By Mr. FEINGOLD (for himself, Mr. GRASSLEY, and Mr. KENNEDY):
S . 1356 . A bill to establish a commission to review the facts and circumstances surrounding injustices suffered by European Americans, European Latin Americans, and European refugees during World War II; to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Wartime Treatment of European Americans and Refugees Study Act. This bill would create a Commission to review the United States Government's treatment during World War II of German Americans, Italian Americans, certain Latin Americans, and refugees of Nazi Germany.
I am very pleased that my distinguished colleagues, Senators GRASSLEY and KENNEDY, have joined me as cosponsors of this important bill. I particularly want to thank them for their input and valuable contributions to this bill.
The allied victory in the Second World War was an American triumph, and most of all, a triumph for human freedom. Today we rightly celebrate the contributions of what Tom Brokaw has called the Greatest Generation, the courage displayed by so many Americans in that terrible struggle should be a source of pride for every American.
Those Americans fought, and often gave their lives, to restore freedom and democracy abroad. But, as brave Americans fought enemies in Europe and the Pacific, here at home the U.S. government was curtailing the freedom of its own people. Of course, every nation has the duty to protect its homefront in wartime. But, even in war, we must respect the basic freedoms for which so many Americans have given their lives, including untold numbers of German and Italian Americans.
Many Americans are by now aware that during World War II, under the authority of Executive Order 9066, our government forced more than 100,000 ethnic Japanese from their homes and into camps. This evacuation policy forced Japanese Americans to endure great hardship. Approximately 15,000 additional ethnic Japanese were selectively interned in government operated internment camps. They often lost their basic freedoms, their livelihood, and perhaps worst of all, suffered the shame and humiliation of being locked behind barbed wire and military guard, by their own government. Under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, this shameful episode in American history received the official condemnation it deserved. Under the Act, people of Japanese ancestry who suffered either relocation or selective internment received an apology and reparations, on behalf of the people of the United States.
But, while the treatment of Japanese Americans has finally received the attention it deserves by the public, most Americans have never even heard about the approximately 11,000 ethnic Germans living in America, the 3,200 ethnic Italians living in America, or the scores of ethnic Bulgarians, Hungarians, Rumanians or other European Americans who were taken from their homes and placed into internment camps during World War II. Hundreds remained interned for up to three years after the war was over.
Today I introduce legislation to convene an independent commission to examine this tragic history, try to understand why it happened, and to try to ensure that it never happens again. We must learn the lessons of history, however painful they might be for us, and for the families that endured this shameful treatment. In a time of American heroism abroad, here at home we faltered. We failed to protect the liberty of all Americans. Through our restrictive immigration policies, we also failed to offer safe harbor to European refugees fleeing Nazi genocide. We turned away thousands of refugees fleeing Germany, delivering many of them to their deaths.
As a Nation we have been slow to address our conduct during the war. There has finally been some measure of justice for Japanese Americans who suffered in the United States, however little or however late. And Congress has finally begun to address the treatment of Italian Americans. Last year, the President signed into law The Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties Act, which called for a report from the Department of Justice detailing injustices suffered by Italian-Americans during World War II. I believe that this is a step in the right direction, but an independent panel should be convened to conduct a full and thorough review.
I think many Americans would be surprised to learn that, to this day, more than 50 years later, there has been no recognition of the ordeal of thousands of German Americans during and after the Second World War. There has been no justice for ethnic Germans living in America who were branded ``enemy aliens'' by their own government. The U.S. government limited their travel, imposed curfews and seized their personal property. Thousands were interned in camps, often separated from other members of their family, living in miserable conditions. Many of these families, including American children, were later shipped back to war-torn Europe in exchange for Americans held there, and suffered terribly. It is past time for the U.S. Government to recognize the pain and anguish these actions caused.
And there has been no justice for European Latin Americans, including German and Austrian Jews, who were actually repatriated or deported to hostile, war-torn European Axis powers, often as part of an exchange for Americans being held in those countries. The U.S. government uprooted these people from their homes and forced them into camps in the United States, essentially kidnaping them from nations not even directly involved in the War. Again, many were then shipped for exchange to Europe.
And finally, there has been no justice for Europeans, often Jews, who sought refuge from the Nazis on our shores. We must examine the U.S. immigration policies of the 1930s and 1940s that turned these people away, and often delivered them into the hands of the Third Reich.
This legislation proposes an independent commission to look at U.S. policies during World War II, including the policies regarding German and Italian Americans, European Latin Americans, and the refugee immigration policies of the World War II era.
In the 1940s, Germans and Italians were the two largest foreign-born populations in the United States. Under the policy put in place by the U.S. government, thousands of aliens were simply arrested by the FBI. Far more often than not, these arrests were based on highly questionable evidence. Those arrested were held indefinitely pending a hearing. Many times their families did not know where they had been taken for weeks, and if both parents were taken, children were often left to fend for themselves until family members or local governments took custody of them.
They received a brief hearing before local hearing boards during which the local U.S. Attorney acted as prosecutor. The hearing boards then recommended to the Department of Justice whether they should be released, paroled, or interned for the duration of the War. Despite the serious nature of this proceeding, those arrested did not have the right to have their own lawyer and did not have the right to confront witnesses against them. The hearing boards would then send their recommendations to the Department of Justice, where a final determination could take months. Internment orders were issued for the duration of the war. Ironically, many were interned on Ellis Island, where immigrants had been welcomed for decades.
Families, often left destitute, struggled to survive and often lost their homes. Finally, the government would permit families to join their loved ones in a family camp, where they would live indefinitely behind barbed wire. These spouses and children were frequently American citizens.
In addition to internment, all enemy aliens during World War II were subject to strict regulations affecting their daily lives. Enemy aliens were required to carry photo-bearing identification booklets at all times, were forbidden to travel beyond a five mile radius of their homes, were required to turn in any short wave radios and cameras they owned. They were required to given the government a full-week's notice if they planned to spend a night away from home, and could not ride in airplanes. Thousands of enemy aliens were prohibited from entering military zones, some even evacuated from their homes. Many aliens and European American citizens were also subject to restrictions in or excluded from military areas that collectively covered one-third of the country.
As I've said, there has been some recognition of the wrongs done to Italian Americans during the war, but there has yet to be any formal recognition of the pain that German American families went through. So I want to take a few moments to give examples to help my colleagues and the public understand the kind of harassment they endured.
The FBI searched tens of thousands of alien residences between 1943 and 1945. The stories of homes ransacked, or people being taken from their families for years, are chilling. Take the case of Guenther Greis. Mr. Greis, as U.S. citizen, was 17 years old when World War II began in 1941. On December 7, 1941 Guenther's father, a German citizen who had lived in the U.S. for at least 15 years, and worked in the chemical industry, was arrested.
Weeks passed before Guenther, his mother, and his family of four boys, three born in the United States, finally learned where their missing father had been taken. He was to be interned for the duration of the war. In the meantime, Guenther's family had struggled to keep their home. Even as their father was being detained by the government, two sons enlisted in the merchant Marines and served in the Pacific War Zone on behalf of the United States. The remaining family eventually was sent to the internment camp in Crystal City, TX, until Guenther and his brother were released in 1946. Guenther's parents remained interned until 1947, two years after the end of the war. To this day, the Greis family does not have explanation of why their father was interned.
Or take the story of Anton Schroeger, a German citizen who came to America at the age of 16, and by the time World War II began, had lived half his life in America. When World War II broke out, Anton was lucky to have a relatively high paying job as a skilled painter at the Milwaukee Road repair shops. Based on what Anton believed to be a false tip from somebody who wanted his job, however, Anton was arrested while at work, and taken to a series of interment camps. After his arrest, his wife, Anna, insisted on joining him in the internment camps, and, in fact, gave birth to a daughter in a camp in Texas. After World War II, Anton earned a living working at lower paying jobs. Despite this ordeal, Anton eventually became a U.S. citizen in 1952. His family is certain that Anton did not engage in any activity that deserved such treatment.
Let me say here that there may have been people affected by these policies
who harbored sympathy for our adversaries, and was potentially dangerous. And every government must take steps to protect its homefront in a time of war. But even the people who may have posed a threat to our security should have had the basic protections enshrined in our Constitution. War tests all of our principles and values, without question. But it is during these times of conflict, and fear, that we need to protect those principles the most.
At least 11,000 German-Americans were placed in internment camps during WWII. Thousands more were denied basic freedoms that most of us today take for granted. These Germans and German-Americans deserve a full fact-finding review and acknowledgement from the U.S. government, and they deserve to have their story told so that we may strive to ensure that the individual rights of all Americans will remain free from arbitrary persecution.
The work of the commission created by this bill would include a review of The Alien Enemy Act of 1798, which permitted this treatment under U.S. law and remains on the books today. So, the first act of the Commission would involve a full and thorough review of the federal government's treatment of European Americans and European Latin Americans.
The second part of the Commission's work would be to study America's treatment of refugees from Nazi Germany. After Hitler took power in 1933, the freedoms of German Jews were eroded until many of them sought desperately to flee the country. First came an economic boycott, the loss of civil rights, citizenship, and jobs.
Then, in November 1938, came the Kristallnacht pogrom, and ultimately, incarceration and systematic murder in concentration camps. Unfortunately, as restrictions began to tighten and many Jews sought refuge outside of Nazi Germany, America, instead of acting as a haven for these refugees, was tightening its immigration rules. Between 1933 and 1939, 300,000 Germans, mostly Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, applied for visas to America. Yet only about 90,000 applicants were ever admitted into our nation.
The requirements just to be considered for a visa were formidable. An applicant had to submit an application, a birth certificate, a certificate of good conduct from the German police, affidavits of good conduct, submit to a physical exam, proof of permission to leave a country of origin, proof of booked passage to the U.S., two sponsors in America, and on and on. These requirements made immigrating to the U.S. very difficult. Then, in 1941, a new regulation forbidding the granting of a visa to anyone who had relatives in an Axis-occupied territory essentially made seeking refuge in America impossible for many Jews.
Thanks to research conducted by the United States Holocaust Museum and other American scholars, we now have a fuller understanding of the ramifications of U.S. immigration policies. To put the tragic results of those policies into perspective, I'll recount the fate of the passengers aboard a ship called the St. Louis. The St Louis sailed from Hamburg in April 1939 with 937 passengers aboard. Over 900 of those passengers were Jews, attempting to flee Germany. America denied entry to the refugees on the ship, and it eventually sailed back to Antwerp in June 1939. From there, the refugees frantically searched for new countries to offer them protection. Some of them succeeded, while many did not, and were later detained and killed at Auschwitz.
Some attempts were made to allow the most vulnerable of these refugees, children, into the United States. On February 9, 1939 the Wagner-Rogers refugee bill was introduced in this very Senate. The bill would have allowed admission to the United States of 20,000 German refugee children under the age of 14 over a period of two years, in addition to the immigration normally permitted. But sadly, that bill was not even considered by the full Senate.
The United States' failure to offer refuge to Jews attempting to flee the Nazis is one of the most shameful periods in our history. We closed our borders to people fleeing persecution, and at the same time, within those borders, we treated too many people of ``enemy ethnicity'' as threats to a national security. The purpose of this proposed commission, is to understand and acknowledge the United States' actions during this period. As a Nation, we have repeatedly called on other countries to acknowledge their wartime offenses against civilians. Today we have to ask of ourselves what we ask of other nations--why did we do it, and how can we prevent it from happening again?
During the Second World War, we defeated terrible enemies abroad, but we also lost something of ourselves as we denied freedoms to people at home. For many, the nation they called home would never be the same to them after their loyalty was questioned, and their lives were ripped apart. Too many German and Italian Americans were harassed and humiliated by the country where they lived, struggled, raised children, ran businesses, and built their dreams for a better life. This was the country they chose, like millions before them, and like each and every one of us. I hope by establishing a commission we can better understand how we allowed such a gross injustice, and how we can guard against implementing similar policies in the future.
No American can justify using ethnicity as a basis for the terrible treatment these people endured. And there's no way we can justify the policy which allowed European Latin Americans to be torn from their homes, brought here to the U.S. under deplorable conditions to be interned, and sometimes deported back to hostile European nations. Finally, there's surely no way we can justify our World War II era immigration policy, which undoubtedly led to the deaths of thousands of people--people who turned to the U.S., in fear and desperation, for a safe harbor, and were tragically turned away.
We cannot learn from this troubling history unless we first seek to acknowledge it and understand it. Coming to terms with these events will be difficult, but for the families who suffered under these wartime policies, it will be, at long last, a recognition of the ordeal they went through at the hands of their own government. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, so that we can learn from this painful past, and ensure that we will never again let our worst fears drive us to neglect our most cherished freedoms. Thank you, Mr. President.
I ask unanimous consent that the full text of the Wartime Treatment of European Americans and Refugees Study Act be printed in the RECORD. Click here >>S.1356 to read the bill as introduced by Senator Feingold.
Please note that page numbers in [ ] s within this document represent page numbers of the Congressional Record.