Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Prison Called Hohenasperg

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Prison Called Hohenasperg

Article excerpt

The Prison Called Hohenasperg

by Arthur D. Jacobs

Universal Publishers, 1999

The significance of this book varies with the level of comprehension with which it is read. It is possible to read it simply as the personal memoir of a retired American Air Force major who tells the gripping account of his experiences during and immediately after World War II, when as the son of German parents living in Brooklyn, he was held in internment first at Ellis Island, then at Crystal City, Texas, before finally, at age 12, being deported to just-defeated Germany, where he was transported with others in a locked and unheated boxcar and finally imprisoned, as if a Nazi, in the American military prison at Hohenasperg, Germany. The narrative continues to tell how he celebrated his thirteenth birthday in his cell there, but was transferred to a camp in Ludwigsberg. After he, his brother, and parents were released in March 1946, they lived a life of destitution and near-starvation in Germany until finally an American woman made arrangements for him to return to the United States to live with a family in western Kansas. He did not see his parents again until 1958.

The broader meaning of the book is found in part in what it tells us about Americans of that time. Some were warm-hearted and generous, such as at the internment camp in Crystal City, where everything was done to make the conditions humane, and such as the woman who in effect rescued him and directed him to the family that made him one of their own in Kansas. While he was in Germany seeking ways to help his family survive, Jacobs was befriended by American G.I.s. Other Americans, however, were cold, bureaucratic, often extremely cruel, in ways that readers will be shocked to discover: the FBI's ransacking the Jacobs family's home in Brooklyn repeatedly, and taking away the father, without any explanation; the inhumanity of 92 hours in a frozen boxcar without heat or blankets, with only a common bucket for urination and defecation, and with only bread and water to eat and drink; the incarceration of a young boy in a heavily guarded cell, where he was told that the punishment for misbehavior would be hanging. This is a portrait that Americans don't like to associate with themselves. …

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