Hear About What Happened on ‘The Train From Crystal City’

A look at a relatively unexplored part of Texas history: an internment camp during World War II that help families of German, Italian and Japanese descent.

By Alain StephensDecember 18, 2015 10:25 am,

“No more Muslims,” said Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in a call to clamp down on immigration for the sake of security.

It’s not the first time the U.S. has targeted foreign nationals in the wake of terror or war. Seventy years ago, the notion materialized in the form of internment camps, which held Japanese, German, and Italian citizens during World War II. One of those camps was located in Crystal City, Texas, a place where those interned would be exchanged for more “important” Americans caught behind enemy lines.

It’s the subject of a new book, “The Train To Crystal City” by Jan Jarboe Russell, named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times.

 On how Crystal City changed in World War II: 

“It existed in order to reunite enemy alien fathers with their children, so the head of the Immigration Naturalization Service was looking for a place that was far away from the West and East coast, a place that he could have a secret camp, and that place turned out to be Crystal City.”

On why families were used as leverage: 

“During the war, Crystal City became the center of Roosevelt’s prisoner exchange program. There were six different prisoner exchanges from Crystal City. There were about 6,000 people that we know of that were in the camp between 1942 and 1948, which was three long years after the war was over.

“Thousands of Japanese and German fathers with their wives and mostly American-born children were traded into these countries for more important Americans who were trapped behind enemy lines, and that would have been prisoners of war, missionaries, businessmen who needed a way out.”

On what the internment camp looked like:

“The camp was located on 290 acres. It was a former migrant worker camp and it had 10-foot high barbed wire fences. It had six guard posts . . . manned by border patrol agencies who were armed, so each morning, the camp came alive.

“There were three schools . . . it’s the only family internment camp which had multiple nationalities.”

Listen to the full interview in the player above.

History in Five: FDR’s Secret Enemy Exchange Program with Jan Jarboe Russell