment of enemy aliens who were outside of the United States.

Mr. Ennis: Oh yes, we had two programs…Now the other program was taking alien enemies from other countries in South America…If we couldn’t get the [Latin American] countries to intern them we had to transmit them to the United States for internment…It was an aborted program, I don’t think it accomplished anything. It had a security purpose to do in these countries [Latin America] what we were doing in the United States, about 5,000 German aliens were interned, and a few hundred German aliens in Cuba and in other countries in South America. But it didn’t work very well. [Source: pp.157-159, Testimony of Edward J. Ennis before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians on November 3, 1981, R.G. 220. . . .

The Latin Americans of German ancestry who [about 5,000] were brought to this country by the United States were incarcerated in several camps, most were in either of the following camps: Crystal City, Texas; Seagoville, Texas; Camp Kenedy, Texas; Fort Lincoln, Bismarck, North Dakota; and Ellis Island, New York Harbor, New York.

Hundreds of the interned Latin Americans, many of whom were, by birthright, citizens of one of the republics, were exchanged for persons of the Americas held by the Third Reich, i.e., they were deported to Germany.

Stephen Fox, “The Deportation of Latin American Germans, 1941-47: Fresh Legs for Mr. Monroe’s Doctrine,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 32 (1997): 117-42.

Prior to the exchange, lists of internees in the U.S., including the names of German-Jews, were provided to the authorities of the Third Reich.

The State Department citations herein are included in their entirety in Volume IV, The World War Two Experience of German-Americans of German-Americans in the World Wars, Edited by: Don Heinrich Tolzmann, K.G. Saur, Munich, 1995, pp. 1671-1674.

Got that, folks? The U.S. government went to the trouble of identifying the kidnapped victims of Jewish German background, sent their names to Hitler’s bureaucrats, knowing that these were “high priority items,” and then shipped them off to Germany in exchange for Americans who had been inside the Third Reich when Hitler declared War on December 11.

The only other explanation is that American bureaucrats deliberately identified the captive Jews in order that the Germans might be able to keep out those Germans whom they really didn’t want. That’s the “favorable interpretation.”

“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,” etc., etc.

Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration did many horrible things. This is just one more example. Most of these things were covered up then, and professional historians still do their best to cover them up today, 56 years after FDR’s death.

For the New Deal-justifying liberals who write all of the American history textbooks, seeing just isn’t believing. Facts like these are dropped down the memory hole, where they are thought to belong.

Why don’t Jews know about this neglected aspect of American history? Because they haven’t been told. Why not? Because most academic Jews are political liberals, and their commitment to the Roosevelt Administration has been greater than their commitment to historical accuracy. So, politically conservative Jews don’t know the story.


Anyone who points out this sort of thing is dismissed by the Establishment press and the Establishment academic community (guild) as a “conspiracy nut.” I confess: guilty as charged.

December 11 , 2001

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© 2001

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