Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jan Jarboe Russell

Jan Jarboe Russell is the author of The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.

From her Q & A with Weekend Edition's Rachel Martin:

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: The internment camps where Japanese-Americans were sent during World War II are a well-documented part of American history. One lesser-known camp was called Crystal City in southern Texas. And there, thousands of Japanese immigrants were detained along with many people of German and Italian descent. Hundreds of these Americans were then sent back to their countries of origin in exchange for Americans who were caught behind enemy lines when the war broke out.

Jan Jarboe Russell writes about these secret trade arrangements in a new book called "The Train To Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program And America's Only Family Interment Camp During World War II." Russell writes about the families who came to Crystal City to be with their loved ones who have been detained.

JAN JARBOE RUSSELL: You had wives and fathers and children living in tiny huts in this 290-acre internment camp. It had schools. It had a swimming pool. Of course, it was an internment camp. It had barbed wire fences. It was under constant armed guard. All of the mail in and out of the camp was censored. But most heartbreaking is that President Roosevelt set up a division within the Department of State called the Special War Problems Division.

MARTIN: And this is where we get to the subtitle of your book "The Secret Prisoner Exchange Program."

RUSSELL: In the run-up to the war, the president realized that Americans would be tracked behind enemy lines in Germany and in Japan, especially. And he charged the Special War Problems Division with creating pools of people that he could trade for important Americans - soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, journalists, missionaries.

MARTIN: As you say, these were all Americans who happened to be living abroad when World War II breaks out. And the Roosevelt administration is trying to figure a way to get them home. And they think they have leverage by repatriating German-Americans, Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans. Many of these people were born in America.

RUSSELL: Well, that was the tragedy of Crystal City, not the way the internees were treated. In about the 50 children of the camp that I spent time with and interviewed, some of them say that as hard as it was, those were the best years of their life because they were with their parents and their siblings. And so they aren't resentful about...[read on]
Visit Jan Jarboe Russell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue