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Real People
The Human Cost of Wartime Civil Liberties Violations
An Overview
During WWII, America felt it had to act decisively to protect itself from dangerous individuals in its midst. To achieve this legitimate goal, our government ignored civil liberties to an unacceptable degree and trampled far too many innocent lives. The human cost was unconscionable. Rather than protecting potential American-born and foreign-born victims of mounting hysteria, our government used these security concerns to justify oppression. Ethnic Germans, Japanese and Italians suffered greatly for their "enemy" ethnicity. Selected personal stories are briefly summarized below. The experiences of these individuals clearly show that personal freedoms must be protected most when they are most under assault. The stories were selected because they illustrate the typical forms of wartime mistreatment by the US government: raids, ransacking of homes, selective internment, exchanges, repatriation and exclusion. In each case, the reader should assess the extreme consequences resulting from abrupt governmental action driven by hysteria. ....read more

Individual Stories
The following stories have been shared with the German American Internee Coalition by former German American and Latin American internees and their families. The stories are broken up into three main categories: US Resident Internees, Latin American Resident Internees and Seamen. For many, it was a difficult decision to go public with their traumatic personal internment experiences. All have shared their stories because they believe it is time these stories were told, to educate the public on the full story of internment during World War and so that others may know the value of the freedom that is too easily lost during times of crisis. We thank the contributors for so generously agreeing to write down their difficult memories and for sharing them with all of us. If you or a family member are interested in sharing your story, please contact us at info@gaic.info.

 
US Resident Internees
 
Interned Families and Adults
The Heitmann Family Story
History and past memories, especially recent past memories, were rarely topics of family conversation when I was growing up during the 1950s and 1960s. World War II, in particular, was off limits for discussion, and might as well have taken place in the Middle Ages instead of a mere decade or so before. But as a child with open eyes and ears -- and curiosity -- I invariably uncovered glimpses of the past. Ultimately, a few snapshots of the period stuck with me, bits of evidence leading to my own personal journey during the 1990s. As I quickly discovered, this journey was obscured not only by     ....read more
The Neupert Family Story
My father and mother, George Neupert and Emma Hoechner Neupert, were both born in Germany. My father and his sister emigrated to the United States in 1928, and my dad brought my mother over the following year. My parents were married in June, 1931, and I was born on October 10, 1932 in New Jersey. My father became a U.S. citizen, but my mother retained her German citizenship and was here as a resident alien. After Pearl Harbor we had numerous visits from the FBI. I remember a number of their visits in the middle of the night     ....read more
The Reseneder Family Story
My mother, Charlotte Reseneder Dimmling, her sister, Othilia "Tilly" Reseneder Busse and my grandparents were interned in Crystal City from 1942 until December 1945, seven months after the war in Europe ended. How they got there and why they were there is truly an amazing, but yet sad, story.    ....read more
The Scheibe Family Story
On the 8th of November, 2002, my brother (Egon Scheibe Jr.) and I (Erika Scheibe Seus) went on a journey to Crystal City, Texas. This was a journey we needed to make. Our parents, Grete Scheibe, now 89, and our deceased father Egon Sr. were internees at a camp there during World War II. After 60 years a reunion was being held. We were among "the children of the camp." This is a story that needs to be told. It is a part of the history of our family.    ....read more

The Schmitz Family Story

My parents were not citizens and father enjoyed listening to German music in our apartment in the Bronx, NY. He also subscribed to a German magazine and we were members of a German social club. All it took was a complaint from neighbors to the FBI that they thought he was a Nazi and the hunt was on. Our apartment was searched and there were a number of interviews and then hearings with the result that he was branded a dangerous enemy alien.    ....read more

The Gertrude Anna Schneider Story
On December 7, 1941, about 7:30 pm, three men came to our home and asked for me. They showed me their badges and informed me that they were FBI agents. They searched the house, but found only a box of personal letters from family members living in Germany. Among the items was a postcard from Paul's sister, living in Stuttgart, Germany, on which was a picture of Hitler. I was then instructed to get my coat since they were taking me with them.    ....read more

The Voester Family Story

It was Friday, February 13, 1942 when the doorbell rang as our family was eating dinner. I was 13 years old at the time. My father answered it and came back into the kitchen accompanied by two strangers and a San Francisco uniformed policeman. The strangers had not identified themselves by showing their badges or identification cards. One of them asked where the back door was, unlocked it and let a man who had been in our back yard into the house. We were then told the men were FBI agents.                             ...read more

 

 

The Karl Vogt Story

I’m not sure what is real memory and what is second hand memory for me. I was very young when it happened---I was 13 months old. My brother, Armin, had turned four on October 28, 1941, so his recollection is probably more real than mine. I do think that I remember my mother standing by the big round oak dining table and crying. My brother remembers the scene by the table with the two strangers, by then identified as FBI agents, removing pictures from the family album and taking them, along with my father, off to places unknown to us. This happened late afternoon on December 9, 1941, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, one day after    ....read more

 
 
Repatriated & Exchanged Families
The Eiserloh Family Story
Mathias and Johanna Eiserloh met in Johanna's hometown of Idstein, Germany after WWI, where Mathias was a civil engineering student. They shared a dream of emigrating to America and did so in 1922. They brought with them the hopes and dreams held by most immigrants to this country-to live, work and raise a family in freedom. Mathias' two sisters and three of Johanna's siblings joined them in America soon after.    ....read more
The Graber Family Story
Mid-April 1945. It was a relatively sunny day in Gernsbach, a small town in the Black Forest of Germany. My brother, Werner, and I were running around the small vegetable garden interspersed with fruit trees. Our father and grandfather were digging up the ground to prepare new vegetable beds. At first, we heard only a very low hum but it quickly became louder and louder. Then the air raid sirens started shrieking. By that time, airplanes were visible.    ....read more
The Levermann Family Story
My name is Bernard Levermann. My parents Kaethe and Bernard emigrated to the US from Northern Germany in the late 1920's. I was born on June 25th, 1941 at New York Hospital. During World War II my family was interned in Crystal City, Texas. Because I was only a baby at the time I do not remember the events that led up to our family's internment. I only know what my mother told me years later.    ....read more
 
Interned With Family In The Military
The Peter Greis Story
My parents, Peter Joseph and Franziska Greis, were born near Cologne, Germany on April 9, 1891 and May 20, 1897, respectively. My father was a WWI veteran. They married in Germany after WWI and in 1922, my older brother Siegfried was born. My father was employed as a paint chemist. His employer sought to open a company in Milwaukee and asked my father to start up the company. Joseph saw this as a great opportunity for his family. In 1923, even though it meant leaving his wife and newborn son, he traveled to the United States to follow the American dream. Francis, as she was known in this country, and Siegfried, followed several months later. Unfortunately, the business    ....read more
 
Internee Laborers

The Max Ebel Story

Max Ebel, a U.S. resident German alien, was interned from September 1942 until June 1944. The reason for his internment was never explained to him. During the time he was interned, he was in five different internment facilities and worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad in North Dakota. This is his story.  ....read more
 
Interned After War's End
The Eberhard Fuhr Story
My parents, Carl and Anna Fuhr, immigrated to the U.S. in 1927 and 1928. My father came in 1927, and my mother, along with my older brother, Julius and me, immigrated in 1928. We settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. My father, a baker, had been sponsored to immigrate to the U.S. by several people. One sponsor was Frank Grammer, who owned and operated one of the finest German restaurants in the Midwest. Another sponsor was the Concordia Lutheran Church of Cincinnati. My mother was a housewife. On October 13, 1929, my younger brother, Gerhard, was born.     ....read more
 
US Citizen Internees

The Berg Family Story

My parents and my older sister were interned in Honolulu. My Dad and Mom on Dec. 8, 1941. My older sister, Elle, age 18, was taken five days later. My younger sister, age 9, and I, age 11, were left as abandoned children. All five of us were German-American U.S. citizens. The internment and all of its ramifications was not supposed to happen to us. After all, as U.S. citizens, we were protected by the Federal Constitution, its freedoms, civil liberties and certain "inalienable rights". That was not the case. On Dec. 7, 1941, all of that went out the window. Our American citizenship and our Constitution did not protect us after the attack on Pearl Harbor.    ....read more
 
Latin American Resident Internees
 
Brazil
The Joachim Rehbock Story
My paternal uncle Joachim F. Rehbock was born in Karlsruhe, Land of Baden-Wuertenberg, Germany on April 7, 1910. He was the third son (my father Arnold was the second) of Theodor Rehbock, professor in Hydraulic Engineering at the University of Karlsruhe. After finishing the High School Gymnasium ....read more
Columbia 
The Welcker Family Story
My name is Rosita Welcker. I am German citizen and live in Bogota, Colombia. My father's name was Friedrich Paul Welcker. He was born in Moenchengladbach, Germany on April 4, 1902. He moved to South America in 1931 and first lived in Caracas, Venezuela. In April 1937 he came to Baranquilla, Colombia and married my mother, a Columbian citizen, on 3 September 1937. They lived in Barranquilla, and he worked in a trade company.     ....read more
Costa Rica
The Gurcke Family Story
Our family was one of thousands in Latin America caught in the far flung net cast by U.S. authorities seeking "the enemy" during World War II. My father, Werner Gurcke, and his brother, Karl Oskar, lived through World War I as children in Hamburg, Germany. Costa Rica was their chosen country—a place to be free and happy, to work hard and get ahead. It was supposed to be a place where war would not touch them again.     ....read more
The vom Schemm Story
Ewald and Veronica vom Schemm were friends of my parents, brought together by the hardships both couples faced during World War II in Costa Rica. Veronica told me a bit of their internment story in 2000, when I was searching for more information about my parents, Werner and Starr Gurcke. She also sent me the answers to several pages of questions I had.     ....read more
Guatemala
The Hugo Droege Story
Hugo Droege emigrated from Germany to the Guatemalan highlands to find a better life. He married and lived quietly for 20 years far from Germany. He established and managed a coffee farm as he raised his family.  One night, six Guatemalan police arrived with guns drawn to take him away. Mr. Droege told his wife, Oda Lutzow, to save the farm. Forty-eight hours later, the Guatemalan government forced her to abandon it. Pregnant with their third child, she, her two children and a mule     ....read more
The Joseph Leber Story
On the sunny morning of January 6, 1942, Joseph “Joe” Leber was arrested at the Guatemala City Tennis Club by Guatemalan police agents. Joe had left Germany in 1920 for the USA. He lived in New York for some six years before he moved to Latin America to work for US companies involved in export. He settled in Guatemala around 1929, where he continued to represent US and British export companies. In addition, he bought into a shoe factory owned by another German. He later bought out his partner and became the sole owner of the factory.     ....read more
The Sapper Family Story
Leading up to the war, the United States government became suspicious of families of German ancestry. Around 1942, under the direction of the United States State Department, our family was evicted from our home and the plantation was taken away, forcing us to rent a house nearby. Soon after, father was taken, at gunpoint and put on a U.S. plane. He recalls that all the windows to the plane were closed. We had no idea where they were taking him.     ....read more
Haiti
The Otto Schütt Story
"Suche sie ein"… "Choose one" my grandfather's father answered to his brother. Otto Schütt had been running the family business in Haiti and felt as he got old he needed to "assurer la reléve". He had no children and his brother had three sons. On a trip to Germany he asked his brother if he would accept to send one of his sons to be trained to eventually take over the family business in the Caribbean island of Haiti. He chose the nephew that was named Otto just like him. The year was 1929 and my grandfather accepted immediately his uncle's proposal. By the beginning of 1930 he sailed on board the Henry Horn into the Cap-Haitian Bay after 5 weeks at sea.     ....read more
Panama
The Eckardt Family Story
We were summoned to Panama City and subsequently arrested on the 16th June 1942. (This took place after my Dad died in 1938.) My mother was allowed to go back for a few belongings while my sister and I were held hostage. We were given cots to sleep on overnight alongside occupied prison cells...before being turned over to the U.S. authorities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, (INS) and interned in Balboa, U. S. Canal Zone, in Panama.     ....read more
Peru
The Hamann Story
My father, Adolf Hamann, was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1884. His father was pastor of a Lutheran church, and his mother died while he was still young. My grandfather married again and that caused some unhappiness with my father when he was young. So in 1904, at about the age of 20, he took a ship for South America.    ....read more
 
Seamen
The Werner Ahrens Story
My father died in 1957 at age 45. Because of his early death, he took his internment story to his grave. Perhaps he signed an oath of secrecy like other internees, or like most others he wanted to forget his years of internment. Fear, embarrassment, and lack of control over their lives marked their years of internment. Since I was only a child of 6 when dad died, I had limited knowledge of his internment. The recent situation of detainees in Guantanamo is the event that prompted my investigation of my father's internment.     ....read more