Most people are well aware of the U. S. internment of ethnic Japanese, but it’s apparently a little-known fact that some ethnic Germans residing in the U. S. were detained in camps in this country during both world wars:

With the US entry into World War I, German nationals were automatically classified as “enemy aliens.” Two of the four main World War I-era internment camps were located in Hot Springs, N.C. and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. 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 [including many citizens] 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. 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 and Sedition Acts. 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.

Some interesting details of the WWI group: a total of 2,048 were incarcerated, including “the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt and 29 players from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Their music director, Karl Muck, spent more than a year at Fort Oglethorpe, as did Ernst Kunwald, the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.”

From Wikipedia about WWII:

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.

Shortly after the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor, some 1,260 German nationals were detained and arrested, as the government had been watching them. Of the 254 persons not of Japanese ancestry evicted from coastal areas, the majority were ethnic German. 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…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.

A total of 11,507 people of German ancestry were interned during the war. They comprised 36.1% of the total internments under the US Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Control Program.

It’s a fairly considerable number, although the numbers for Japanese nationals as well as Japanese-ethnic citizens were much higher: about 110 to 120 thousand in all. Included in the Japanese total were many U. S. citizens.

The internments involved most of the people of Japanese ethnicity living in this country, who were far less numerous than people of German origin and who were also highly concentrated on the west coast, the area from which they were evacuated (after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was considered particularly strategically important).

I’ve looked at many sites describing the Japanese internments, searching for the answer to this question: what percentage of the citizens of Japanese ethnicity in the camps were minor children being interned with their non-citizen parents? I’m sure that the answer can be found somewhere, but so far I haven’t been able to locate it online. All I have discovered are sites such as this one, which state that the majority of those interned were citizens and the majority of those interned were children, but which treat these as two separate statistics rather than discussing the overlap and saying whether the vast majority of the citizens were the children.

At any rate, I do believe that racism was at least part of the reason that far more people of Japanese descent were interned than those of German descent. But it was hardly the only reason. Other reasons were the smaller numbers of ethnic Japanese living here as compared to ethnic Germans, their concentration on the west coast, and probably the emotional reaction to an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Were some American citizens of German ancestry detained? Yes:

In the United States, however, the Justice Department’s Alien Enemy Program also targeted numerous American citizens [of German ethnicity], with J. Edgar Hoover publicly expressing concern over what he termed “the naturalized citizen whose cloak of citizenship is a sham and is dangerous to the nation’s security.”…

Justice Department officials opted for a policy of selective internment of ethnic Germans and Italians, irrespective of citizenship status. Arrests of civilians whose names appeared on custodial detention lists—including numerous American citizens—commenced on December 8, 1941, three days before the United States had declared war against Germany and Italy. Detainees received hearings following their arrests, but those arrested on the U.S. mainland were not allowed legal counsel. In Hawai’i, twenty-one of the 106 ethnic German and Italian civilians arrested within forty-eight hours of the Pearl Harbor attack were U.S. citizens…

One other thing—at the time of WWII, Japanese-born residents of the U. S. had not been allowed to become citizens, although their American-born children were citizens. In contrast, people of German and Italian birth had been allowed to become citizens, so that was another difference.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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