One of the books we bought in Lincoln, Nebraska, during our road trip up the Missouri River and back was Nebraska POW Camps, by Melissa Amateis Marsh (History Press, 2014). I blogged a passage from the Kindle edition in November 2018. The author lists North Dakota as among the few states without POW camps during World War II (along with Montana, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont). However, Fort Lincoln in North Dakota did house internees who were designated “enemy aliens” but not enemy soldiers: including sailors from enemy nations, along with selected U.S. residents of German or Japanese ancestry. The Densho Encyclopedia online provides details.
There were two separate populations of Japanese American internees as well as German crews of ships seized in U.S. ports and resident German enemy alien internees. The very first prisoners at Fort Lincoln were 220 German seamen who arrived on May 31, 1941. The U.S. had detained crews from German ships docked in the U.S. since after the German attack on Poland in 1939, most of them at Ellis Island. More German seamen arrived after this initial group, and on December 20, 110 German enemy aliens arrived, most from the West Coast, bringing the population of Fort Lincoln to 410.
The first group of Japanese American internees consisted of over 1,100 Issei who arrived at Fort Lincoln in two groups in February of 1942: 415 from the West Coast arrived on February 9 and 715 more on February 26. Most of these men were immigrant community leaders—Buddhist priests, Japanese language school teachers, newspaper editors, and heads of Japanese immigrant economic or cultural organizations—who were arrested after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but before the mass roundup of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Most came via short-term detention stations such as Tuna Canyon, Griffith Park, or San Pedro. Enemy Alien Hearing Boards convened at Ft. Lincoln in February for the German internees, most of whom were released or paroled afterwards. Hearings for the Japanese internees were marred by conflict between Korean immigrant translators and internees and resulted in three Issei requiring medical attention. Complaints to the Spanish consul resulted in an internal investigation by the INS that found that Issei had been unjustly abused and resulted in the dismissal of two interpreters and the suspension of three INS inspectors. Issei whom the boards “released” were allowed to rejoin their families at “assembly centers” or War Relocation Authority camps in the summer and fall of 1942; those ordered interned were transferred to army-run internment camps such as Lordsburg . By October 1942, nearly all of the Japanese and German internees had moved on, leaving just three hundred or so German seamen. As part of the general movement of enemy aliens from army run camps back to INS run camps in order to make room for the growing numbers of POWs, over 1,000 German enemy aliens moved to Ft. Lincoln starting in March 1943, joining the remaining German seamen and pushing the camp’s population to over 1,500.
The second group of Japanese Americans at Ft. Lincoln arrived in early 1945 and were mostly young Nisei and Kibei who had been incarcerated at Tule Lake. This younger group were among the 5,400 at Tule Lake who, under duress, renounced their U.S. citizenship, enabling the Department of Justice to intern them in DOJ camps as “enemy aliens” and to deport them. Reasons for renouncing varied, ranging from anger and protest against the country that imprisoned them, to fear of being forcibly relocated again without a job or housing or community support while the war with Japan raged on. While an initial group identified as leaders of community resistance in Tule Lake were sent to Santa Fe, there was not enough room there to accommodate all. With the numbers of German enemy alien internees and German seamen down to about 700, less than half of the peak, there was room at Fort Lincoln. As a result, about 650 were transferred from Tule Lake on February 10, arriving at Ft. Lincoln on February 14. One hundred more renunciants were transferred from Tule Lake to Ft. Lincoln in July 1945. The U.S. prepared to deport two-thirds of this group in November and December 1945; however, many had changed their minds about renouncing and going to Japan. With the aid of lawyer Wayne Collins, most were able to avoid deportation and to eventually recover their U.S. citizenship. The last of the German internees were sent to Ellis Island in February 1946. The last to leave were 200 of the Tule Lake group, who left on March 6 for Santa Fe. In total, 3,850 internees passed through Ft. Lincoln.