German American internment
Locations of internment camps for German enemy aliens during World War II
LocationUnited States

Internment of German resident aliens and German-American citizens occurred in the United States during the periods of World War I and World War II. During World War II, the legal basis for this detention was under Presidential Proclamation 2526, made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt under the authority of the Alien Enemies Act.[1]

With the U.S. entry into World War I after Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare, German nationals were automatically classified as enemy aliens. Two of four main World War I-era internment camps were located in Hot Springs, North Carolina, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.[2] Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer wrote that "All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies, and their property is treated accordingly."

By the time of WWII, the United States had a large population of ethnic Germans. Among residents of the United States in 1940, more than 1.2 million persons had been born in Germany, 5 million had two native-German parents, and 6 million had one native-German parent. Many more had distant German ancestry. During WWII, the United States detained at least 11,000 ethnic Germans, overwhelmingly German nationals between the years 1940 and 1948 in two designated camps at Fort Douglas, Utah, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.[3][4] The government examined the cases of German nationals individually, and detained relatively few in internment camps run by the Department of Justice, as related to its responsibilities under the Alien Enemies Act. To a much lesser extent, some ethnic German US citizens were classified as suspect after due process and also detained. Similarly, a small proportion of Italian nationals and Italian Americans were interned in relation to their total population in the US. The United States had allowed immigrants from both Germany and Italy to become naturalized citizens, which many had done by then.

In the early 21st century, Congress considered legislation to study treatment of European Americans during WWII, but it did not pass the House of Representatives. Activists and historians have identified certain injustices against these groups. Unlike Italian Americans and Japanese Americans, German American internees have never received financial compensation or an official apology for these events.

World War I

Germans building barracks in an internment camp during World War I
Several Germans in an internment camp at Fort Douglas during World War I

Civilian internees

President Woodrow Wilson issued two sets of regulations on April 6, 1917, and November 16, 1917, imposing restrictions on German-born male residents of the United States over the age of 14. The rules were written to include natives of Germany who had become citizens of countries other than the U.S.; all were classified as aliens.[5] Some 250,000 people in that category were required to register at their local post office, to carry their registration card at all times, and to report any change of address or employment. The same regulations and registration requirements were imposed on females on April 18, 1918.[6] Some 6,300 such aliens were arrested. Thousands were interrogated and investigated. A total of 2,048 (0.8%) were incarcerated for the remainder of the war in two camps, Fort Douglas, Utah, for those west of the Mississippi, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for those east of the Mississippi.[7]

A New York City Police officer fingerprinting a German in 1917

The cases of these aliens, whether being considered for internment or under internment, were managed by the Enemy Alien Registration Section of the Department of Justice. From December 1917 this section was headed by J. Edgar Hoover, then not yet 23 years old.[8]

Among the notable internees were the Jewish geneticist Richard Goldschmidt and 29 players from the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).[9] After being falsely accused by unscrupulous newspaper editor John R. Rathom of knowingly refusing a request to play The Star Spangled Banner, the BSO's conductor, Karl Muck, also spent more than a year interned at Fort Oglethorpe, as did Ernst Kunwald, the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.[10] One internee described a memorable concert in the mess hall packed with 2000 internees, with honored guests such as their doctors and government censors on the front benches, facing 100 musicians. Under Muck's baton, he wrote, "the Eroica rushed at us and carried us far away and above war and worry and barbed wire."[11]

Most internees were paroled in June 1919 on the orders of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.[12] Others remained interned until as late as March and April 1920.[13]

Merchant marine vessels

Until the U.S. declared war on Germany, German commercial vessels and their crews were not detained. In January 1917, there were 54 such vessels in mainland U.S. ports and one in San Juan, Puerto Rico, free to leave.[14] With the declaration of war, 1,800 merchant sailors became prisoners of war.[15]

Over 2,000 German officers and sailors were interned in Hot Springs, North Carolina, on the grounds of the Mountain Park Hotel.[16]

Military internees

Before the U.S. entered the war, several Imperial German Navy vessels were docked in U.S. ports; officials ordered them to leave within 24 hours or submit to detention. The crews were first treated as alien detainees and then as prisoners of war (POWs). In December 1914 the German gunboat Cormoran, pursued by the Imperial Japanese Navy, tried to take on provisions and refuel in Guam. When denied what he required, the commanding officer accepted internment as enemy aliens rather than return to sea without sufficient fuel. The ship's guns were disabled. Most of the crew lived on board, since there were no housing facilities available. During the several years the Germans were detainees, they outnumbered U.S. Marines in Guam. Relations were cordial, and a U.S. Navy nurse married one of the Cormoran's officers.

As a result of U-boat attacks on U.S. shipping to Europe, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 4, 1917. U.S. officials in Guam then imposed greater restrictions on the German detainees. Those who had moved to quarters on land returned to the ship. Following the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, the Americans demanded "the immediate and unconditional surrender of the ship and personnel." The German captain and his crew blew up the ship, taking several German lives. Six whose bodies were found were buried in the U.S. Naval Cemetery in Apra with full military honors. The surviving 353 German service members became prisoners of war, and on April 29 were shipped to the U.S. mainland.[17]

Non-German crewmen were treated differently. Four Chinese nationals started work as personal servants in the homes of wealthy locals. Another 28, Melanesians from German New Guinea, were confined on Guam and denied the rations and monthly allowance that other POWs received.[18] The crews of the cruiser Geier and an accompanying supply ship, which sought refuge from the Imperial Japanese Navy in Honolulu in November 1914, were similarly interned, becoming POWs when the US entered the war.[19]

Several hundred men on two other German cruisers, the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and Kronprinz Wilhelm, unwilling to face certain destruction by the Royal Navy in the Atlantic, lived for several years on their ships in various Virginia ports and frequently enjoyed shore leave.[20] Eventually they were given a strip of land in the Norfolk Navy Yard on which to build accommodations. They constructed a complex commonly known as the "German village", with painted one-room houses and fenced yards made from scrap lumber, curtained windows, and gardens of flowers and vegetables, as well as a village church, a police station, and cafes serving non-alcoholic beverages. They rescued animals from other ships and raised goats and pigs in the village, along with numerous pet cats and dogs.[21] On October 1, 1916, the ships and their personnel were moved to the Philadelphia Navy Yard along with the village structures,[22] which again became known locally as the "German village". In this more secure location in the Navy Yard behind a barbed wire fence, the detainees designated February 2, 1917, as Red Cross Day and solicited donations to the German Red Cross.[23] As German-American relations worsened in the spring of 1917, nine sailors successfully escaped detention, prompting Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to act immediately on plans to transfer the other 750 to detention camps at Fort McPherson and Fort Oglethorpe in late March 1917,[24] where they were isolated from civilian detainees.[25] Following the U.S. declaration of war on Imperial Germany, some of the Cormoran's crew members were sent to McPherson, while others were held at Fort Douglas, Utah, for the duration of the war.

World War II

In the 1940 US census, some 1,237,000 persons identified as being of German birth; 5 million persons had both parents born in Germany; and 6 million persons had at least one parent born in Germany.[26] German immigrants had not been prohibited from becoming naturalized United States citizens and many did so. The large number of German Americans of recent connection to Germany, and their resulting political and economical influence, have been considered the reason they were spared large-scale relocation and internment.[citation needed]

Shortly after the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, some 1,260 German nationals were detained and arrested, as the government had been watching them.[27] Of the 254 persons not of Japanese ancestry evicted from coastal areas, the majority were ethnic German.[28] During WWII, German nationals and German Americans in the US were detained and/or evicted from coastal areas on an individual basis. Although the War Department (now the Department of Defense) considered mass expulsion of ethnic Germans and ethnic Italians from the East or West coast areas for reasons of military security, it did not follow through with this. The numbers of people involved would have been overwhelming to manage.[29]

A total of 11,507 people of German ancestry were interned during the war, comprising 36.1% of the total internments under the US Justice Department's Enemy Alien Control Program.[30]

Deportation of Germans from Latin America

In addition, the US accepted more than 4,500 German nationals deported from Latin America, detaining them in DOJ camps. During the early years of the war, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had drafted a list of Germans in fifteen Latin American countries whom it suspected of subversive activities. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US demanded deportation of these suspects for detention on US soil.[31] The countries that responded expelled 4,058 people.[32] Some 10% to 15% were Nazi Party members, including approximately a dozen who were recruiters for the NSDAP/AO, which acted as the overseas arm of the Nazi party. Just eight of them were suspected of espionage.[33]

The U.S. internment camps that held Germans from Latin America included:[34][33]

Some internees were held as late as 1948.[35]

Studies and review

Since the late 20th century, detainees from the DOJ camps began to work to gain recognition of their trials. US citizens of ethnic European groups (German and Italian) which had been considered enemy aliens during the war, and some of those aliens argued that their civil rights had been violated and asked for reparations.

In 2005, activists formed an organization called the German American Internee Coalition to publicize the "internment, repatriation and exchange of civilians of German ethnicity" during World War II. It is seeking U.S. government review and acknowledgment of civil rights violations.[36][citation needed]

The TRACES Center for History and Culture, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, travels the United States in a "bus-eum" to educate citizens about treatment of foreign nationals in the U.S. during World War II.[37]

Legislation was introduced in the United States Congress in 2001 to create an independent commission to review government policies on European enemy ethnic groups during the war. On August 3, 2001, Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) sponsored the European Americans and Refugees Wartime Treatment Study Act in the U.S. Senate, joined by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Joseph Lieberman. This bill created an independent commission to review U.S. government policies directed against German and Italian aliens during World War II in the U.S. and Latin America.[38]

In 2007, the U.S. Senate passed the Wartime Treatment Study Act, which would examine the treatment of ethnic groups targeted by the U.S. government during World War II. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions opposed it, citing historians from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who called it an exaggerated response to treatment of enemy aliens.[39] In 2009, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law passed the Wartime Treatment Study Act by a vote of 9 to 1,[40] but it was not voted on by the full house and did not become law.

See also


  1. ^ "The Alien Enemies Act Presidential Proclamations, German American Internee Coalition". Archived from the original on 2015-12-15. Retrieved 2015-12-10.
  2. ^ The U.S. Confiscated Half a Billion Dollars in Private Property During WWI, America’s home front was the site of internment, deportation, and vast property seizure, Smithsonian Magazine
  3. ^ Kramer, William (12 April 1989). "A Sordid Time in Our History: Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor". L.A. Daily.
  4. ^ Ebel, Karen E. (March 2005). "German-American Internees in the United States during WWII". Traces. Archived from the original on February 26, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  5. ^ The New York Times: "Gregory Defines Alien Regulations," February 2, 1918, accessed April 2, 2011. The rules for subjects of Austria-Hungary were far less restrictive. New York Times: "Puts No Rigid Ban on Austrians Here," December 13, 1917, accessed April 3, 2011
  6. ^ Arnold Krammer, Undue Process: The Untold Story of America's German Alien Internees (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 14
  7. ^ Krammer, Undue Process, 14-5
  8. ^ Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919 (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 327–8
  9. ^ New York Times: "Dr. Muck Bitter at Sailing," August 22, 1919, accessed January 13, 2010
  10. ^ Harold Schonberg, The Great Conductors (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1967), ISBN 0-671-20735-0, 216–222
  11. ^ New York Times: Erich Posselt, "Muck's Last Concert in America," March 24, 1940, New York Times, accessed January 13, 2010
  12. ^ Stanley Coben, A. Mitchell Palmer: Politician (NY: Columbia University Press, 1963), 200–1
  13. ^ Krammer, Undue Process, 15
  14. ^ New York Times: Queries from Times Readers," January 7, 1917, accessed April 1, 2011
  15. ^ Robert C. Doyle, The Enemy in our Hands: America's Treatment of Prisoners of War from the Revolution to the War on Terror (University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 169
  16. ^ Jacqueline Burgin Painter, "The German Invasion of Western North Carolina" (Biltmore Press, 1992)
  17. ^ New York Times: "Blow up Cormoran, Interned Gunboat," April 8, 1917, accessed March 30, 2011; Robert F. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam (University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 134–40, available online, accessed April 1, 2011
  18. ^ They were shipped home to New Guinea on a Japanese schooner on January 2, 1919. Hermann Hiery, The Neglected War: The German South Pacific and the Influence of World War I (University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 35, available online, accessed April 4, 2011
  19. ^ New York Times: "The Geier Interned until the War Ends," November 9, 1914, accessed March 30, 2011; New York Times: "Diary Bares Plots by Interned Men," December 29, 1917, accessed March 30, 2011
  20. ^ New York Times: "The Interned German Sailors," June 27, 1915, accessed March 30, 2011
  21. ^ Popular Science Monthly: "A German Village on American Soil", v. 90, January–June 1917, 424–5, accessed April 1, 2011
  22. ^ Great Lakes Recruit: "The German auxiliary...", vol. 4, no. 11, November 1918, accessed April 1, 2011
  23. ^ New York Times: "Neutral Ships Held Here," February 3, 1917, accessed March 30, 2011
  24. ^ New York Times: "Ten Interned Men Made their Escape," March 21, 1917, accessed March 30, 2011
  25. ^ New York Times: "Germans Interned at Georgia Forts," March 28, 1917, accessed March 30, 2011. More than 400 from the Wilhelm went to Fort McPherson, and the rest to Fort Oglethorpe.
  26. ^ Kashima, Tetsuden, ed. (1997). Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Part 769: Personal justice denied. University of Washington Press. p. 289. ISBN 0-295-97558-X.
  27. ^ Enemies Within: Italian and Other Internees in Canada and Abroad, Franca Iacovetta, Roberto Perin, and Angelo Principe, (University of Toronto Press, 2000), ISBN 0-8020-8235-1, p. 281
  28. ^ Iacovetta, Franca; Perin, Roberto; Principe, Angelo (2000). Enemies within: Italian and other internees in Canada and abroad. University of Toronto Press. p. 297. ISBN 0-8020-8235-1.
  29. ^ Kashima, Tetsuden, ed. (1997). Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Part 769: Personal justice denied. University of Washington Press. pp. 287–288. ISBN 0-295-97558-X.
  30. ^ Kashima, Tetsuden (2003). Judgment without trial: Japanese American imprisonment during World War II. University of Washington Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-295-98299-3.
  31. ^ Adam, 1181
  32. ^ Thomas Adam, ed., Transatlantic Relations Series. Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Volume II (2005), ISBN 1-85109-628-0, 1181
  33. ^ a b Adam, 1182
  34. ^ Adam, Thomas, ed. (2005). Transatlantic relations series. Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History : a Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Volume II. ABC-CLIO. p. 1182. ISBN 1-85109-628-0.
  35. ^ Toobin, Jeffrey, "After Stevens", The New Yorker, 43–44, March 22, 2010.
  36. ^ German American Internee Coalition: "About Us" Archived 2011-02-04 at the Wayback Machine, accessed April 4, 2011
  37. ^ "Vanished: The German internment BUS-eum comes to Marshall" Archived 2014-12-27 at the Wayback Machine, Marshall Democrat News, April 2007, accessed 7 June 2011
  38. ^ Mary Barron Stofik, Ellis Island during World War II: The Detainment and Internment of German and Italian Aliens (2007), 95
  39. ^ USA Today: "Senate votes to study treatment of Germans during World War II," June 9, 2007, accessed June 7, 2011
  40. ^ "WARTIME TREATMENT STUDY ACT" Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine, German American Internee Coalition. Accessed June 7, 2011


World War I

World War II