Under Suspicion: Enemy Aliens Draw Scrutiny in Oregon

German and Italian Aliens Experiences

Metropolitan Opera basso Ezio Pinza at sea in the 30s. He was classified as an "enemy alien" and interned for months in 1942.
Italian citizen and Metropolitan Opera basso Ezio Pinza was classified as an enemy alien and interned for months in 1942. He was one of many detained for an extended period during the war. (Image courtesy Village Voice)
As the nation came to grips with the events of Dec. 7, 1941, many Americans reacted by looking with suspicion and hatred at enemy aliens - everyone of German, Italian, or Japanese birth who lacked U.S. citizenship. These amounted to about 900,000 nationally. But attitudes and actions towards Germans and Italians differed greatly from those aimed at Japanese aliens and Japanese Americans.

National Restrictions After Pearl Harbor

Soon after America declared war, the federal government took several actions on the matter. To set the stage for subsequent moves, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring German, Italian, and Japanese citizens in the United States to be enemy aliens. The government then issued regulations prescribing how these aliens could travel, engage in business, and conduct themselves. As part of this, the U.S. Treasury Secretary ordered that assets of enemy aliens be frozen. Stanley Donogh, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, emphasized that the order applied to all enemy aliens, even if "he is a gardner [sic] producing cauliflower or celery or something else, or operating a drug store or restaurant or a larger concern." According to Donogh, enemy aliens had to secure a license or permit from the Treasury Department "before anyone can regularly do business with them or before they can legally continue their business operations...."Footnote 1

Other restrictions and requirements applied as well. For example, Oregon Governor Charles Sprague issued a press release in February 1942 outlining a federal mandate that all enemy aliens 14 years of age or over apply in person at post offices for Certificates of Registration.Footnote 2 Enemy aliens could not possess short-wave radios and were restricted in where they could travel. Furthermore, they could be detained, arrested, or deported, according to Donogh: "Your government has the power to detain and to arrest anyone whom we feel is dangerous to the peace and good order of the United States."Footnote 3 Nationally, about 3,000 enemy aliens considered to be dangerous were arrested and some were detained for the duration of the war.

Department of Justice Immigration and naturalization service alien registration form.
Aliens holding citizenship from Germany, Italy and other enemy nations were required to register with the government and were subject to detention or deportation. (Image courtesy U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) Enlarge image
After Pearl Harbor, some officials considered relocating or detaining enemy aliens throughout the country. Thousands of aliens of German or Italian descent were ordered away from coastal security zones in early 1942 but were allowed to return by summer. By that time the government had dropped serious discussion of the mass relocation or detention of unnaturalized Germans or Italians. The move would have been logistically and politically impractical and officials were reaching the conclusion that these enemy aliens did not pose a significant security threat. The U.S. Attorney General removed Italians from the enemy alien list just before the 1942 elections. They undoubtedly were "freed from the 'enemy alien' stigma" at least partially because Roosevelt wanted to secure the very large Italian American vote for the Democrats.Footnote 4

Oregon Alien Restriction Headaches

Photo of Jack Hayes in suit and tie.
State Defense Council official Jack Hayes gave advice to people wrestling with confusing enemy alien regulations. (Folder 16, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA)
The federal restrictions caused Oregon civilian protection officials problems in the first year of the war. Regulations related to alien curfew permits confused Yamhill County Sheriff G.W. Manning, who was designated as the alien permit officer for the county. The arcane nature of the federal regulations left questions in practice. For instance, a 20-year-old German student at Pacific University lived outside of town and worked nights at the local theater to earn tuition money. The sheriff wondered: "will it be necessary to issue him a permit every day...?" The reply from Jack Hayes, head of civilian protection for the State Defense Council, suggested that he contact the federal authorities but further counseled that "where doubt exists...the permit should be denied."

Travel regulations also caused problems.Travel regulations memoFootnote 5 Another question arose for Manning regarding a Catholic priest who was German and lived in Grand Ronde, about 30 miles from the Sheriff's Office in McMinnville. The priest also served churches in Tillamook, 40 miles from his home, and Ocean Lake, 30 miles away. Would he regularly need to drive the 30 miles out of his way to McMinnville to get his permits? Hayes replied that the priest would indeed "be required to come to McMinnville for the first permit." But, he continued with some bureaucratic compassion: "Any subsequent permits it seems logical may be mailed to him for his signature as they cover the same details as the original permit." Sheriff Manning's letterFootnote 6

Suspicious Activity Draws Attention

German aliens also triggered investigations. But, local law enforcement officials were denied the authority to arrest these suspects as the U.S. Attorney for Oregon made clear: "The warrant for his arrest...comes from the Attorney General of the United States, and consequently no local officer...has the authority to take such a man into custody or to hold him."Footnote 7 The lack of authority to arrest suspects didn't deter Oregon state and local law enforcement from "actively assisting" the FBI by following up on leads of suspicious activity by enemy aliens. The Portland Police Bureau reported on Andrew Sneer and his wife after hearing they had radios and firearms in their home. An officer's report from March 24, 1942 went into detail:


Lighthouse on a rock outcrop along the oregon coast.
Officials in the Bandon area held enemy alien Dick Wullert "under suspicion for some time." Shown above is the Coquille River Lighthouse near Bandon. (Image no. cooD0162, Oregon Scenic Photos, OSA)
The Oregon State Police (OSP) also investigated "suspicious" German American behavior. Dick Wullert, a naturalized American born in Germany, caught the attention of an OSP investigator just after Christmas in 1941. Apparently, Wullert served on a German submarine during World War I. He also worked with the German intelligence service and was fluent in German and English. After gaining citizenship, Wullert became an honorary member of the American Legion and was active in local civilian defense, in which he "seems highly interested." Wullert knew in advance of the transfer of eight men from the Coast Guard Station at Bandon to Honolulu. In fact, he knew of it before the men being transferred knew they were leaving.

A Coast Guard official had Wullert "under suspicion for some time" but was "somewhat at a loss to know where he secures his information." One method may have been eavesdropping, according to the investigator who "received information from the telephone office in Bandon that Mr. Wullert followed two of the seamen into the office when they were calling their mothers to advise them of a transfer. His purpose here was apparently to determine the place these men were being put aboard ship and then [when] the ship was leaving." Wullert came under further suspicion because, in his position as chief engineer at a Bandon lumber company, "he has knowledge of the arrival and departure of ships loading lumber at this plant." Coincidentally, "one of the ships which loads at this plant was recently damaged by a torpedo off the California Coast." Needless to say, all of Wullert's phone calls were "being supervised" by officials.Footnote 9

Notes

  1. "Oregon State Defense Council Meeting of Advisory Council" Proceedings, Dec. 15, 1941, Page 42, Folder 10, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  2. Governor Sprague Press Release, circa Jan. 22, 1942. Folder 14, Box 4, Gov. Sprague Records, OSA.
  3. "Oregon State Defense Council Meeting of Advisory Council" Proceedings, Dec. 15, 1941, Page 42, Folder 10, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  4. "Italian Aliens May Join Defense Corps," War-Victory Bulletin No. 32, Dec. 17, 1942. Page 5, Folder 5, Box 20, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  5. United States Attorney, District of Oregon Travel Regulations, Jan. 8, 1942. Folder 15, Box 4, Gov. Sprague Records, OSA.
  6. "Oregon State Defense Council Meeting of Advisory Council" Proceedings, Dec. 15, 1941, Page 44, Folder 10, Box 11, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  7. Letter from G.W. Manning to Jack Hayes, Oct. 2, 1942. Folder 14, Box 21, Defense Council Records, OSA; Letter from Jack Hayes to G.W. Manning, Oct. 3, 1942. Folder 14, Box 21, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  8. W.B. Odale Officer's Report, March 24, 1942. Folder 5, Box 26, Defense Council Records, OSA.
  9. Oregon State Police Officers Report, Dec. 27, 1941. Folder 15, Box 16, Defense Council Records, OSA.