Linda's Orchard

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Category: Japanese American

German Americans in U.S. Internment Camps?

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A true but bittersweet tale.

A Lutheran German American who was imprisoned in the U.S. as a very young boy has lunch at a Jewish deli in Manhattan with a Catholic genealogist from California. They talk about internment camps in the United States where Germans, Italians, and Japanese were detained.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Werner Ulricht in person. He has been pivotal in my understanding of the Enemy Alien Detention Facility in Crystal City Texas. We have corresponded regularly over the past two years, but it’s always rewarding to meet a fellow researcher in person.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of Internment Camps during World War II; 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent were incarcerated. Lesser known is the story of German and Italian internees, thousands of whom were secretly transported (kidnapped) to the U.S. from central and south America. Some of the individuals were not released until more than a year after the end of World War II.

Werner is an American who was born to German immigrant parents; they were legal residents of the United States. His father was arrested during World War II, just as many Japanese immigrants were arrested. He and his family were incarcerated, first at Ellis Island and then Crystal City, Texas.  He is passionate about sharing this segment of history. The federal records of Werner’s family, and the thousands of other incarcerated German and Italian descendants and immigrants  can be found at the National Archives. These include case files, medical records, school records, arrest warrants and more.

Werner has done a magnificent job of teaching others about this dark period in our history. He was instrumental in developing the interpretive panels now on display in Crystal City at the site of that former internment camp. He even created a digitized map of the camp with such detail that the surnames of the families are labeled on each dwelling.

Unlike the Japanese residents of the United States (citizens or aliens), the Germans and Italians never received reparations or even an apology from our government. Why do so few Americans know this part of our history? Those of us who teach about Japanese Internment need to share the entire story and commemorate all individuals who were incarcerated, including the Aleutians, the Japanese Latin Americans (particularly the Japanese Peruvians), and most importantly, the Italians and Germans.

Thank you, Werner, for teaching us to remember.

Nihonmachi and the National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration: Pacific Alaska Region

National Archives and Records Administration                     Pacific Alaska Region

For a genealogist, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to the Pacific Alaska Region branch of the National Archives. I spent a full morning scrolling through dozens of rolls of microfilmed immigration records and also had the chance to visit with fellow California Genealogical Society member Trish Nicola. She is a NARA volunteer who specializes in records pertaining to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

Linda Okazaki and Trish Nicola

For anyone interested in Japanese American history, the Nihonmachi district of Seattle is a must. This vibrant Japanese community originated in  the late 1800’s. Following World War II, the neighborhood fell into disrepair as the Nikkei were evacuated, first to assembly centers and then to WRA camps. Now the area is experiencing a revival. Shops and restaurants abound. What’s especially interesting is the way the community blends old and new. Stores mix modern clothing and Japanese antiques, long standing restaurants employ new Japanese immigrants, museums house historical artifacts and contemporary art. Even the Panama Hotel, made famous in the book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is open for business both as a hotel and tea shop. Everything feels interesting and alive.

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Urban Revival in Nihonmachi

Panama Hotel

Panama Hotel

Honoring Our Heroes

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Roy Matsumoto and Linda Okazaki

Held in conjunction with the Bay Area Day of Remembrance, the Nichi Bei Foundation presented “Films of Remembrance” at the New People Cinema in San Francisco on 23 February 2014.

World War II was complex on many levels. In just 28 minutes, one film brought to attention many of those issues: Internment, MIS, Merrill’s Marauders, Issei, Nissei, Kibei, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima.

Honor and Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story was a moving documentary. Roy Matsumoto was a US war hero; one of his brother’s also fought for the US; three brothers were in the Japanese Army; the rest of the family lived in Hiroshima. The sensitive material was presented in a thought provoking and respectful manner. Producers Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander, as well as Roy’s daughter Karen Matsumto, were available for an in-depth Q&A following the presenetation.

It was an honor to meet Roy Matsumoto at this special event.

Bittersweet Memories

Hiroko Iida, Harold Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

Hiroko Iida, Eizo Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

On 19 February 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which set the stage for tens of thousands of Nikkei to be incarcerated without due process. Smaller numbers of Italians, Germans and Japanese South Americans were also held. Canada followed suit with a similar scenario.

This past Sunday, I attended a “Day of Remembrance”  service at the Berkeley Methodist United Church. Eizo Kobayashi spoke of his memories as a young boy from West Oakland, detained with his mother and brothers, first at Tanforan Assembly Center and then in Topaz, Utah. His Issei father remained in a California hospital while suffering from tuberculosis. Eizo’s stories were vivid and poignant. He spoke of the stench of horse manure in their dwelling, a refurbished horse stall at the Tanforan race track. He described the three day train ride to Utah, told of the regular dust storms and how he and his brothers stuffed gunny sacks with hay to serve as mattresses atop their cots. His family lost their home, their business, their possessions, and in some ways, their father. For a young boy, it was also an adventure. For his mother, it was a tragedy.

Following the service, the congregation shared displays of their own memorabilia. Maru Hiratzka brought a small  wooden chest, hand crafted during the camp years by her uncle, Jimmy Osuga. Harold Hiyashi proudly displayed his mementos from before, during and after the war. Other Nissei shared their stories, too, so that we would not forget.

Harold Hiyashi

Harold Hiyashi

APG PMC 2014

APG PMC, or the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference. What a mouthful. Sounds overwhelming and intimidating. In actuality, this was my first PMC and I found it to be incredibly informative. Speakers were knowledgeable, attendees were enthusiastic and everyone was approachable. I’m eager to start growing my own clientele, particularly Nikkei seeking their federal records.

One Last Stop

There was one last stop to make before heading home: The Family History Center in Hiroo. We decided to go there without an appointment, a cold call, so to speak. We knew the address and the hours (M-F, 9-5). Addresses in Japan are interesting; buildings aren’t numbered in order the way western addresses are done. Instead, buildings are numbered in the order they were built. It’s virtually impossibly to find a location based on the address alone, at least in the traditional manner. Hint: be sure to check google maps before venturing out. We rode a taxi to the vicinity, then walked a block to the LDS office where we were greeted by a receptionist who walked us to the Family History Center. This was really just a small office with two volunteers, but the woman who met us was helpful, informative and bilingual. Our goal was twofold. First, to find out if we could get any outbound shipping records for Sasanji Okazaki in 1898, and second, to see what kind of resources they could provide for people doing Japanese genealogy. Regarding shipping records, she explained that they are in the process of  being indexed  by volunteers but that will take time. I suppose we could hire someone in Japan to look through these records, but that would likely be cost prohibitive. In terms of general research, she explained that the office could help with obtaining koseki records for people, either in Japan or in the United States. I asked if other Family History Centers within Japan should be contacted based on proximity to city offices, but was told that such requests would be redirected to the Tokyo LDS office.

The next step in this learning process will  be to give that a try, perhaps asking them to help with one of the many maternal lines that I haven’t yet researched. In the meantime, it’s time to head home.