© 2005 By Doris Nye

December 7, 1941--I witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor, the huge ominous dense black cloud of smoke. I heard the explosion of a nearby bomb and felt the jar of its concussion rattle through our old three story frame house. I saw two American fighter planes in a dogfight with Japanese Zeroes; I watched as one Zero was shot down.  The next day, December 8, 1941, I would experience the horror of war and in the months ahead feel the devastating pain of abandonment.

At the time my parents owned and operated a private nursing home with nineteen patients.  On Sunday, December 7, I watched as they helped their patients and families relocate. We listened to the radio as its harried announcer said, “This is the real McCoy. The Japs are attacking. Take cover! Pack food and clothing and be ready to flee to the hills.” All other radio programs had been cancelled.  Everyone was waiting for the second attack.  During that same evening, there was a total black out. Visible lights were shot out.  Armed men patrolled the streets.  We snuggled down into bed early--my Mom and my usually jovial Dad, but now unnaturally serious, in their room and my shy nine year-old sister and I, a chubby happy eleven year-old with long braids, in our room which was next to our parents’ room on the third floor.  I felt loved and safe; all is well I thought, Mom and Dad are here.  It was both frightening on one hand but exciting on the other.

The next day, Monday, December  8, Hawaii’s governor proclaimed Martial law  suspending habeas corpus, and all freedoms as we had known them.  I began to live in horror.  Dad left the house at nine o’clock in the morning to check for damage at Sears, his second job.  At approximately one o’clock that afternoon a car with two, well-dressed men drove up, asked for my mother, I ran to tell her. I was shocked; they were running right behind me. Mom was in the pantry, they spoke to her.  Then she asked to put on lipstick.  Horrified, I watched. They followed my mother into the bathroom, the door was open, and I saw their revolvers.   My mother came out of the bathroom followed by the two men, and said to me, “Doris, these men want to ask me a few questions, take care of your sister and the patients, I will be right back.” She had never left me home alone before!  Hours went by.  It became dark.  On the second story porch I sat and waited with mounting fear and apprehension, while turning the dial of our silent radio, trying to find any information, announcements, police calls.  I wondered, had there been a disaster near by.  I needed to know what could have happened.  Where was Dad?  Mom?  Where were they?  I heard shouting and gunshots coming from the streets.  Someone had turned on a light, I thought that it was one of the residents! Rushing into the kitchen, I saw that it came from the third floor. Up the stairs, I ran, screaming turn off the light! I heard more gun shots. I lunged for my little sister, and the light switch all in one swift motion. She forgot it was blackout!  I was terrified, apprehensive sick with worry, I was not gentle, and how could I be?  Then I went back down the stairs and onto the porch.  Around eleven o’clock that night, knowing that Mom or Dad would never, ever willingly leave me in charge of the patients, a ghastly sense of realization, and horror began to seep into my thoughts---they were never coming home. How could they? The two men must have killed them! Mom and Dad were dead!!

The next morning, in mental agony, I made some pancakes--needed to feed any of the remaining clients. Unknown men came into the kitchen and took much of our food.  My little sister hung on to a box of corn-flakes. The next few days, my mind was in turmoil, I was in mental anguish.  Around December 13, my older sister, Elle, returned.  Elle had been with an aunt on the neighboring island of Molokai.  I was overjoyed and relieved to see her, now the responsibility would be off of my shoulders. The next afternoon, another car with two other well-dressed men drove into the driveway. They asked for my sister Elle, I ran screaming and screaming up to the third floor, trying to push her into the attic to hide, all the while shouting “they are going to kill you too!” I fought, punched and scratched them as they took her down the stairs and across the yard to the car, screaming, “why did you kill Mommy and Daddy…don’t kill her...kill us too; don’t leave us!”  The men peeled my fingers off of the car door windows and left taking Elle with them, my little sister and I were alone again, all alone! I screamed and screamed!  Now, three were dead!!

My parents and Elle were taken separately first to the FBI headquarters, where they were fingerprinted, photographed and given an alien registration number—now they were classified as “alien enemies”—yet all three were American citizens—it made no difference!  When each of them proclaimed that they were American citizens, the agents did not believe them.  Mom and Dad were separated and both were questioned regarding Nazi meetings in their bedroom. My sister was accused of harboring Nazi's in her small cottage.  Outrageous accusations were flung at them. Again, individually they were driven to the immigration station where they were turned over to armed soldiers, soldiers who pushed bayonets as prods into their backs and forced them into holding rooms.  The men and women were in separate quarters comprised of all races, no one knew why they were being “held”, they were not “charged” with anything, nor were they allowed any outside contact. Around December 17th, without seeing each other, Mom, Dad and Elle, had their “hearings” in front of an anonymous “tribunal.”  They were not allowed to have an attorney present, they could not confront their accusers—it was all so secret.  During their hearings they were again accused of outrageous actions, but they did not know from whom the FBI received these packs of lies. My parents suspected—that one must be from the demented alcoholic patient, who had a room right beneath theirs. In 1940 Mom had been warned that he was reporting them to the FBI. Mom dismissed it, as a demented raving, and besides Mom would say, “We are American citizens.”   Mom also suspected a second patient, one with a glass eye and stiff leg, may have made false accusations against her; my mother had admonished him for harassing a nurse.

During this time, the FBI advised Mom and Dad to give a certain very casual acquaintance (Mr. Reed), a power-of -attorney over all of their property and “belongings” or else their property would be confiscated. Mom was afraid, refused, but she was again threatened with “confiscation", finally she signed. Dad did the same in his cell.

After a month of captivity in their own private hell, the woman and men who had slept on cots one foot apart with no change of clothing except that in which they had been “picked up,” were transferred to Sand Island.  Here they were greeted by guards and housed in Army barracks in separate compounds surrounded by barbed wire fences, and patrolled day and night by armed sentries.

In the meantime, after my sister was “forcibly” taken from me, we went to live with a strict aunt.  We were not allowed to say who we were except that we were war refugees. We were threatened with the orphanage.  We were allowed to keep only two of the Christmas presents that my parents had hidden in the attic.  The rest was “given away” to the Salvation Army. Our home had been ransacked, anything of value was stolen.  I had to leave my beloved cat to fend for herself, I was not allowed to take her with me. My loved ones and possessions kept dripping away. My aunt on Molokai did not want us.  As American citizens of German ancestry they feared for themselves and their own families. It was a horrible time. Not feeling wanted at all, we had to hide our identity. I was traumatized. On many mornings I was terribly embarrassed for something that I had never done before, I started to wet the bed at night. 

In February of 1942, an interned American citizen, Dr. Zimmerman, hired an attorney who filed for a writ of habeas corpus.  A few days later, several German and Italian Americans, thirteen of whom were American citizens (including Dr. Zimmerman and my Dad), were quickly sent to Camp McCoy in Sparta, Wisconsin.  The only clothing they had was what they had on when there were taken for questioning by the FBI.  Their accommodations were in the hold of a ship that was traveling in convoy through submarine infested waters to San Francisco.  From San Francisco they went by train to Camp McCoy

When Dr. Zimmerman’s attorney presented the General with the writ of habeas corpus, the government could not produce Zimmerman for he was no longer in Hawaii.  According to Mr. Stephen Fox’s book An American Gulag, another attorney offered his services pro bono to the U.S. citizens when they got to Wisconsin and was planning to file for their writs of habeas corpus.  However, the letter was intercepted.  Of course, all mail was censored, my father’s letters, for example, had big holes in them where the censor cut out “censored” information.  By this time, many of the Hawaii U.S. citizens were writing letters to everyone came to mind, including Secretary of War Henry  Stimson, who dragged his feet.  A lawyer, filed writs of habeas corpus.  The writs had to be filed in the same judicial district in which the prisoners resided.  To prevent the men from appearing in court, again they were loaded on to trains, this time to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  According to Stephen Fox, a “shell game” was being played by the government! So that the government did not have to use too much “manpower” to watch each man, they were sent back to Sand Island to be “caged” in one spot.

In March 1942, At FBI headquarters, my sister Elle, had to sign papers that she was not allowed to read. She was being released on probation.  The FBI agents did not tell her why she was held or why she was being released, she did not dare ask. A friend drove Elle to my aunt’s home.  Elle walked in just as my little sister and I were about to be sent to an orphanage.  My aunt had suffered a heart attack.  When Elle came in my little sister and I were crying holding on to each other--our bags had already been packed. What a relief and joy to see our sister Elle. We left and were on our own.

In April of 1942, Elle said that we could visit Mom, I was so overjoyed! There was a navy launch waiting at dockside for relatives of the internees, it made several trips a day.  In our boat, no one spoke, many avoided eye contact, I looked down, and I was so scared and ashamed. We regrouped on Sand Island and walked the distance over white coral, to the camp.  I heard an unnerving sound.  The interned women were letting out loud cries of excitement. Their arms were outstretched thru the barbed wire.  What a magnificent feeling of joy to see Mom again, the first time since December 8, 1941, but Dad was not there, he was in Camp McCoy. Our visit lasted only a short time when we had to leave.

Finally, around mid-June 1942 the couples were reunited and we were able to spend the weekends with Mom and Dad in their tent. I was so excited seeing Dad for the first time since his arrest almost six months before.  How happy to be a family again even under these adverse conditions. What a wonderful feeling to be held, loved and cuddled, as if there was no war!

Mom and Dad’s tent did not have a floor, but Mom carefully removed all of the larger coral stones and swept the sand. They found and planted grass and Dad built a little bench in front of the tent. They took pride in their limited and inconvenient space.  In October or November of 1942, my parents were sent to Camp Honouliuli. This time their quarters had a wooden floor--what a luxury.

Mr. Reed—the so-called supporter, robbed and lied to my parents.  Reed said he had many bills and a mortgage to pay, he had sold a beautiful piece of my parents’ property and pocketed the money from that and other rentals and gave us nothing. Because of this, three of us, on our own, we had a very difficult time. Elle was not supposed to be our guardian for she was underage and on parole. I was terrified of separation and of being sent to an orphanage. Elle’s jobs paid poorly, little money for rent, less for food (I was hungry much of the time) and nothing for clothes. Fortunately, living in Waikiki, I climbed coconut trees for nuts, and hunted for edible seaweed in the ocean. My clothes were threadbare and I went barefoot. Had no bobby pins…an expense I could not afford.  Oahu became an armed camp.  Hatred towards the Germans was extreme. I had to lie regarding my ethnicity--with a tan and unbraided hair I passed for Hawaiian--and I also had to lie to hide the enormous secret that my parents were interned.  I felt as an outcast because of my German heritage. The consequences would have been deadly if my secrets were revealed~~my being of German descent and my parents being interned!  

      Mom fought to keep what property was left.  Being kept isolated and in a “cage” was a huge handicap and this did not help her to protect our assets.  Mom tried to contact various banks, savings and loans to determine if they could assist in managing her property.  At first they were going to be helpful, but after speaking to Mr. Reed, they immediately declined. For example, in response to her letter, she received the following from the Secretary of Federal Savings and Loan: “You asked if there is any law in the Territory of Hawaii or Federal Statute that gives American citizens protection if detained. This Territory is under martial law that supersedes all other laws in times like these.  In my opinion Uncle Sam isn’t going to room and board a person at his expense unless he has a mighty good reason to do so and your being held in detention, apparently, looks as though it was no one else’s fault but your own, and there is nothing that can be done about it but to take your own medicine.” It was obvious that Reed for his own greed, was lying and painting my parents as Nazi sympathizers.

    My mother was not allowed to speak with anyone directly, all of her letters had to go through regular channels.  In 1943 my mother wrote a letter to General Boyd requesting permission for an attorney friend to visit her. This request was denied.  Mom also requested that a physician friend visit her.  She was told that her request would have to go through the regular channels. It was obvious that General Boyd could not be bothered.

     On June 21, 1943 (62 yrs ago today) my mother was released on parole. In the nick of time, she was able to save the rest of the land.  In August of 1943, Dad was released on parole.

     All three, Mom, Dad and Eleanor were loyal American citizens. Yet, this horrible experience happened to them. My sister Elle was incarcerated for three months, my mother for eighteen months and my father for twenty months. However, their misery and punishment did not stop upon their release from internment, they still had to report to a probation officer once a week until the end of martial law which was not lifted until October 24, 1944.  For almost three years my family suffered under the most unbelievable restrictions even though each of us was a citizen of the United States of America!

     On April 19, 1993, Senator Dan Inouye submitted a personal bill in the Senate (For the relief of Bertha Berg) on behalf of my mother Bertha Berg.   This bill in part asked that my mother “should receive the same amount of compensation that eligible interns of Japanese descent are awarded under section 105 of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (50 U.S.C. App. 1989b-4).  However, this bill went nowhere. There was no support for this bill in the United States Senate, a chamber where many now “grieve” and complain that the United States is holding combatants and terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba!

     Although, the above events did happen under martial law, mistreatment continued to plague the whole family well after martial law was lifted…and now more than sixty years have passed, six decades later, there has been no action taken to recognize that a horrible crime was committed against the Berg family!!!  How long must we wait?

Doris Nye

June 21, 2005