The internment of Japanese-Americans after the Pearl Harbor attack is well documented, but few remember that in Hawaii, Europeans were interned as well. This piece looks at some of the stories from survivors of those camps.
How European Immigrants in Hawaii Fared After Pearl Harbor
JOE GARAGIOLA , anchoring:
You know, it’s hard to imagine the kind of panic that was triggered by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Not only were Japanese Americans rounded up here on the islands, but NBC’s Bob Dotson reminds us of something long forgotten; that they rounded up Europeans too.
BOB DOTSON, reporting:
It was a sunrise of fire. And the memory still burns. These sizzling seas sent the United States into World War II, half a century ago this year. Before the day bled away, one hundred ten thousand people were arrested in American for what another country did. Most looked like the Japanese who attacked Pearl Harbor, but in Hawaii, they rounded up European-Americans too.
ALFRED PREIS (European Detainee): We went and were brought down in a darkened city, at snake pace and dead silent, interrupted by shots from time to time.
DOTSON: Alfred Preis and his wife Janna were picked up in the first long breath after the bombs.
PREIS: And she was taken away and I never saw her for a long time. And I felt a cold sharp object in my back and they said, “Go ahead now,” until I came to a steel ladder, a stairway. And he pushed me up with a bayonet. I opened the door myself and followed little glowing spots in all different heights; these were bunker lights. And there were people on all layers of the bunks and they were smoking cigarettes.
DOTSON: The former conductor of the Honolulu Symphony was there. So were most of the chefs of Hawaii’s great hotels. Even a Jew from Vienna, who had escaped a Nazi concentration camp.
OTTO ORENSTEIN (European Detainee): I thought it was a rather unjust thing that first the Germans would intern me then the Belgians would intern me, and now the Americans are doing it too. What did I do?
DOTSON: Otto Orenstein had the misfortune of speaking with a German accent.
PREIS: A man in uniform demanded that we empty our pockets again. He even took our wedding rings away. Because he was afraid we would use them to bribe somebody.
DOTSON: Alfred Preis was a newly wed.
PREIS: When they took the wedding ring away from me, I broke down. Because what went through my mind, “Not even the Nazis would have done that.”
DOTSON: They were herded onto Sand Island, in the harbor across from Honolulu with immigrants from Finland and Norway as well.
PREIS: Cots without mattresses, mud on the ground. So we lied on the cots and the cots started to sink and sink and sink and sink. We virtually, the first many nights, slept on the mud.
DOTSON: The camp got so crowded, some people were sent to detention centers on the mainland. And they pointed out that few other Austrian-Americans or Italian-Americans were being held; they were released.
But soldiers met them at the gate, transported them back to Hawaii and locked them up again. During the war, the islands were under military rule, and it was all perfectly legal.
Did anyone ever apologize?
ORENSTEIN: Nope, nobody paid me twenty thousand dollars either.
DOTSON: As the government did for the Japanese-Americans, who were sent to such camps. The Orensteins lost their home, Preis could not find work as an architect. So he set out to reclaim his patriotism. Not far from his island prison, he offered a simple tribute to those who fell at Pearl Harbor. He is the architect who designed the USS Arizona Memorial.
Unidentified officer: I just wanted to tell you how much we have enjoyed the memorial, the beauty of it and the way it was designed. It’s just fantastic.
PREIS: Thank you very much.
DOSTON: His life, like that war, found victory in defeat. Bob Dotson, NBC News, Pearl Harbor.
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