March 22, 2015

IF ONLY W HAD BEEN PRESIDENT:

The Quiet Passages : Many native-born Americans were declared 'enemy aliens' and imprisoned. Some were 'repatriated' to countries they'd never known. (WALTER VATTER, March 22, 2015, WSJ)

In "The Train to Crystal City," Jan Jarboe Russell tells the story of the Eiserloh family--and the great number of other German, Italian and Japanese immigrants whose lives were torn apart because of American policies enacted following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The author focuses on the only--and largely unknown--internment camp built expressly for families; it was located outside Crystal City, Texas. There, 30 miles from the Mexican border, an estimated 6,000 men, women and children who were classified as enemy aliens were imprisoned for varying periods until 1948, when it was shut down.

In her richly detailed history, Ms. Russell chronicles the infamous "Quiet Passage" prisoner-exchange program, in which civilians who were held at Crystal City (and other camps) served as human barter in negotiated exchanges between the U.S. and Japan and Germany. The program sent "enemy aliens" abroad--to "repatriate" to countries some had never known--to facilitate the return of Americans trapped overseas, primarily government officials.

The architect of Crystal City was Earl G. Harrison, Roosevelt's commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a liberal Republican. With the help of his wife, beginning in 1939, Harrison had sheltered Jewish refugees at their family compound near Philadelphia, and he wanted to make sure Crystal City was absolutely humane. There was a separate living space for each family, a mess hall that served three meals each day and a prisoner-built swimming pool. "In Harrison's mind," Ms. Russell writes, "the need for a camp to reunite families was a humanitarian step."

"Humanitarian" is hardly the way the camp's prisoners would describe their experience inside its barbed-wire borders. They arrived for detention at the 290-acre camp after long, uncomfortable train rides with window shades drawn and tags hung around their necks with family ID numbers. "Guards with long rifles were positioned in six guard towers," Ms. Russell writes. "At night, the searchlights from the camp could be seen across the border in Mexico."




Posted by at March 22, 2015 7:10 PM
  

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