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History of United Tribes And Fort Lincoln

Internment Period

Internment Camp Entrance
Fort Lincoln Internment Camp Front Gate. Photo Courtesy Junichi Yamamoto

At the end of the 1930s, military events in Europe leading up to World War II caused great fear among Americans and concerns about national security. Suspicion was cast upon all people in the United States who were descended from or associated with the aggressor countries of the Axis powers: Germany, Italy and Japan. Alien registration was put into effect in 1940 and five million people registered.

Following the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued proclamations deeming all German, Italian and Japanese aliens as “enemy aliens” pursuant to the Alien Enemies Act. The FBI began making arrests of people with these ancestries. This became the Alien Enemy Control Program, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. Over 31,000 people, almost all men, were detained and held in internment camps around the United States over the course of World War II. Some were released after immigration hearings, some were used in prisoner exchanges during the war, and others were deported.

Guard Tower
Fort Lincoln Internment Camp Guard Tower along fence line. Photo Courtesy SHSND

In early 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, setting off the wholesale removal of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry living along the Pacific Coast into War Relocation camps. Most were American citizens; included were entire families – men, women and children. Livelihoods came to an end, property and possessions were lost or destroyed. All suffered confinement and loss of freedom; some perished. A small number of the men who protested were separated from their families and sent to alien enemy internment camps and suffered the loss of their birthright as U.S. citizens.

In 1988, the government enacted reparations and apologized for the Japanese internment, saying “a grave injustice was done to both citizens and resident aliens of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation and internment of civilians during World War II.” No such apology has been issued for the same treatment of people of other ancestries.

Fort Lincoln Internment Camp

Helping a man out of a train
Japanese internees arrive in Bismarck. Photo Courtesy SHSND

In the early part of 1941, the former military post Fort Lincoln was modified for confinement purposes in the U.S. Justice Department’s Alien Enemy Control Program. Fences and gates were barely in place on May 31, 1941 for arrival of the first group of internees, German seaman from commercial ships in U.S. waters. A portion of the post, containing the three large brick barracks buildings and several smaller brick buildings, along with wood-frame barracks buildings, was ringed with tall fences topped with barbed wire. Seven guard towers stood at intervals along the fences. Signs at the guard station at the front entrance warned visitors not to enter under the familiar iron archway displaying the post’s name in metal letters overhead. Employees of the Border Patrol of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service staffed the compound.

Into the camp over the next five years were brought other German nationals, people from other eastern European countries, and those of Japanese ancestry born in the United States and therefore U.S. citizens, and those foreign born and naturalized citizens. The first group of Japanese were from the Terminal Island fishing village at San Pedro, California, who arrived by train in the cold of a North Dakota winter on February 9, 1942. The jarring relocation to a “Snow Country Prison” was in stark contrast to their lives and work as fishermen in southern California. Their treatment like criminals, loss of freedom and separation from family brought on feelings of loneliness, sadness and shame that became common for those caught up in the alien enemy dragnet and war hysteria of World War II.

Internees in brick barracks building. Photo Courtesy Junichi Yamamoto

Camp life was characterized by long periods of boredom and cold, particularly in the wood-frame barracks buildings. The different populations of Germans and Japanese lived and ate separately but were allowed to socialize. Internees had their own leadership and organizational system, with work details, education and training classes, and recreations, including soccer, ice hockey, and swimming. By 1943 internees were permitted to work away from the camp in railroad track gangs.

The internee population changed periodically as groups were transferred to and from other camps and relocation centers, and as internees underwent immigration hearings to decide their fate. The total number who passed through Fort Lincoln during the course of the war is believed to be between 3,850 and 4,000.

Two groups with Japanese ancestry totaling 750 men, who were considered disloyal to the United States, were brought to Fort Lincoln near the end of the war in 1945. These men were U.S. citizens who had protested their confinement and loss of constitutional rights, and answered “no” on a loyalty oath administered by the government. They were labeled “renunciants” in terms of their citizenship, segregated from the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camp population in California, and sent to Fort Lincoln. Renouncing one’s citizenship under duress of confinement was later found to be unconstitutional.

Following the war, in early 1946, the last of the internees left Fort Lincoln and the camp was closed. A few of the German internees remained in Bismarck/Mandan, became naturalized citizens, found jobs, raised families and lived their lives near the place of their World War II confinement.

German internees attending class at Fort Lincoln. Photo Courtesy Ursula Potter
Map of Fort Lincoln Internment Camp
Map of Fort Lincoln Internment Camp

German internee group outside Building 31. Photo Courtesy Ursula Potter
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