The New York Times bestselling dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II: “A must-read….The Train to Crystal City is compelling, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down” (Star-Tribune, Minneapolis).
During World War II, trains delivered thousands of civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during the war, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage.” Hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City were exchanged for other more ostensibly important Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.
“In this quietly moving book” (The Boston Globe), Jan Jarboe Russell focuses on two American-born teenage girls, uncovering the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families’ subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told.
Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and above all, “is about identity, allegiance, and home, and the difficulty of determining the loyalties that lie in individual human hearts” (Texas Observer).
During WWII, thousands of people of German, Italian, and Japanese descent living in the United States and Latin America were imprisoned as potential enemy aliens and forced to live in internment camps. Sometimes entire families were gathered together and shipped to a camp outside of Crystal City, Tex., to be traded for Americans imprisoned overseas. Russell (They Lived to Tell the Tale) draws on historical records and extensive interviews to revisit a confusing, shameful episode in American history. Using two American-born teenagers as her focal points one of Japanese descent, the other German she examines the process that transformed law-abiding Americans, regardless of citizenship, into internees and repatriated many to countries they'd never known. Russell pulls no punches describing the cost of war and the conditions internees endured. "The fundamental questions of citizenship, the status of aliens indeed the definition of who is and who is not an American are perennial. The travesty in Crystal City," Russell notes, "is that in the effort to win the war... the cost to civil liberties was high." Though Russell sometimes loses focus while delivering the full story in all its detail, it's nevertheless a powerful piece.