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German-Jewish Refugees Interned by the United States Government during World War II

This letter was written by a German-Jewish lawyer who had been imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, in suburban Berlin, and later was  released through the help of influential friends. He and his wife, Liesel, then found refuge in San Francisco. Because he could not practice law in this country, he went door to door, selling Avon products and Viennese pastries. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Government interned him at Fort Lincoln, in North Dakota. What follows is one of his repeated letters to Eleanor Roosevelt, asking for the First Lady's help to get out of a camp where he and other German-Jewish refugees found themselves interned, in part, with loyal Nazis. He was finally released, but his freedom came slowly and at great emotional cost. This experience marred him for the rest of his life. He and his wife lived in indelible fear of being imprisoned, yet again...


San Francisco Chronicle article about Heims internment


Los Angeles Times editorial documenting German-Jewish refugees as internees


Experiences of other German-Jewish internees, including from Latin America,
from Max Paul Friedman's
Nazis and Good Neighbors:
The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin American in World War II

After receiving complaints from Jewish internees that they were being threatened by the Nazi inmates, camp guards at Stringtown, Oklahoma, interviewed them one by one. Many of the Jewish prisoners made statements that confirm the picture of a German internee group divided between a small Nazi faction and a passive majority. Erwin Klyszcz observed that "a lot of internees would be nice but do not associate with us because they are afraid of the Nazi element." Isidore Rosenberg noted a change in the summer of 1942, after more Germans arrived from Latin America. "Since the people from Costa Rica and Guatemala are here it is better," he said. "They are more intelligent . . . [these] internees have been much nicer."26

Emil Loewenthal's statement is especially intriguing: "I have heard [the Nazis] say that there are not enough of them to fight us but they are hoping that more will come and then they will take care of us." At that time there were only eighteen Jews, mostly older men, among a total internee population of 531 German adult males at Stringtown. Despite the nominal Nazi Party membership of a substantial minority of prisoners, Nazi activists evidently could not draw upon significant numbers of adherents to carry out their schemes.27

Indeed, the number of the zealous willing to incur even a small risk for their beliefs seems to have been quite meager. When the internees at Stringtown were forbidden to give the Hitler salute, Nazis organized a group defiance of the regulation and were punished with thirty days in separate quarters. The protestors numbered fifteen—less than three percent of the internees were willing to follow Nazi orders.28 This pathetic showing illustrates just how harmless were most of the allegedly dangerous Germans selected for internment.

The requests for hearings did meet with some sympathy within the government. The man directing the internment of dangerous enemy aliens residing in the United States was Edward Ennis, head of the Justice Department's Alien Enemy Control Unit (AECU). Like his boss, Attorney General Francis Biddle, Ennis was a liberal, whose commitments later led him into a long career with the American Civil Liberties Union; he became its president in 1969. His job at the AECU placed him in a paradoxical position: he opposed mass internment on principle, and objected to the incarceration of Japanese Americans who were placed in camps on the basis of their ethnicity alone—even while he supervised the process that produced more internments.

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