Dottie Zorn is twelve years old in 1943, living in Audubon NJ, when her German-born father is accused of plotting to aid the Nazis. The only evidence against him? A single handbill, displaying pictures of Adolf Hitler, found by the FBI in Dottie’s closet. The Zorn family must move from their comfortable home to a tiny cottage in the Internment Camp for Enemy Aliens in Crystal City, Texas.
In Crystal City Lights, Holly Moulder tells a story unfamiliar to most, that of German-Americans who were arrested and interned during World War II, in a fictional novel for young people. As I started to research the historical accuracy of Crystal City Lights, I even came across the question: “Why were there no Internment camps for German-American Citizens in USA during WW2?” This question was posted on History Stack Exchange, a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. The author of the question followed it up by noting that Japanese-Americans were detained in Internment camps, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war on United States by the empire of Japan. (You can read more about Japanese Internment in Children of Manzanar, which I reviewed in August 2013.) For that reason, the poster wonders why didn’t the United States government carry out the same policy against German-Americans
Actually, in December 1941 and January 1942, three Presidential Proclamations were signed “to regulate the conduct and movement of enemy aliens” and referenced not only Japanese, but also Germans and Italians. So what is the reality? During World War II, the U.S. government and many Americans did view German Americans and others of “enemy ancestry” as potentially dangerous. However, there were also millions of American citizens with German ethnicity, which meant there were simply too many for a collective round-up such as happened with the Japanese. However, under the Executive Order 9066, individual exclusion orders could be used against those Americans with German or Italian ancestry. Consequently, the government used many methods to round up German Americans including “alien enemy” registration, deportation, individual and group exclusion from military zones, repatriation, property confiscation, and travel restrictions. By the end of the war, 11,000 persons of German ancestry, including many American-born children, were interned. At least 2,000 Germans, German Americans and Latin American internees were later exchanged for Americans and Latin Americans held by the Third Reich in Germany.
To find out more, read the autobiographical book The Prison Called Hohenasperg: An American boy betrayed by his Government during World War II by Arthur D. Jacobs. Two online sites of interest include:
At the first, there is a map and timeline. The second includes a map too, along with stories from real German-American internees.