As many of you may know, I spend most of my research time studying the role of the French railroad in the WWII deportations and the current conflict in the U.S. today over those deportations.
This is a hot conflict. The President of the French Railroad company (SNCF) attended the Obama-Hollande State Dinner...there are billions of dollars on the line as well as about 650 Holocaust-survivor/descendant litigants. Katherine Shaver of the Washington Post has a story about it today. Click here to see.
Yesterday, I was at the University of Alaska, discovering more about how the U.S. deported and interned people during the same years the SNCF was transporting Jews to the German border.
Have you heard of them? I hadn't either.
They were living on the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska and were removed from their homes after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were supposedly being removed to protect them from a Japanese attack. The image above shows them as they are forced to be removed from their homes.
Now, we can understand the US wanting to protect its citizens. Sounds noble, right? Well here's the rub.
They were sent to shacks with no potable water, no medical care (not even bandages), minimal food and barely any clothes. And I can tell you after a week in Alaska experiencing -30, it would have been very hard to survive a winter without clothes..especially in 1940. It was so cold that winter the little food they had remained frozen.
Many did not survive.
10% of their entire population died from poor nourishment and cold-related illnesses (pneumonia). Some groups lost 25%.
Causes of death for some children were recorded "Pain."
75-100 people were crammed into each building. It was abysmal.
Officials began to hide the treatment of these people, realizing that if word got out in the US there would be hell to pay.
So they started to send them a bit more supplies.
This helped more of them survive, but when they returned home they found a nasty surprise.
The U.S. military had ransacked their homes, stealing their belongings, including valuable Russian Orthodox relics, even pulling up the linoleum from their floors. There was no apology and barely any money given to rebuild their lives.
Remember these people were supposedly deported for their own protection!
In the late 1970s, some reparations efforts began. Lawyers helped them put together 8 volumes of proof of their treatment.
President Carter commissioned hearings that proved that Constitutional Rights were repeatedly ignored. Neither people or property were protected.
As they say, whenever you point a finger at someone else, there's three fingers pointing back at you.
I'm the last one to justify the actions of the French during WWII. I have dedicated significant time and money to understanding French complicity. It's a painful chapter in French history, especially for those of us who deeply love France. This is the country that gave us Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others upon which the foundation of Human Rights rests today.
I just want to point out some of the untold stories about what happened in the U.S. It is easy to be on the right side of justice 70 years after the fact....