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New Book Reveals The U.S.’s Secret WWII Prisoner Exchange Program

A new book details the secret prisoner exchange program implemented by the Roosevelt administration.

Aerial photo of the Crystal City Alien Enemy Detention Facility. Image via the Texas Historical Commission.

Anyone who’s been through the fourth grade is probably familiar with the U.S.’s dark history of interning Japanese-Americans during World War II. A much lesser known story, however, is being brought to light in a new book called The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell which details how the U.S. secretly kidnapped thousands of Japanese-, German- and Italian-Americans to use in a clandestine prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage”. The Roosevelt administration repatriated people of Japanese, German and Italian descent, many of whom were born in the U.S., in swaps for American prisoners held hostage during and after wartime. In the meantime, the kidnapped civilians were interned at Crystal City from 1942 to 1948, when the internment camp was shut down.


“In the run-up to the war, the president realized that Americans would be tracked behind enemy lines in Germany and in Japan, especially,” said Russell to NPR. “And he charged the Special War Problems Division with creating pools of people that he could trade for important Americans - soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, journalists, missionaries.”

Russell interviewed about 50 people who were children when they were interned at the camp, but focuses the story on two teenage girls—Ingrid Eiserloh and Sumi Utsushigawa—who were born in the U.S. but were repatriated to Germany and Japan, respectively, with their families.

“The Germans thought that these American-born kids were spies,” said Russell. “And despite all of that, these people - Ingrid and Sumi and a lot of other kids that were in the Crystal City camp traded with their families into war became astonishingly resilience American loyalists and made their way back to the United States after the war was over, even though their country had betrayed them.”

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Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

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"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

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