Do You Know about Crystal City? What You May Not Know about FDR and World War II


I was fascinated when I received word of a book by Jan Jarboe Russell entitled The Train to Crystal City:  FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only FamilyTraintoCrystalCityChildren Internment Camp During World War II (Scribner, 2015).

Were you aware of what happened?  Have you ever heard of Crystal City, Texas?  See the map below.

I found this review from Amazon.com:

TraintoCrystalCityThe dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families—many US citizens—were incarcerated.  From 1942 to 1948, trains delivered thousands of civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called “quiet passage.” During the course of the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for other more important Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.

Focusing her story on two American-born teenage girls who were interned, author Jan Jarboe Russell uncovers the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families’ subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told.  Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR’s tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.

Who is Jan Jarboe Russell, and why did she write this book?  She is a Texan, through and through.  Her home town is the same as Randy Mayeux, who contributes to this blog.  This is her third book, and she is a frequent contributor to Texas Monthly magazine.  You can read about her on her web site by clicking here.  Here is an excerpt:

Jan Jarboe Russell was born in Beaumont, Texas and grew up in small towns in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Her father was a minister of music in numerous Southern Baptist churches and later had a second career as a social worker. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Books and music were constants in her household. At sixteen-years-old she landed a part-time job TraintoCrystalCityJanJarboeRussellat the weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Advocate, in her hometown and settled on a career as a journalist and author.

She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After graduation, she worked briefly as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, and in 1973 became a political reporter at The San Antonio Light. In 1976, she joined the Hearst Bureau in Washington, D.C. where she focused on Texas politics.

Although this book did make the New York Times best-seller list, it does not fit our content requirements for the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, so you won’t see us present it there.  But, if you love books, and if you may have overlooked this part of Texas history, it seems like a must-read.

Crystal City Location Map

One thought on “Do You Know about Crystal City? What You May Not Know about FDR and World War II

  1. This blog post contains an error. Randy Mayeux only lived in Beaumont for one year. His home town was Harlingen, Texas. He did not know this author. – KJK

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