Hoosier author to share World War II story of German internment

JASPER — Anneliese “Lee” Krauter lived a part of American history few know happened. 

Born in New York City in 1935, Krauter, 88, and her older brother, Frederick “Freddy” Wiegand— also born in New York City— were U.S. citizens born to German immigrants. Her mother became naturalized. Her father did not. His choice almost cost the family everything after the U.S. joined World War II. Due to her father’s immigration status, the U.S. government relocated Krauter and her family to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas before repatriating them to Germany.

Decades after the war ended and she’d moved back to the United States, Krauter wrote a book about her family’s experience, published in 2005. Krauter will speak about her book, “From the Heart’s Closet: A Young Girl’s World War II Story,” at the Dubois County Museum at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 4. The event is co-hosted by the Jasper German Club and the museum.

“This is not a Holocaust story,” said Laura Grammer, Vice President of the Jasper German Club. 

Grammer and her husband, Paul, heard Krauter speak in Indianapolis in March at the Indiana German Heritage Society symposium and knew they needed to find a way to bring Krauter to Dubois County. 

“Everyone knows — everyone talks about — how the Japanese were sent to these camps,” Laura said. “Nobody knows the same thing happened to the Germans.” 

Krauter believes the U.S. government’s handling of German internment after the war is to blame for history’s silence. The government has never formally admitted the German internment as it did with that of the Japanese. In 1988, former President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which sent a formal apology letter and $20,000 to each survivor of the Japanese internment. 

The same has never been done for the German Americans. 

Krauter wrote her book in part to make sure the German internment wasn’t lost to history. The other part was for her family. She wanted to tell her parents’ story and preserve it for her children and her brother’s children. 

“So they would know the story,” she said. “They would know where their parents and grandparents came from.”

The story begins as many American stories do — with the American dream. Krauter’s parents — Alma and Otto — immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and embraced the melting pot culture of New York City. They joined several local German community organizations open to immigrants and citizens to help immigrants assimilate into American culture. They opened a butcher shop. They had two kids and planned to raise them as Americans but with knowledge of their German roots.

“My parents wanted to keep their German traditions alive, but not at the expense of becoming Americans,” Krauter said. “My parents kept those traditions alive to enrich the lives of my brother and me. And we were American citizens. We were born here, in New York.”

None of that mattered on July 10, 1942, when the FBI arrived at their Brooklyn butcher shop. Mere months after the U.S. entered World War II, Nazi hysteria engulfed the country. J. Edgar Hoover had a list of German nationals at the FBI. Otto’s name was on the list. 

“Whoever wasn’t a citizen was the bad guy on the block,” Krauter said. 

It didn’t matter that Otto had been living in the United States for two decades. It didn’t matter that his children were natural-born U.S. citizens, and his wife was a naturalized citizen. It didn’t matter that in a matter of months, he would’ve been a naturalized citizen himself. All that mattered was that he was German, and the family had traveled to Germany a few years prior. 

Otto was arrested and transported to Ellis Island — once a welcome sight for immigrants — for questioning before being shipped off to a series of internment camps. Krauter was 7, and it would be months before she saw her father again.

In the summer of 1943,  the family reunited, but not at their Brooklyn butcher shop. Instead, Alma and her children moved 2,000 miles across the country to Crystal City, Texas, to reunite with Otto at the Crystal City Family Internment Camp near the U.S.- Mexico border. 

In early 1944, her parents were given a choice: Stay in the camp or be repatriated to Germany. They chose repatriation. During the hottest part of World War II, the family sailed from New Jersey for Lisbon, Portugal, where they were handed over to the International Red Cross. Then, they were transported by train car through France and into Germany. 

“We were just shuffled off as fast as they could because they were already expecting the invasion,” Krauter said. 

From there, the story of Krauter’s family becomes a World War II story, the details of which — along with how her family returned to the United States — she’s saving for her talk at the Dubois County Museum. Attendees will also see her father’s FBI file, photos of her family and the internment camps, and a DVD documentary featuring an interview with her. She will also read two passages from her book. One is her first experience of an air bombing, which she describes as her “personal day of infamy.” The other recounts her father’s discovery of The Final Solution and the Nazi concentration camps. 

“It’s very brief, but it’s very intense,” Krauter said. 

The story of Krauter’s family is full of danger, and uncertainty endured through their bonds of love and honesty with each other. She assures it has a happy ending.