The train to Crystal City : FDR's secret prisoner exchange program and America's only family internment camp during World War II

by Jan Jarboe Russell

Paperback, 2015

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Scribner, [2015]

Description

"Focusing on a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, a dramatic account exposes a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II where hundreds of prisoners were exchanged for other Americans behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany."--

Media reviews

Mr. O’Rourke wrote of watching “typical American boys and girls develop deep feelings of betrayal by their government.” After all, in a situation rife with absurdities, they were being taught the Bill of Rights in schools at Crystal City, where those rights had been taken away from them.

User reviews

LibraryThing member etxgardener
Americans, despite their mythology, really don't like immigrants very much, and when war comes they like them even less. Everyone knows about the internment of the Japanese during World War II, but hardly anyone knows that German and Italian citizens were also rounded up and placed in camps for the duration (and sometimes longer). Additionally, German and Italian immigrants were rounded up in Central and South America, shipped to the US and upon arrival arrested for entering the country illegally & sent to the camps. The Train to Crystal City deals with a family camp in south Texas and focuses on three or four families, tracing their journey from being arrested at the beginning of the war. their lives in the camp and what happened afterwards.

While most (but not all) of the adults were non-citizens, their children who were all born in the US were citizens.
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LibraryThing member GalenWiley
The dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families—many US citizens—were incarcerated.

From 1942 to 1948, trains delivered thousands of civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage.” During the course of the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for other more important Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.

Focusing her story on two American-born teenage girls who were interned, author Jan Jarboe Russell uncovers the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families’ subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told.

Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.

**
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LibraryThing member twp77
Russell has written a necessary and eye opening work with The Train to Crystal City. While more has become known in recent years about the plight of Japanese and Japanese-American internees in the United States during WW2, Russell uncovers a story which includes Germans, German-Americans and Latin Americans who, along with Japanese and Japanese-Americans, found themselves in the only family internment camp in the country. Faced with the choice of being interned as a family or not being with their spouses, many wives agreed to "voluntary repatriation" to countries their children had never seen and only vaguely knew in exchange for being together as a family. Most of the stories from Crystal City are seen through the eyes of these child internees looking back as adults who felt torn between doing the right thing by their elders and wanting to be US citizens and remain in the country of their birth. This was most clearly evident in the differences between the older Japanese issei and their children the nisei.

Yet unlike other histories of this period, Russell provides balance in trying to understand the motivations of people involved on the government side, including the INS's Harrison and the likable, if lonely alcoholic, O'Rourke who was charged with running the camp. O'Rourke in particular comes across as a caring man who did all he could to support the children and teenagers in the camp including encouraging attendance at Federal High School that functioned as a regular American high school within the barbed wire, so much as such a thing was possible. He tried to make sure that many young people who were US citizens were given the opportunity to be sent out of the camp to continue their education.

Russell makes it clear that the camp did hold notorious fascists such as the German American Bund's leader Fritz Kuhn and doesn't shy away from talking about the pro-fascist rallies held within the camp by some. In fact massive arguments were held between families with regards to allegiances or lack thereof to Japan, Germany and the United States. It is her ability to tell the human story of all involved while recognizing the difficulties and contradictions of the period that makes this such a compelling read.

She also brings to light a little known exchange program that occurred under FDR where prisoners at the Crystal City camp were exchanged with enemy nations for US POWs and other US citizens stuck in Axis countries. This exchange program created an atmosphere which encouraged internment to enable the US government to have enough "prisoners" to trade. This included US citizens, mostly children and spouses of the detained. In addition, the US government kidnapped Japanese and German citizens who were living in Latin America and then arrested them as "illegal" once they were on US soil and used them in the prisoner swaps - all in the name of greater security in the hemisphere.

This program was kept secret during the war. Yet despite the obvious heartache and disruption that it caused for those arrested, here too Russell highlights the plight of a German Jew named Irene who was one of those who was able to come to the US as a result of the exchange after spending years at Bergen-Belsen. As with most events that happened during the unprecedented upheaval that was the Second World War, nothing was ever simple.

Overall Russell does a great service by highlighting these practices and bringing to light the personal and human tragedies that resulted from the unnecessary internment of US citizens and innocent non-citizens while maintaining balance and perspective. The Train to Crystal City a must read for anyone interested in civil liberties, war and the history of the untold stories from the home front of WW2 America.
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LibraryThing member bereanna
This book details the "internment", aka concentration camp for families of "enemy" aliens that the US govt built in Crystal City, Tx for Japanese, Germans, and Italians living in America. Wives and children born in the US joined their husband behind barbed wire for about 5 years. What they owned...homes, bank accounts...all was confiscated. Some heroes come out of the story having done their best for these unfortunate people, the camp supervisor and the head of the Immigration Service in Washington, DC. Horribly, some of the people were sent to Germany late in the war for exchange with American citizens stranded there. Some of the people sent were not German citizens and could not even speak fluent German. The book follows individuals whose stories are told during the camp and afterwards through their lives. Eventually the Japanese were issued an official apology and some money from our government, but legislation was never passed to do the same for the German Americans or Italians. Interesting book on a shameful chapter of US history.… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzer
Jan Jarboe Russell’s remarkable book tells the relatively unknown story of Americans being traded for other Americans during World War II. She tells of the “family” interment camp in Texas known as Crystal City. Japanese, German and Italian families were incarcerated there as potential threats to US security, but many of these families were also targeted for repatriation to their original homelands—including those who were US citizens. Although the book has a much larger scope, its most important focuses are the stories of three young women. Sumi Utsushigawa had Japanese parents who lived in Los Angeles. Despite his statement to Sumi: “This is America. They don’t put innocent people in jail here. Don’t worry,” her father was arrested and the family is interned together only if they agree to be repatriated to Japan. They lost everything they had built in America; were asked to give up allegiance to the country of their birth and to swear allegiance to a country that imprisoned them. Nevertheless, they were model prisoners, adopting the Japanese concept of gaman (to endure the unbearable with dignity and forbearance). Ironically, until they actually arrived in post-war Japan, they thought that Japan had won the war.
Ingrid’s family was German from Ohio. Her father, Mathias, was arrested and interned. He quickly learned there was nothing he could do to prove his loyalty. “An individual need not have been guilty of subversive activities to warrant his internment if all the facts appear that he may be potentially dangerous to the internal security of our county during the war period.” The family was only sent to Crystal City together after agreeing to repatriation to Germany.
Irene was a Jewish girl whose family was deported by the Nazi’s from the Netherlands and eventually sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Nazi’s traded her for German POW’s. Eventually she made it to America and was shocked when she discovered about the prisoner exchanges that took place during the war: “I had no idea that American-born children were part of the exchange, it’s dreadful. What on earth was Roosevelt thinking.”
All three suffered extreme hardships following their repatriation or release in the case of Irene. Germany, Europe and Japan were almost totally destroyed, there was little food, clothing or shelter.
Fear and paranoia were rampant in America during the war. Suddenly being Japanese or German in America was dangerous. This bred a particularly virulent form of racism that is reminiscent of what exists today against Muslims. Some saw the camps as a horrible mistake, including Eleanor Roosevelt (“We have no choice but to try to correct our past mistakes.”), but FDR and his advisors thought otherwise.
Russell describes Crystal City as humane, but with many serious flaws: different ethnic groups were mixed despite vast differences in culture, loyalty and beliefs. Many remained loyal to their original homeland, while others saw themselves as Americans. This split was particularly evident between the Japanese Issei and Nisei. Internees were unsuccessful in challenging the constitutionality of their incarceration. Feelings of betrayal by their government, shame and depression extended well past the war. A sign at Ingrid’s home in Hawaii late in her life aptly captured that sentiment: “If you can’t afford a doctor, go to an airport—you’ll get a free X-ray and a breast exam, and if you mention al Qaeda, you’ll get a free colonoscopy.” O’Rourke wrote of watching “typical American boys and girls develop deep feelings of betrayal by their government. After all, in a situation rife with absurdities, they were being taught the Bill of Rights in schools at Crystal City, where those rights had been taken away from them.”
Another jaw-dropping revelation in the book was that people of Japanese descent were secretly kidnapped at the request of the Roosevelt administration, notably a large contingent from Peru, and held for use in the hostage exchange program.
Another unsettling revelation involved how the Allies operated the Nazi concentration camps after their liberation. The Jews were kept in the camps as displaced persons, remaining behind fences with little change in their living conditions.
Surprisingly, though their internment may have been the worst thing in the children’s lives, some of them formed lasting bonds. They still have reunions, a newsletter called Crystal City Chatter and their memories, which Russell ably chronicles in this marvelous book.
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LibraryThing member Cherylk
These types of books are right up my reading alley. These, military, and animal books are about the only non-fiction I read. I am not familiar with Crystal City. Yet I am not surprised as this was way before my time but also it seems that now a days the media does not really report on news but on celebrities. We as a society have forgotten our history which is very important.

The reason that I rated this book so low is not because of the people but because of the way this book was written. The first four chapters I could not remember a word of what was written in them. Also I felt that the author repeated herself a lot with events. The writing came off dry and thus kind of a chore to read. The only interesting thing was the people and reading about what they had to endure. Not to take anything away from the events but I found myself after a bit skimming the pages rather then reading them, so I put it down.
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LibraryThing member flourgirl49
Other reviewers have laid out the story told by this book, so I will not duplicate their efforts. This is a worthwhile story to be told, and I found it very informative of events in history of which I knew very little. However, I found the writing to be somewhat dry and the book too long, and after a while I felt like I was slogging through it. I wanted to finish it, and I did, but it was somewhat of a chore.… (more)
LibraryThing member hoosgracie
An eye opening look at a family internment camp in Texas during World War II and the program to exchange immigrants and their US born children for POWs.
LibraryThing member DoingDewey
At first glance, Ghettoside and The Train to Crystal City don’t appear to have much in common. Ghettoside tells the story of a detective determined to solve the murder of a fellow officer’s son and highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of murder victims in America are young, black men. It falls squarely in the true crime genre and reads like a gritty police procedural. The Train to Crystal City is a book about our history, specifically the only family internment camp in America during WWII, home to families (including American-born children) some of whom were exchanged for American POWs against their will. What made me choose to review these books together is that they are both exemplary works of narrative nonfiction.

These books reminded me of quote from E. B. White: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.” These books got of bed and did both. Despite the different tones and plots, both of these books fascinated me. Both told incredibly interesting stories and were engagingly well-written. I couldn’t put either of them down! They also had in common meaningful topics. Ghettoside is certainly more relevant today, covering events which took place in the 2000’s, but reparations have yet to be made to German internees at Crystal City, so both are calls to action.

In both books, I enjoyed the many direct quotes the authors included. Direct quotes from people who were there are one of my favorite things in narrative nonfiction. They add emotional depth to a story, while simultaneously showing that the author has done their research. I also admired both authors’ ability to incorporate peoples’ back stories into the narrative without getting sidetracked. Both of these authors shared personal details about the people involved in a way which made me feel like I knew them without losing the thread of the main story. I find it incredibly impressive when authors manage to achieve this blend of entertainment and education, research and good writing. These books are both truly wonderful examples of the narrative nonfiction genre and I highly recommend them.

This review first published at Doing Dewey.
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LibraryThing member autumnturner76
An amazing look at this sad part of our history. I was aware of the fact the US interred Japanese American citizens, but I was not aware that we also did the same to German Americans. I knew we had German POW camps here in the states, but was not aware of how many Germans were put into camps and alongside Japanese Americans were "exchanged" with Germany and Japan for other Americans.

I was also not aware that the US kidnapped Japanese and German citizens living in South American countries and brought them to the US to use as exchange pawns. Utterly despicable!

I highly suggest reading this book.
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LibraryThing member DoingDewey
At first glance, Ghettoside and The Train to Crystal City don’t appear to have much in common. Ghettoside tells the story of a detective determined to solve the murder of a fellow officer’s son and highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of murder victims in America are young, black men. It falls squarely in the true crime genre and reads like a gritty police procedural. The Train to Crystal City is a book about our history, specifically the only family internment camp in America during WWII, home to families (including American-born children) some of whom were exchanged for American POWs against their will. What made me choose to review these books together is that they are both exemplary works of narrative nonfiction.

These books reminded me of quote from E. B. White: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.” These books got of bed and did both. Despite the different tones and plots, both of these books fascinated me. Both told incredibly interesting stories and were engagingly well-written. I couldn’t put either of them down! They also had in common meaningful topics. Ghettoside is certainly more relevant today, covering events which took place in the 2000’s, but reparations have yet to be made to German internees at Crystal City, so both are calls to action.

In both books, I enjoyed the many direct quotes the authors included. Direct quotes from people who were there are one of my favorite things in narrative nonfiction. They add emotional depth to a story, while simultaneously showing that the author has done their research. I also admired both authors’ ability to incorporate peoples’ back stories into the narrative without getting sidetracked. Both of these authors shared personal details about the people involved in a way which made me feel like I knew them without losing the thread of the main story. I find it incredibly impressive when authors manage to achieve this blend of entertainment and education, research and good writing. These books are both truly wonderful examples of the narrative nonfiction genre and I highly recommend them.

This review first published at Doing Dewey.
… (more)
LibraryThing member DoingDewey
At first glance, Ghettoside and The Train to Crystal City don’t appear to have much in common. Ghettoside tells the story of a detective determined to solve the murder of a fellow officer’s son and highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of murder victims in America are young, black men. It falls squarely in the true crime genre and reads like a gritty police procedural. The Train to Crystal City is a book about our history, specifically the only family internment camp in America during WWII, home to families (including American-born children) some of whom were exchanged for American POWs against their will. What made me choose to review these books together is that they are both exemplary works of narrative nonfiction.

These books reminded me of quote from E. B. White: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.” These books got of bed and did both. Despite the different tones and plots, both of these books fascinated me. Both told incredibly interesting stories and were engagingly well-written. I couldn’t put either of them down! They also had in common meaningful topics. Ghettoside is certainly more relevant today, covering events which took place in the 2000’s, but reparations have yet to be made to German internees at Crystal City, so both are calls to action.

In both books, I enjoyed the many direct quotes the authors included. Direct quotes from people who were there are one of my favorite things in narrative nonfiction. They add emotional depth to a story, while simultaneously showing that the author has done their research. I also admired both authors’ ability to incorporate peoples’ back stories into the narrative without getting sidetracked. Both of these authors shared personal details about the people involved in a way which made me feel like I knew them without losing the thread of the main story. I find it incredibly impressive when authors manage to achieve this blend of entertainment and education, research and good writing. These books are both truly wonderful examples of the narrative nonfiction genre and I highly recommend them.

This review first published at Doing Dewey.
… (more)
LibraryThing member DoingDewey
At first glance, Ghettoside and The Train to Crystal City don’t appear to have much in common. Ghettoside tells the story of a detective determined to solve the murder of a fellow officer’s son and highlights the fact that a disproportionate number of murder victims in America are young, black men. It falls squarely in the true crime genre and reads like a gritty police procedural. The Train to Crystal City is a book about our history, specifically the only family internment camp in America during WWII, home to families (including American-born children) some of whom were exchanged for American POWs against their will. What made me choose to review these books together is that they are both exemplary works of narrative nonfiction.

These books reminded me of quote from E. B. White: “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time.” These books got of bed and did both. Despite the different tones and plots, both of these books fascinated me. Both told incredibly interesting stories and were engagingly well-written. I couldn’t put either of them down! They also had in common meaningful topics. Ghettoside is certainly more relevant today, covering events which took place in the 2000’s, but reparations have yet to be made to German internees at Crystal City, so both are calls to action.

In both books, I enjoyed the many direct quotes the authors included. Direct quotes from people who were there are one of my favorite things in narrative nonfiction. They add emotional depth to a story, while simultaneously showing that the author has done their research. I also admired both authors’ ability to incorporate peoples’ back stories into the narrative without getting sidetracked. Both of these authors shared personal details about the people involved in a way which made me feel like I knew them without losing the thread of the main story. I find it incredibly impressive when authors manage to achieve this blend of entertainment and education, research and good writing. These books are both truly wonderful examples of the narrative nonfiction genre and I highly recommend them.

This review first published at Doing Dewey.
… (more)

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