Unknown to most Americans, more than 10,000 Germans and German Americans were interned in the United States during WWII. I was born in the U.S.A. and this story describes my perilous path from my home in Brooklyn to internment at Ellis Island, N.Y. and then to Crystal City, Texas, and finally to imprisonment, after the war, at a place in Germany called Hohenasperg.
Hohenasperg has been a prison for centuries. It has been used to imprison poets, economists, political prisoners, traitors, and others thought to be enemies of the state. The Nazis murdered Jews here. Terrorists have been imprisoned here. It is surrounded by an abysmal and wide moat followed by towering walls. It is a thirty-minute drive from Stuttgart, and a ninety-minute drive from Nuremberg, and it is said of this place that those who go up the hill do not come back. And even though I was just a kid of 12, I was locked in a cell in this place.
Sitting alone and frightened in that cell I asked myself many questions. What did I do to be treated like this? I had no idea why Americans would treat another American so harshly. I was just a kid! Was I dangerous? Why was I yelled at? Why did they call me a "little Nazi?" It was cold, wet, and dreary in my cell-it was stark! It was beyond scary. It was frightening. It was madness. Why did my fellow Americans, soldiers in the United States Army, shout orders at me? I am not a Nazi; I am an American, I thought to myself. Why didn't I have papers that proved I was an American? I believe I was able to keep my sanity only because I always searched for a mental escape from the horrors I was facing. Thus, during my stay in this place, I would have flashbacks. How did I get here?
I thought about my fifty-mile trip in the rear of the army truck that took us (about 25 persons in the truck I was in) from the ship at the port of Bremerhaven to the city of Bremen. It did not look like a city. It was just a huge pile of rubble. We passed one pile of rubble after another. Where buildings once stood, now there was nothing but heaps of bricks and mortar-ruins. In some instances there were only walls standing amidst the destruction caused by the bombing and fire bombing of the city, mile after mile the scene was the same.
I could see what looked like old women pulling hand wagons in which they had placed the bricks they had picked from the piles of rubble. They would put the bricks in the wagon, pull the wagon to where bricks were stacked, and then they would take each brick out of the wagon, one by one, and place it neatly on the stack.
I had a good view of all this from where I sat at the very back of the truck. You might say I had "the best seat in the house." I was ordered to sit there by the armed military guard. I can still hear the loud flapping of the truck's tarpaulin. I remember the cold wind whipping in from the back end, while I sat there shivering and the winds whipped into and around my frozen feet.
Throughout that nightmare journey I hung on to my seat the best I could as the driver sped over the cobblestone roads and swerved to miss the potholes. And when the truck hit a pothole, I nearly bounced out, but somehow I managed to hold on. Why, I wondered, was I ordered to sit at the very back of the truck?
I remember that we passed one section of the city where there were no buildings, not even shells or walls of structures - nothing - just rubble, and now, still shivering, I found myself locked up as part of this vision of hell.
Arthur D. Jacobs