In 1942, they were two of the Germans who were picked up by the FBI. Several FBI agents with machine guns entered the H.I. Voss Engineering Company in Bronx, New York, and arrested Alfred Heitmann. This may have been related to the German submarine landing on Long Island, which resulted in a great deal of war hysteria that made many people believe that German spies were everywhere in New York (Tolzmann 32).
Heitmann's internment resulted from the unconstitutional investigations of the government based on hearsay from informants whose reliability was never seriously checked out. Many informants' names suggest that they were of German origin, who perhaps were afraid of their own internment and thus willing to give evidence to protect themselves from intense questioning. Their comments now appear ridiculous, including such theories that Heitmann took many photographs although he never owned a camera, as later confirmed by a FBI search, and took long walks at night. Such conjecture was enough for the government to justify imprisoning Heitmann for three years (Tolzmann 32).
Following his arrest, he was detained, ironically, at Ellis Island for two months while he waited for his hearing and Washington's final decision about what would happen to him. He was ordered interned, and beginning that year was sent first to Ft. Meade, Maryland with subsequent stays at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, Ft. Lincoln, North Dakota, and Seagoville, Texas, before finally gaining his release in June of 1945.
Heitmann's employer, H.I Voss, who posted a bond for him in November 1941, was never visited by the FBI and the Bureau's report stated that any information obtained "would produce no worth while results." In fact, during Heitmann's Board hearing in 1942, a Department of Justice employee reviewed the evidence presented and argued for parole rather than internment. He stated:
This is a difficult case to decide on the facts available and this reviewer is not satisfied with the result. It may be that further investigation of the subject through the questioning of more people who would know the subject's activities, an interview with the H.H. Voss Company, and an investigation of why the subject still receives remuneration from the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey would reveal information which would help materially in reaching a decision. (Friedman 298)
Scribbled after the paragraph in broad strokes with a marking pen were inscribed the words "I Think Not," and an illegibly initialed superior's signature.
The Alien Enemies Act of 1798, on which such interments were based, is still in force in modified form. It authorizes the president to detain, relocate, or deport enemy aliens in time of war. It was enacted in 1798 in anticipation of war with France but was first employed against British aliens during the War of 1812.
Although it seems that World War II is in the distant past, it must be remembered that as long as such laws remain, similar situations can happen again. In fact, after 9/11, there were Arab-Americans who were detained in jails for quite some time for no reason.
A recurring theme since the beginning of the United States is searching for a means to find the appropriate way of protecting the nation against security threats without losing sight of the liberties that are part of the democratic form of government. The concern of civil liberties vs. national security comes up in every crisis and every war, and will surely come up again in the future. It is possible to review history from the first passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the Red Scares that followed World War II to the present time.
Presently, the war on terrorism along with the U.S. Patriot Act, the imprisonment of foreigners at Camp Delta on Guantanamo Bay, and the detention of American citizens through an order of the president, have all made a number of people study the laws as they are written. Given the fact that such concerns will become more instead of less prevalent in the coming years, revisiting the Alien and Sedition Acts should be seriously considered. The debate whether such actions taken during World War II against the Japanese and Germans is lawful continues.
For example, there are those such as individuals as Malkin who say that in time of war, the survival of the nation comes first. Civil liberties are not set in stone. Since 9/11, most Americans have not gone the extent of slandering all Muslims as terrorists. The majority of Americans make clear distinctions between them, especially because of the knowledge and embarrassment of what happened over 60 years ago. However, as can be seen since the beginning of the War in Iraq, there is a great deal of fear in this country and the amount of anti-Muslim mentality continues to grow.
Meanwhile, the number of stories of the Germans who were interred grows larger. At the age of 17, Eb Furh was interned six months after his parents. After he was arrested during his high school class, he spent a night in the Cincinnati Workhouse. Then he and his older brother went before a hearing board at the federal courthouse. The authorities did not permit them to be represented by an attorney or have any rebuttal witnesses. Furh knew what the result was going to be before entering the hearing room, when he saw an article in the Cincinnati Post that made it clear the brothers would soon end up with their parents in the concentration camp (Hurley).
At the camp in Crystal City, Texas, Fuhr said, "it was 110 degrees in the shade, but there wasn't any shade." Half the camp was filled with Japanese-Americans, half with German-Americans. Not long after arriving, his father received a letter from the Cincinnati chief of police demanding to know what he was going to do about the trash in their yard on Beekman Street after the neighbors had looted the house. The Fuhrs lost their possessions to looters and their house to bankruptcy (Hurley).
When Allied troops overtook Berlin and declared victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, the Fuhrs expected to be released. However, for another two and a half years they were held at the camp. Finally in 1947 they were sent to Ellis Island, where a review board ordered all but the youngest child, an American citizen by birth, to be deported to post-war Germany. Only when Sen. William Langer of North Dakota held hearings and wrote legislation were the Fuhrs finally released. The parents, as well as their youngest son, returned to Cincinnati. Eb, who married a woman he met in the camp, went to college and started a career that took him across the U.S. (Hurley)
As he looks back six decades ago, Eb Fuhr sees what happened with the German-American internment as important from several perspectives. First, by continuing to make the fate of German-Americans and other perceived enemy alien groups unknown, unlike the Japanese-Americans, many people believe that the World War II interment conditions was an issue of racial prejudice, when, in fact, it was a political and security issue. Also, in the midst of war, Furh believes that a nation has the right to protect itself. He accepts the time he spent in the camp from 1943 until the end of the war in 1945, but resents every day of the two and a half years after VE Day that his family was interned. "In the post 9-11 world, when Muslims and especially Arab Muslims are looked upon with suspicion, Eb hopes that by reflecting on the story told in the exhibit, Americans will think harder about how to protect the nation while preserving human and civil rights" (Hurley).
Recently, the TRACES Museum of History and Culture in St. Paul introduced a traveling show "Vanished: German-American Civilian Internment -- "1941-1948. When people see it, most are incredulous, since they never knew that this had occurred. This year, over 70,000 people in 675 towns in 12 states have thus far seen this exhibit. The hope is that the more people who see information on the German-American internment and know that it happened, the better the chance that the next time something similar occurs, similar action will not be taken (website).
Bohan, Suzanne. Internment camp survivors tell their tales. May 6, 2007. Inside Bay Area
20, May 2007 http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_5831892?source=rss
Fox, Stephen. America's Invisible Gulag. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2000.
Friedman, Max Paul Trading Civil Liberties for National Security: Warnings from a World War II Internment Program. Journal of Policy History. 17.3 (2005). 294-307
Hurley, Dan. Local German immigrants interned during WWII. May 4, 2007. Cincinnati Post.…