Follow Here To Purchase The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II


Author: Jan Jarboe Russell

Publisher: Scribner

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9366-9

(Review of Advance Uncorrected Proofs)

Many of us are familiar with America's internment of its own citizens during World War 11 namely, the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese, 62 percent of them American-born, who were forcibly evacuated from the Pacific coast after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not many, however, are aware of an internment camp located in Crystal City, Texas where from 1942 to 1948 trains transported approximately six thousand German, Japanese and Italian civilians and their families to the camp. What is more, several of these families came from Peru where they were kidnapped by the Americans and transported to the camp.

Jan Jarboe Russell in her The Train to Crystal City: FDR'S Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II recounts why the camp was created and what happened within the camp. She uses trains as the book's central symbol and states in her Preface: “the use of trains as the central symbol of the book and of the war is both literal, as trains were the main source of transport, and figurative, as the book describes the train of events that begins in Crystal City and continues well beyond the gates of the camp.”

The Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Department of Justice administered these only “family” internment camps on either side of the Atlantic or Pacific. The camp's objective was to reunite immigrant fathers who had been arrested and imprisoned as “dangerous enemy aliens” with their wives and their American born children.

No doubt, the USA during wartime had the right, arguably the imperative, to protect itself from suspected enemies. However, as we discover from reading the book, there were only a handful of internees that represented any real threat to US security. As mentioned, most of these internees were caught up in a web of fear and intrigue not of their own making, especially the American-born children who made up the majority and whose loyalty to their country of birth was severely stressed by the humiliation of internment.” And what they did not know was that the justification for their arrest and internment without trial was that they were to be used as leverage in negotiations with Germany and Japan for the exchange for American prisoners of war.

Moreover, at the end of the war the repatriation of hundreds folks to Japan and Germany constituted one of the most tragic events in the camp's history. American born children of these families were denied the opportunity to remain in the USA as their parents, particularly their fathers, were considered enemies. As Russell succinctly mentions, there were more than six thousand American citizens and immigrants from other countries that were forced to endure imprisonment as a result of an overzealous US government, hysteria, fear of traitors, and a game of barter that involved American internees for internees in Axis countries. While we certainly can't compare the internees' treatment with the millions in the German concentration camps, nonetheless, it is still something that should not have happened in a democratic country. On the other hand, we also must bear in mind that this was a time of war and, in the wisdom of hindsight it 's easy to look back and point a finger of blame.

Russell's comprehensive research consists of both historical documentation and extensive interviews conducted with several of the survivors of the internment camp, German as well as Japanese as well as others who were affected. And to bring life to the narrative, she focuses her story on two American-born teenage girls as she exposes the details of their years in the camp as well as the experiences of their fathers, families and subsequent repatriation to Germany and Japan. We also learn of their long journey in their attempt to return and survive to the USA. This is a story that must be told and the book is a worthy addition to others pertaining to internment camps in the USA, Canada and elsewhere.