Crystal City Internment Camp
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The Crystal City Internment Camp, located near Crystal City, Texas, was a place of confinement for people of Japanese, German, and Italian descent during World War II and has been variously described as a detention facility or a concentration camp. The camp, which was originally designed to hold 3,500 people, opened in December 1943 and was officially closed on February 11th, 1948. Officially known as the Crystal City Alien Enemy Detention Facility, the camp was operated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and was originally designed to hold Japanese families, but later held German families as well, including many who were deported from Latin American countries to the U.S. A significant number of those incarcerated were native-born American citizens. The Crystal City Internment Camp was one of the primary confinement facilities in the United States for families during World War II.
During World War II, the United States government created detention camps for mainly German and Japanese Americans, as well as German and Japanese Latin Americans. This was justified at the time as an "internal security" measure, but is now considered to have been "unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity", as reported by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. A power conflict arose between the Department of Justice and the War Department regarding internal security and the internment of enemy aliens in the fall of 1941. A subcommittee of the two departments pushed for the U.S Army to control internment procedures during the war, but the majority of the committee thought otherwise. The Department of Justice was then granted the power to authorize internment procedures. The Justice Department, in turn, authorized the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to run and maintain certain internment camps.
Establishment of camp
Crystal City was one of the largest camps in Texas, along with Camp Kenedy and Camp Seagoville. Camp Kenedy, a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp located near San Antonio, was the largest internment camp for male aliens from Latin America. Camp Seagoville, located south of Dallas, was a former women’s prison designed as a college campus that later retooled as a detention facility. In January 1943, the Crystal City internment camp was opened because Camp Seagoville was too small and could not hold families brought from Latin America as well as the domestic incarcerees. Before the War, Crystal City had been a migrant labor camp that was surrounded by fields of the area’s most profitable crop, spinach. All of the families from Camp Seagoville were moved to Crystal City except for couples without children, a few couples with toddlers, and unmarried females who remained at Camp Seagoville. The camp is named after the city where it is located, Crystal City, which is located 110 miles south of San Antonio.
The United States government rounded up and arrested German and Japanese nationals who had been living in Latin America. Once these foreigners were incarcerated in the United States, they could then be repatriated to Germany or Japan. The INS internment stations located in various regions near New Orleans, Louisiana arrested more than 2,000 Latin American Germans and Japanese before relocating them to camps in Texas. The majority of the Latin American Japanese - nearly 1,500 people - were moved to the Crystal City Internment Camp. Out of the 800 Germans confined at Crystal City in 1944, 234 of them were Latin American Germans from Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
Germans and Japanese Americans
The Crystal City camp also held Japanese and German Americans that previously lived in many different parts of the United States. American-born Japanese and Germans were arrested in large numbers and forcibly incarcerated at Crystal City and elsewhere. The first German American incarcerees arrived in December 1943 from Ellis Island and Camp Forrest. Many of the Japanese American incarcerees were transported from the West Coast while the German Americans were brought from numerous locations throughout the United States. The first Japanese were confined in Crystal City in March 1943. Most had been transported by train to Crystal City from other detention facilities in the West.
Life behind barbed wire
The idea of family internment was a new concept proposed with regards to the detention of German and Japanese aliens in World War II. In the Crystal City internment camp, German and Japanese internees lived separately from one another and were placed in two different sections of the Camp. Crystal City INS officials justified the segregation as a way to monitor both groups. The Crystal City Internment Camp received large numbers of detainees from other internment facilities in the United States and the camp became overpopulated. The camp's German section provided its internees with a German bakery, mess hall, community hall, and cottages. Large German families were given their own cottages that included showers, kitchens, bathrooms, and hot water. The Japanese section included a Japanese School, the Federal High School, the Federal Elementary School, a citrus orchard, and several recreational facilities such as tennis courts, basketball courts, a football field, and a swimming pool. The Japanese internees of the camp lived in housing with running water and iceboxes.
Almost all of the children held at the Crystal City internment camp were native-born American citizens whose parents were alien non-citizens. Each child at the Crystal City Internment Camp received a liter of milk each day. Three schools were established: the German School, the Japanese School, and the American Schools of Federal Elementary and Federal High School. The schools provided the interned students with all of the basic programs that schools in Texas were required to have. Established in January 1943, the American School at the Crystal City Internment Camp educated over one thousand students before being closed in June 1946. The majority of the American School's students at Crystal City were Japanese American internees and a large number of the students were later accepted into various universities in the United States. The parents of German American students refused to send their children to the American School, preferring education at the German School. The German American children that transferred into the German School from the American School often struggled in the classroom because they were unable to speak German fluently. The German School and the American Schools had a similar enrollment and each school educated about 350 students. The Japanese School educated about 300 Latin American Japanese and Japanese American students. The Japanese School's curriculum resembled the curriculum students in Japan received, focusing on Japanese morals, ethics and physical education.
On January 24, 1946 Crystal City Internment Camp official J. L. O'Rourke closed the German and Japanese schools and ordered that all remaining students enroll in the American schools. The American schools were then closed on June 28, 1946, but only 16 Japanese students still remained in Crystal City with their parents. The population of the camp was already low because numerous internees were repatriated to their native countries after the war ended. The INS rejected the proposed idea of transferring the Japanese students into public schools near Crystal City. Due to the INS decision and the lack of resources to move elsewhere, the remaining Japanese internees reinstalled the Japanese School. The last remaining detainees were Japanese Peruvians, who were prohibited from returning to Peru by that country's government but were treated as illegal immigrants by the U.S. government. Eventually, they were released and on February 11, 1948, the Crystal City Internment Camp was officially closed.
The site of the camp is now owned by the local school district, and is marked by a granite stone engraved with "World War II Concentration Camp, 1943-1946", which was installed in November 1985. The Texas Historical Commission undertook archaeological excavations at the site in April 2013, in preparation for nominating the site for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Burton, Jeffery F.; Farrell, Mary M.; Lord, Florence B.; Lord, Richard W. (1999). Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Publications In Anthropology 74. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 2013-05-26.
- Friedman, Max Paul, "Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II" (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
- Riley, Karen, "Schools Behind Barbed Wire" (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002)
- "Personal Justice Denied". National Park Service. January 8, 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2010.
- "Crystal City (Family) Internment Camp". Texas State Historical Commission. Retrieved 2013-05-26.