The Kenedy Alien Detention Camp was one of several World War II internment camps established in the United States to detain alien civilians. In March 1942 the United States Border Patrol entered into an agreement with the town of Kenedy, Texas, to lease the former J. M. Nichols CCC Camp on the southern outskirts of town for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The lease was made for the purpose of establishing an alien internment camp wherein aliens from the United States and Latin America who were considered dangerous to the public safety could be interned. At the outset of World War II, when conditions were bleak for the Allies, the United States undertook to protect its national interests by entering into agreement with Latin-American countries to arrest and intern for the duration of the war all resident aliens or citizens of German, Japanese, or Italian descent who could possibly aid the Axis war effort. Alien families would be sent to an internment camp at Crystal City, Texas, and single males would be sent to the internment camp at Kenedy.
The former CCC camp had nine barracks and several smaller buildings, which were refurbished. Additional facilities, including a large dining hall and kitchen, a headquarters, a hospital, officers' and nurses' quarters, officers' kitchen and dining room, and 200 sixteen-by-sixteen-foot prefabricated building huts called "victory huts," were constructed. Additionally, a ten-foot-high double barbed-wire fence was built around the detention area. Guard towers were erected at the four corners, at the entrance gate, and in the middle of the long side at the back of the camp.
A detail from the United States Border Patrol was sent to Kenedy to assist in putting the headquarters, liaison, supply, and surveillance departments into operation. Particular care was exercised to adhere to the terms of the Geneva Convention, whereby internees were not only humanely cared for on the inside but also were protected from adversaries and curiosity seekers on the outside. A Censorship Division was set up to examine all incoming and outgoing mail, which involved having interpreters qualified in the German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish languages. All employees had to be investigated and given security clearance by the FBI and the State Department. All of the various sheriffs' departments of Karnes and surrounding counties were briefed on procedures to use in case of escape. The total authorized strength of personnel at the camp was ninety.
On April 21, 1942, the Kenedy Alien Detention Camp received its first internees-456 Germans, 156 Japanese, and 14 Italians. The Japanese came mainly from Mexico, but the Germans and Italians came largely from Central and South America. In May 1942 another 355 aliens, mostly German, were received. In October 1943 the camp was at its peak of operation. More than 2,000 aliens passed in and out of its gates: 1,168 German, 705 Japanese, 72 Italian, and 62 miscellaneous (Rumanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Swede, Finn, Russian, and Korean). From the time the Kenedy Camp received its first internees on April 21, 1942, until it was phased out and converted into a prisoner of war camp on October 1, 1944, more than 3,500 aliens passed in and out its gates. The population of the camp varied between 700 and 1,200 detainees.
Turnover at the camp was frequent because of the significant number of internees that were repatriated to Germany and Japan. Repatriation was a diplomatic tool that the State Department used to secure the release of wounded American soldiers and American and Latin-American civilians who had been captured by the enemy. Arrangements were made by the State Department with the Axis powers to exchange enemy aliens on a one-by-one basis, using Lisbon, Portugal, as the neutral port of exchange. The principal exchange ships used by the allied and Axis powers were the SS Gripsholm, chartered by the Swedish government; the SS Drotningholm, chartered by the Swiss government; and the Serpa Pinta, whose registration is unknown. The first repatriation from the Kenedy camp took place on May 5, 1942, when twenty-one Germans were repatriated. By the end of 1943 a total of 975 internees had been repatriated. Eventually all the internees were repatriated, transferred, paroled, or released. The escape and recapture of Fritz Kuhn, leader of the German-American Bund, and twelve former sailors from the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, which had been scuttled on December 17, 1939, in Montevideo harbor, was widely noted.
The Kenedy Alien Detention camp continued in operation until October 1, 1944, when the United States Army took over its operation. Shortly after that, a trainload of wounded and disabled German army veterans from the Battle of the Bulge arrived. American soldiers who had been wounded in that battle served as their guards. The camp was disbanded shortly after World War II. In 1992 only two water towers, a concrete slab of the slaughtering house, and five graves of internees remained to mark the site.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert H. Thonhoff,
“Kenedy Alien Detention Camp,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed October 18, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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