Challenges of Internment

Internee Correspondence Selection #1: Reflections on life at Crystal City

A letter of thanks written to James O'Rourke for helping him overcome the challenges he faced during internment. From the O'Rourke (James) Crystal City Internment Camp Papers, 1937-1950.

In this correspondence by a German internee, the emotional and tolls of internment are made clear, indicating that the injustices of the internment system still affected those contained at Crystal City. Reminiscing on his time at the camp, the writer points to how his time in internment made him "so discomposed, it got [him] down in this state of mind" where he "might have done the wrong thing" had O'Rourke not talked to him. He does admit that he "got a job right away and [was] doing fine," and relates a story of how O'Rourke helped him, but he looks back on his time at Crystal City as a depressing and fearful experience, caused by an uncertainty of what would happen to him. This is understandable, as people with German ancestry had been deported after their internment, even if they were born in the United States. This unknown, paired with the difficulty of starting over and getting a job after years out of the labor market, made internment a frightening experience for internees. Thus, while thankful that the camp's administrator was more benevolent than others, the effects that internment had on the writer of the correspondence still reflect nationwide trends: emotional distress, fear of and difficulty with finding employment after release, and relief for no longer living behind a fence.

Internee Correspondence Selections #4: A Letter to the Officer in Charge of Crystal City

Letter to O'Rourke requesting a reference of good character in order that his thesis be reviewed by the USC university committee. From the O'Rourke (James) Crystal City Internment Camp Papers, 1937-1950.

A similar unease emerges in this letter, written by a Japanese internee. His Ph.D. thesis suspended because of his internment, the internee has to provide evidence that he is "a man of principle," in order for his work to reach the university committee for reviewal. In consequence, he asks O'Rourke to provide a reference on his behalf based on his work as dean of the Japanese school. Well written, the writer's words remind the reader of how people's lives were put on hold because of internment. Despite being clearly innocent, his thesis centering around the common good that can be achieved through promoting unity and understanding among all people, he was interned anyways, and while conditions at Crystal City weren't as bad as at other camps, he still calls his internment the most difficult period of his life. Another thing to note is that many of the Japanese internees of Crystal City that held positions of authority, such as religious leaders, academics, or business owners, were usually perceived as greater threats to national security. Hence, the internee's identity as a scholar in training adds to the narrative of Crystal City and refutes this idea that all internees were dangerous or non-patriotic, many often the opposite. For more information about the conditions and events surrounding Crystal City Family Internment Camp, seeĀ this report, written by the camp's officer in charge.