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Traveling exhibit coming to Sophienburg

This traveling exhibit has been rescheduled
for Jan. 12-Feb. 9, 2010.

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

The Sophienburg’s first traveling exhibit will be open at the museum on Tuesday, Jan. 12 and stay through Feb. 9. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. excluding Mondays and Sundays.

The exhibit called “Vanished” is about the German-American Civilian Internment that took place from 1941-1948. An organization called “Traces” brings living history to towns and in this case, to Texas towns.

For a donation of $5 to the Sophienburg, one may view narrative panels, see a NBC Dateline documentary, and see a 1945 US Government film. Your donation will also cover your entry into the museum. The sponsoring organization is non-profit and contributions are tax-deductible.

Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation to authorize the US to detain allegedly potential dangerous enemy aliens of Japanese, German, and Italian descent living throughout the US. Thousands were arrested, some did have Axis sympathies, many were released, but many were interned with little or no evidence against them. Remember Roosevelt’s famous saying, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”? How does that fit this situation?

Was there anyone from NB arrested? I don’t know the answer. Was the FBI undercover here? Probably. I do know that everyone who went into the service from predominantly German towns was thoroughly investigated. The flip side to that is that many went into intelligence work because of their knowledge of German.

As a young teenager, I heard stories of Nazi sympathizers in town. The reality was that very few NB Germans had relatives left in Germany because most had been Americans for four or five generations.

There was much discrimination against German-Americans when WWI broke out. By 1918, it was against the law to teach German in the schools, to speak German on the playground or in public places. Both my parents were in elementary school here in NB when that war broke out. Both had been taught in German and English.

When WWII began, the German language was on its way out. Few of my generation can speak German at all. “Wie shade” (What a shame). Supposedly it was unpatriotic to speak German, but a lot of the older people from out in the country couldn’t speak English so you could still hear German in the stores and on the streets in NB.

We have a great family story about speaking German. My dad, Marcus Adams went to A&M College. His freshman year he took German (an easy “A”). Immediately he was put in advanced German because he was good at it. His first assignment was to write an essay in German. He did just that, but he wrote it in Fraktur (old German script). The prof couldn’t read it because they were no longer teaching this old writing in Germany. Dad made straight A’s.

Look at the picture. It takes place in Kenedy, Texas, where a German internment camp was located and where my husband’s family lived. Glyn was the youngest of five children. He remembers the trainloads of prisoners being brought into Kenedy at night. The shades were drawn, supposedly so they wouldn’t know where they were. The camp was an old converted CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) building. Glyn’s sister Joyce was part of the Methodist Youth Group that had permission to sing Christmas songs to the prisoners. She has a vivid memory of the prisoners on the other side of the fence.

Those that died while incarcerated were buried in the city cemetery, but on the other side of the road. Glyn’s mother told me that a young man had been buried there and after the war, his parents made a pilgrimage to Kenedy from overseas once a year to visit his grave.

“Vanished” is a disturbing story. In wartime, fear motivates distrust, and prejudice can result. Come see it.

Camp Kenedy -- German repatriates leaving for Jersey City. (Camp Administration building in background.)

Camp Kenedy -- German repatriates leaving for Jersey City. (Camp Administration building in background.)