Camp Administration

Internee Correspondence Selections #3: Letter Officer in Charge About Return to Seattle

Correspondence describing an internee's return to Seattle after his time at Crystal City. From the O'Rourke (James) Crystal City Internment Camp Papers, 1937-1950.

The following letter addressed to James O'Rourke sheds light on internees' opinions about the camp's administration. In it, the internee thanks O'Rourke for arranging his freedom and "securing [his] permanent stay in this country." He then relates a story of how the officer called an inspector from Los Angeles who "spent practically all day in getting a pullman reservation," for Rev. Hirashima, an elderly man in his care. Going above what is traditionally expected of an officer in charge of an internment camp, O'Rourke's kindness suggests the relative benevolence of his administration. It is important to emphasize this relativity, as the camp was still a fenced off, monitored community that internees could not leave. Since the internment camp was headed by the justice department and the INS, precepts for treating prisoners of war from the Third Geneva Convention were stringently enforced. But, by being subject to such conditions to begin with, those interned were still classified as prisoners even though the vast majority of those contained were innocent. Hence, this kindness, while perhaps indicative of a more understanding administration, does not make the situation of the internees justifiable, still separated from society for little reason beyond descent. Moreover, the writer still experiences difficulty because of his internment, having to "look for some job to make a living" until he can return to his previous occupation. This was a common predicament for internees, who had to abandon their livelihoods to live in the camps.

Internee Correspondence Selection #2: Letter of Thanks to Officer in Charge

Internee correspondence thanking James O'Rourke for his efficient and professional management of the Camp. From the O'Rourke (James) Crystal City Internment Camp Papers, 1937-1950.

This letter, written by a German internee, provides more evidence that James O'Rourke was held in a positive light by at least a few internees. Despite having never met the man, the internee is grateful for the life that he and his family managed to live while interned at Crystal City. Beyond gratitude, he also expresses surprise at the decency with which he was treated. This favorable depiction of the camp, which indicates that Crystal City was better than other detention centers, is roughly accurate, due to the various amenities that internees had access to, but should still be taken with scrutiny. Internment facilities that functioned like self-sustaining communities such as Crystal City were often run this way to make the interned less spiteful towards the administration, and thus easier to survey. Moreover, the Internment Camp had an incentive to look like a well-run community because it was near a civilian population, which enforced some form of accountability as well. In other words, benevolent administration was often employed to make regulating the interned population easier, meaning that O'Rourke, while perhaps a kind and benevolent person, was likely acting to enforce the standards of containment that he and his administration established for running the camp properly.