I became interested in German-American internment during the two World Wars when I found out that roughly 11,000 German Americans were, in fact, interned – a history few of us know. While none of my German-American ancestors were interned, one of my great-grandfathers, a German Methodist minister born in Germany, could well have been interned during World War I had flames of xenophobia had been whipped up more than they were, since everyone born in Germany were targets of suspicion. Over time, the xenophobia underlying the internments didn’t go away, but rather shifted to other groups, today principally Mexicans, Central Americans, and Muslims. Ironically, many people with German ancestry, unaware of our own history, participate in today’s xenophobia. This is why I believe that Critical Family History is, well, critically important.
So I was excited to discover Heartland: A Historical Drama about the Internment of German-Americans in the United States during World War II. Heartland, published by Sense Publishers in 2014, was written by playwright, dramaturg, and journalist Lojo Simon and political activist and playwright Anita Simons. The play has won several awards, including Dayton Playhouse FutureFest 2008, and Long Beach Playhouse New Works Festival 2008. Sense Publishers recently released it as a book that can be read easily and used readily in schools.
The play tells a story of a German-born widow and her three children, living on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. Before he died, the widow’s husband had applied to employ prisoners of war through the U.S. War Manpower Commission. When the play opens in 1941, the family is notified that his application has been approved, and two German prisoners of war are on their way. The widow is thrilled, as she and the children cannot manage the dairy farm by themselves. As the story unfolds, the family gradually develops a friendship with the two German…