Light and Darkness

The comparative analysis of the facilities provided the internees and the treatment accorded them by the American operated Crystal City Internment Camp (Crystal City, Texas, USA) with that offered by the Japanese operated Civilian Assembly Center at Weihsien, Shantung, China, during World War II. The Crystal City Internment Camp was visited sometime between December 16 and December 22, 1943. This visit was conducted by Augusta Wagner, Ph.D., Professor of Economics at Yenching University, Peking, China who returned to the United States from Weihsien on December 1, 1943. Ms. Wagner was an internee at the Weihsien camp in China.

In a general comment Ms. Wagner's report states, "The contrast with the Weihsien camp [and Crystal City] and the attitude of those in control is so marked as to be best described as the difference between light and darkness. " Taken from Ms. Wagner's report attached to a January 14, 1944 [Special War Problems Division, Department of State] memorandum to The Under Secretary, Mr. Watson from J.H. Keeley The following table contains excerpts from Ms. Wagner's report to the U.S. Department of State.

Crystal City Weihsien
General Description

Situated between Uvalde and Carrizo Springs, 125 miles southwest of San Antonio, Texas. Climate sufficiently mild to raise vegetables all year round. Winter mild. We were informed on all side that the summers are uncomfortably hot and dry in this desert country. The camp has a rather barren appearance due to lack of trees and shrubbery, but the director informed us that a tree planting campaign was under way. An orange grove on the outskirts of the enclosure provides a pleasant bit of greenery. A so-called park, an area from which the brush and other desert growth has not been cleared, adjoining the main enclosure, offers a pleasant relief from the general bareness.

Situated between Tsinan and Tsingtao in the interior of Shantung, about 150 miles southeast of Tsinan. The camp is located on the premises of the former Presbyterian Mission of compound. The compound is situated about two mile from the town Weihsien. The compound was attractively landscaped with shrubbery and fine old shade trees, some sixty years old. The climate is pleasant in the spring and fall. The summer heat begins in May, reaching its climax in the month of August. The rainy season begins in August. Heavy rains--road inundated, walls collapsed, water reached sill level of many houses. Roofs leaked. Rain poured into dormitory rooms, kitchens, mess halls. Winters cold and fairly dry. Bitter cold in December, January and February, moderating somewhat in March, but still cold.

Weihsien is probably as hot as [this] desert camp in the summer, but the heat is humid. The trees at Weihsien provide some relief and shade from the heat indoors, which is not true of the [Crystal City] camp visited. The winters in Weihsien are undoubtedly much, much colder than the winters at the [Crystal City] camp.


Numbers housed: 2,000

The internees are housed in cottages, duplexes, and shelters.

The cottages are one story frame buildings, 26'6" x 18' 6" on concrete foundations. Each cottage contains two bedrooms; a combination living room, dining, kitchen room; a bathroom with shower and wash basin with hot and cold running water. These are occupied by the larger families, usually six to a family.

Duplexes are 40' x 18' and contain two separate apartments, 20' x 18' each with a connecting lavatory between the two apartments, containing toilet and wash basin, to be used by both apartments. The duplexes are usually occupied by families of four and five.

The shelters are one room cottages 16' x 12' and are occupied by the small families.

Beds, double-deck bunk for two children, trundle beds where there are babies, are provided.

The shelters had no running water as yet, but I understood it was in process of being put in.

Space available per person ranges from 50 square feet to 100 square feet per person, with 70 square feet as a fair average.

Editor's note: According to page 10 of the September 19, 1945, Historical Narrative of The Crystal City Internment Camp, six types of quarters were provided, "consisting of: (1) one room shelters 12' x 16' to accommodate childless couples and couples with one infant or small child; (2) three types of buildings consisting of four apartments each, containing 210, 242, and 288 square feet, designed to accommodate 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 persons, on the average, respectively; (3) buildings containing 720 square feet of floor space divided into three apartments with one inside toilet in each building; (4) buildings containing 720 square feet of floor space divided into two apartments with one inside toilet in each building, each of which was designed to accommodate six persons; (5) three-room cottages containing 500 square feet of floor space, each with inside toilet and bath, designed to accommodate families suffering from illness, special circumstance, etc.; (6) victory huts (both single and double units 16' x 16' and 16' x 32' respectively) which were added to accommodate population in excess of that planned for."

Number housed: 1,800

Internees were housed in basement and upper story classrooms of school buildings, in a wing of the hospital, and in Chinese former student dormitory quarters--long rows of single rooms with separate entrances to each room. Classrooms were used as dormitories to house "unattached" men and women, certain buildings at one end of the grounds for women, other end for men. Number of persons in dormitory classrooms ranged from ten to thirty--no curtaining, no partitions provided. Each person supposed to have 45 square feet of space.

Dormitory rows of single rooms assigned to families. Rooms 9' x 12', two to four persons, depending on size of family. Four persons barely possible in summer. If there is to be a stove in room in winter, impossible for four.

Armies had previously occupied buildings. Buildings in disrepair, wind and dust swept through cracks and crevices. Difficult to keep warm in winter. The walls were white-washed and floors painted in preparation for internees. Many of the rooms infested with bed-bugs and fleas. No beds, cots, tables, chairs provided. Internees were permitted to bring bed and bedding. Internees who were transferred from Cheefoo to Weihsien just before we left were not permitted to bring their beds--were sleeping on floor. No running water or toilet facilities.

Space available per person 34 to 54 square feet. Official allowance is 45 square feet.

Stoves [last March] in only a few quarters--aged, small children, sick. Small stove in large dormitory rooms totally inadequate. No kindling wood or paper provided. Coal had to be picked by hand from coal heap, considerable distance away. No containers for carrying provided.

Washing, Toilet and Laundry Facilities

Internees housed in cottages have private washing and toilet facilities in their cottages. Duplex residents have lavatory between apartments for use by both halves of duplex. [Duplex residents] use public bath houses. Shelters use conveniently located community latrines and bathhouses. Toilets 1 to every 12 persons, showers 1 to every 15 persons. A central operated laundry for laundering of sheets, pillow cases, work clothes. A central laundry with stationary hand tubs for laundering of personal clothes.

Four blocks of 5 and 6 toilets each, Japanese squat type. Originally meant to flush, but never had, tanks disconnected. Inconveniently located, so close to some buildings that the dormitories were never free of the toilet and cesspool stench, so far away from other buildings as to require a long walk in the outdoors to reach them. 23 toilets in all for 1,800 people. Morning and evening long queues. In reality average was more nearly 1 to 100 people as some of the toilets were continually out of order. The water supply was so limited that very little fresh water was allowed for flushing toilets. Internees brought their own slop water and deposited it in two earthenware jars at the entrance to toilet block. Used empty tin cans to flush toilets. Drain pipes leading to cesspools small and frequently clogged. Cesspools inadequate depth and diameter usually overflowed, flooding surrounding areas with filth and stench. Chinese coolies finally allowed to come in regularly to empty Chinese latrines and to carry away some of the contents of the cesspools.

All requests to be allowed to dig deep army-style open latrines turned down repeatedly. In August buildings containing flush toilets finally screened. No screens Chinese-style toilets. Swarms of flies in toilets and around cesspools.

No toilet paper supplied by authorities, except for a few months to hospital.....

Great difficulty in getting disinfectant and cleaning materials...

Washrooms: 4 washrooms in toilet buildings. A number of faucets arranged over cement troughs. Only a trickle of water occasionally available. 90% of internees used hand basins in own quarters, carrying water from one of several wells....

Showers: 1 shower room for men, 1 for women with about 14 to 16 shower heads in each. Average 1 shower every 60 persons. Showers only place running hot water available. Because of limited amount of water, women only permitted three showers a week, men daily showers. Long queues.

No running water in any living quarters...

Laundry: Five stationary tubs in hospital basement and two in another building. Internees did their laundry in hand-basins and galvanized tin pails (if they could borrow one). Later, possible to send sheets, towels, pillow-cases, heavy clothes to laundry outside. Expensive and badly done. Not many could afford this. For a pictorial view of camp life, it is suggested the reader view the artwork contained at WWII civilian internees held by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies and elsewhere. There are several links within this site that provide a pictorial view of some of Ms. Wagner's descriptions.

Medical Facilities:

Adequate hospital and dental facilities in camp and town of Crystal City. Doctors, nurses employed by authorities. Glasses and dentures provided. Question arising how much should authorities be responsible for paying dentures.

Hospital at Weihsien was originally a fine little hospital. When internees arrived only outer shell left. Everything moveable had been taken away. Great big gaps in wall where pipes had been torn away. Place littered with many months accumulated filth and debris. No cleaning materials or equipment provided by authorities. Nurses, doctors, internees went to clean up place. For a pictorial view of camp life it is suggested the reader view the artwork contained at WWII civilian internees held by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies.

Were able to find enough beds for three twelve-bed wards, five beds for children, an obstetrical room. Patients brought their own mattresses, bedding, linen, wash basins, etc.

Internees accumulated enough equipment for four outpatient clinics, rather sketchily furnished.

[Internee] Doctors gave Japanese authorities list of drugs needed, nothing resulted except a few minor drugs. Copy of list was smuggled out to Swiss representatives who in July got the drugs, along with some cereal and tinned milk, to the hospital. Each person in camp was assessed by internees' committee $60 to pay for his share of cost.

Japanese eventually furnished a rather cheap operating table. a gasoline burner without gasoline, surgical equipment enough to open a boil, some mattress ticking, some sheets, some gauze.

Hospital facilities and equipment dangerously inadequate together with lack of drugs when those on hand used up, since Weihsien is in isolated community of no hospitals. Permission was given for patients to be taken to Peking--long, dirty, difficult, expensive journey

Medical situation serious. Save for good doctors and nurses among internees none supplied by Japanese.

Food, Cooking, Dining Halls:

Storage space adequate and good refrigeration. Internees prepare their own food in own kitchens--Oil stoves with ovens, electric refrigerators, as well as all needed cooking utensils, china and crockery supplied by camp. Equipment furnished of nice quality and attractive. Each housing unit has a sink with running water, except shelters, where water is being put in.

Editor's note: The foregoing description omitted the fact that many internees, both Japanese and Germans, lived in shelters without cooking facilities, thus, they dined en masse in large dining halls. Running water and refrigerators were not available to many of the housing; in addition, but were equipped with ice boxes not refrigerators.

Internees purchase food in camp store with camp scrip. Allowance for adults is $4.00 a week, decreasing amounts for children. It is possible to purchase good nutritional diets with the allowances.

Adults able to have per week:

  • 5 pounds of meat and fish
  • 7 eggs
  • 7 pounds, 10 oz. milk and cheese
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds oils and fats
  • 3 pounds 8 oz. of cereals and flour
  • 3.5 pounds of dried beans
  • 17 oz. of sugar, 3 oz. of syrup
  • 3 pounds 1 oz. of leafy vegetables
  • 2 pounds 3 oz. of citrus fruit or tomatoes
  • 3 pounds 8 oz. potatoes
  • 7 pounds 6 oz. other vegetables, fruits, dry fruits
  • 11 oz. miscellaneous
  • 11 oz. beverages
  • Possible for children to have one quart of milk per day

There were three mess halls with attached kitchens and a small hospital diet mess hall. The Peking mess served 400 to 440 people, Tienstsin mess 600, Tsingtua mess 800.

A small storeroom and butchery was assigned to each kitchen in the case of the Peking kitchen a distance away. A family-size electric refrigerator and an ice-box were eventually installed in the butchery. For [illegible three lines] the property of some of the internees, but had been transported to the camp by the authorities. In addition there were 12 other refrigerators and ice-boxes which had been taken from the internees. These were used by the 50 or so Japanese guards and officials for their private use. As a result of the lack of refrigeration much food had to be discarded because of spoilage. The camp suffered from epidemics of diarrhea and appeared to be dysentery.

There were no equipped, stocked, refrigerated warehouses. A former residence was used as a central storage house. Vegetables, meat and fish rotted and spoiled because of poor storage. At the end of summer permission granted to internees to build an ice-box for general storeroom for meat. Poor makeshift. Japanese storekeeper inadequate for job. Finally persuaded upon to allow internee supply committee to divide food among mess halls.

Meat came from army slaughterhouse thirty miles away, sent by train, unrefrigerated, often uncovered. Rooms for preparation of meat swarmed with flies, meat covered with larvae in brief period of time necessary for preparation.

Kitchens painfully small. Kitchen where food for Peking internees was prepared was no larger that a kitchen in a modern American small apartment, but there was nothing modern about the kitchen. Contained a Chinese stove, no oven, two large cauldrons with fire boxes underneath, a ledge about 1.5 feet wide on which to place things, a sink without running water. The only equipment consisted of two large frying pans, two family -sized copper pots, some galvanized tin pails (poor quality) a dozen paring knives, 4 bread knives, a couple of crocks and bowls. Everything else in kitchen equipment--knives, forks, ladles, plates, bowls, pans, beaters, grinders, containers provided by internees.

Running water in two of the kitchens. In others all water used in cooking, cleaning and drinking had to be pumped, carried and boiled. At end of mess hall, opposite to kitchen end, a small room with two cauldrons of boiling water.

Dining room tables and benches badly made of poor wood, difficult to keep from falling apart and difficult to keep clean. Seating space inadequate. Long queues, two and three sittings.

Occasionally a mob or broom for cleaning was issued, by authorities, but never without a struggle. Internees furnished cleaning cloths, soap, powder, etc. where they had it to spare.

Authorities were given lists of equipment needed in kitchen and for preparation and serving of food. Nothing ever came of this.

Below is the quantity of food in ounces supplied per day. Often it was necessary to discard considerable amounts of meat and vegetables unfit for human consumption.

  • Meat 5 oz.
  • Potatoes 10.2 oz.
  • Vegetables 13.6 oz.
  • Bread 16.6 oz
  • Sugar 0.6 oz.
  • Margarie 0.2 oz.
  • Fish 0.8 oz.
  • Tea 0.1 oz
  • Coffee substitute 0.1 oz.
  • Jam 0.03 oz.
  • Flour 0.2 oz.
  • Oil 0.4 oz.
  • Eggs 0.14 (pc)

Actual caloric intake 1905, but of which 1175 was from flour in some form. Calcium alarming inadequate. Egg shells salvaged and ground to supply calcium. No milk except as issued by hospital. At highest point 35 gallons sour milk for 1800 people, usually 25 gallons per day.