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Alien Enemy Detention Facility, Crystal City, Texas
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
c. 1943
  • Map
  • Highlights
    Introduction by Argyle R. Mackey, Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization.
    "Detainee welcoming committee" greets new arrivals followed by brief footage of the baggage inspection.
    Aerial footage of the former migratory labor camp and tour of new added features.
    Tour of the grounds, including gardens, housing units, medical cottages, administration buildings, supply trucks, and the facility general store. 
    Arrival of mail truck and the distribution of letters in mailroom.
    Daily delivery of milk and ice.
    My grandfather, Otto Klemm was the ice truck driver. He was there with my grandmother, Alicia Klemm and their children. They were taken from Panama, Central America.
    Tour of hospital and its outdoor beautification project.
    Culinary staff prepping meals. "The food was excellent."
    Supervision of outside farmland. "The Germans did not like farming so this work was performed by the Japanese."
    Japanese recreations areas with footage of sport wrestling and jousting.
    German recreation center and kindergarten.
    Footage of swimming pool, formerly an irrigation tank.
  • Educator links
    Introduction to the film
    Americans arriving at the camp and overview of camp facilities
    Resources and jobs on the camp
    Food preparation and other jobs
    Children on the camp and recreation
  • Transcript
    Presenting Argyle R. Mackey, Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, United States Department of Justice.
    ...Service of the United States Department of Justice, was responsible for the detention and supervision of all civilian alien enemies.
    These aliens were detained in service facilities maintained in the western part of the United States.
    Those who were married, and whose families were dependant upon them for support, presented a special problem.
    This was resolved by establishing a family facility at Crystal City, Texas, 110 miles southwest of San Antonio.
    It was important, of course, that normal living conditions prevail.
    And to that end, those detained were expected to do most of the work in connection with the operation of the facility.
    The cooperation of the detainees, for the most part, was excellent.
    And the long and valuable experience gained through the years by the men and women of the immigration and naturalization service, in dealing with aliens of all nationalities made possible the efficient functioning of the program.
    The filming of the Crystal City facility, which you are about to see, shows how men, women, and children, detainees of World War II, lived, worked, and played, under traditional American standards of decent and humane treatment.
    Here is a party of women and children, arriving in Crystal City following their voluntary decision to join husbands and fathers in detention.
    Practically all the children, and many women, were American born.
    Incoming parties were greeted by a detainee welcoming committee and band music.
    New arrivals and their baggage were examined by inspectors and matrons.
    Money and valuables were placed in the facility safe and detainees given receipts.
    Following the admission procedure they were fed in the central mess.
    They were then escorted to quarters which had been assigned in advance of their arrival.
    The sun shines practically every day of the year with a cool breeze from the gulf in the evening.
    Originally, it was a migratory labor camp of approximately 100 housing units, utility and recreation buildings.
    To provide for a population of 3600, we added more than 500 housing units, school building, a hospital, administrative and maintenance buildings.
    We tripled the number of streets, and extended electric and sewage facilities.
    This is the perimeter, over which armed guards kept a 24 hour watch.
    At night the illuminations and lights along the top of this fence was visible almost to the Mexican border.
    Both groups cultivated flowers with great pride.  Seeds were purchased by them with their own money.  They also paid for and built the screen porches you see.
    For such items, which were considered morale builders, they could draw on their personal funds.
    Each housing unit was furnished with running water, an ice box, beds and linens, chairs, and some with toilet facilities.
    Community showers and latrines were located throughout the area.
    People who had to be isolated for medical purposes were placed in cottages like this, which were equipped with modern conveniences.
    There were about 50 of these in the area.  This is one of the community bathhouses.
    This is the way the houses appeared before the detainees made homes out of them.
    There are the central administration buildings.  
    One of the most important facility functions was internal security.
    This unit supervised repatriation movements, investigations, releases and paroles, allocated housing.
    Another important office was supply and procurement, which supervised the purchase and rationing of food stuffs and other supplies, the general store, canteens, labor.
    Food stuffs were checked into the supply warehouse and then rationed according to a formula based upon the normal needs and size of the family.
    Detainees were issued plastic money each month with which they could purchase these food stuffs in the facility store.
    The system was economical and practical, and it was based upon the dietary customs of each group.
    Here's the mail truck being checked in.  
    Mail is closely tied in with morale and within the restrictions imposed for security purposes, few limitations were place upon the number of letters which could be sent or received.
    Mail was delivered to the internal security office where it was examined by German, Spanish, and Japanese censors.
    The daily milk delivery.  At one time there were 1600 minor children in detention.  2500 quarts of milk were required each day.
    The daily ice delivery.  A very important matter in a climate which often reaches 120 degrees.
    Chores such as the delivery of milk and ice, police duty, the maintenance of good sanitation and hygiene were rotated.  Every man had to take his turn.
    This is the 80 bed hospital which we built.  Those are mesquite trees, familiar to all Texans, you see around it.
    A Japanese gardener, by profession, was responsible for beautifying the grounds.
    There are the public health medical officer and head nurse.
    Ills were often imaginary, traceable to detention, defense, a loss of freedom.
    As many as 60 patients were treated daily in the clinic.
    Japanese and German girls were trained by the public health nurses as aids, were faithful and dependable helpers.
    Young America.  About 250 Americans were born in this hospital.
    This is the operating room.  There were five detainee doctors in the facility, two of whom were Japanese women.
    This is the officers' mess.  
    The culinary staff was entirely Japanese.
    Many couldn't speak English and knew nothing of American cookery so the dietitian had quite a time at first but you can see she really went out for the food was excellent.
    These are school teachers, nurses, members of the administrative staff, and security officers, who lived at the station or in the neighborhood.
    Crystal City is an extremely isolated spot and good food was good for morale.
    The farm was located outside the enclosed area.
    Here is a supervisor, a native Texan, who taught the detainees how to employ scientific methods to the soil.
    The Germans did not like farming, so this work was performed by the Japanese, many of whom were successful west coast truck farmers before detention.
    Those are radishes.  The Japanese boil and serve them as a vegetable.
    About 50% of the fresh vegetables used in the facility were produced on this farm.
    This is the machine shop. The Germans preferred this type of manual work and produced from wood, which we furnished, practically all of the beds, tables, chairs, and other articles of furniture used in the facility. 
    The Germans did practically all of the repair work on the transport.
    Most of the equipment was pre-war and it required constant repair.
    Operating a laundry for approximately 4000 people and the hospital is a big job. 
    Volunteer fire department.
    Here is the sewing project.
    Generally speaking, the German women declined to work outside the home.  So the Japanese women took over community projects such as this.
    They made sheets, pillows, mattresses, aprons, children's clothing, hospital uniforms.
    Layettes, which were a very scarce item during the war, were made from outing flannel.
    Here are some of them being cut.
    And here they are ready for distribution to the hospital.
    There are a few samples of clothing from the sewing project.
    This is a tailor shop.
    Peruvian-Japanese tailors made alterations and repairs for the detainees for which we permitted them to charge a small fee.
    In the clothing store, we provided a very restricted variety of low cost articles of essential clothing.
    Plastic camp money, with which they could purchase these articles, was issued to them with accordance of the size and needs of the family.
    Each family had an annual ration card which was punched as purchases were made.
    There were only a few looms available in the weaving project, but they were very popular.
    Another section of the farm.  
    It pays to be safe, but inoculation always hurts.
    This was another of the facility projects which helped to keep down costs.
    Wrestling, frequently, was conducted with considerable ceremony and formality, as upon this occasion.
    Japanese would rather wrestle, or watch wrestling, than any other sport.
    Now we see the children also enjoying the passtime.
    There is an 11th century sport, jousting, minus the horses, which the Japanese enjoyed very much.
    Detainees exchanging the latest rumors and making calls.
    This is a German recreation center.  There was a small cafe in this building called a waterland[?] where they enjoyed music furnished by their own orchestra.
    The kindergarten was at one end of this building.
    Here are some children at play under the direction of a detainee teacher.
    Here is the American grammar and high school, which was accredited by the Texas State Board of Education.
    Many graduates from this high school went on to college following their release from detention.
    The Japanese required their children to attend the American school in the morning and the Japanese school in the afternoon.
    There is the Japanese school.  Directly in back of those children is the Japanese recreation center.
    Carefully selected movies were shown each week in the two recreation halls.
    This swimming pool was originally an irrigation tank for the farm.
    Seepage of water, in the vicinity of the tank, caused mud holes and unsanitary conditions.
    So it was necessary to wall it in with concrete.
    This was done by the detainees and a cost to the government of about $2500.
    This tank was not only of vital importance to the farm for irrigation purposes and essential to hygiene and sanitation, but it helped greatly to relieve the monotony of detention for teenagers and adults.
    And as you see, it was particularly beneficial to the children.
  • Teach Texas
    Introduction to the film
    Americans arriving at the camp and overview of camp facilities
    Resources and jobs on the camp
    Food preparation and other jobs
    Children on the camp and recreation