Sketches Drawn of POW Tent at Camp Upton
Paul Lameyer: WWII German Internee – Biography- used by permission
My grandfather, Paul Lameyer, was born in 1885 in Hanover Germany. His family was in the jewelry and fine silver business. He was educated as both an architect and artist in Munich. Paul painted or drew many European scenes, some of which survive today. He served first in the cavalry and later as an officer in the balloon corps of the German Army in WWI. In 1925 Paul met my Massachusetts born American grandmother, an art historian, while she was traveling with her mother in Florence Italy. They both shared a love for the artwork of the Italian Renaissance.
Paul immigrated to the U.S. and married my grandmother in 1926. They lived near Boston where he was employed as an architect for a well known local firm. Like many immigrants, he was content to have his children born as American citizens but chose not to become naturalized himself. My mother was born in Boston just before Christmas in 1927 and my uncle 3 years later.
Paul lost his job in the depression. Little was being built. He continued to sell artwork and managed to receive a small income. The family fell on difficult circumstances and began moving from home to home with less income each year. By the summer of 1941, they moved out of their rented house. Paul moved to a small cold water flat on Newberry Street in Boston; leaving the family to live with relatives.
On December 8 1941, at age 56, Paul was arrested by the FBI, with help from the Boston police under something called a “Presidential Warrant”. This action was authorized through a secret program initiated by President Roosevelt.
The WW II internment program dated back to the late 1930s and was called variously “Custodial Detention” and/or “Alien Enemy Control”. It first involved the FBI’s creation of individual dossiers comprised of secretly obtained information. These records, while accurate in some cases, sometimes contained unsubstantiated testimony, and even out right hearsay. Some information was also obtained without warrant by covert searches, mail intercepts and wiretaps. Business competitors, jilted lovers, angry landlords, envious co-workers, and other immigrants contacted the FBI, who began dossiers armed with nothing more than unsolicited phone tips. Even a number alien German Jews, including recent refugees from the Nazis, were included and some were subsequently interned.
While the program targeted Italian, German and Japanese aliens, it also included a number of American citizens. In post war years, it evolved into Hoover’s and the FBI’s domestic surveillance program which created dossiers on dissidents, actors, musicians, politicians, civil rights workers along with real and presumed communists. Many of these made it into the hands of various politicians. It was often claimed in Washington that these files kept Hoover in power through six presidents until his death in 1972.
As the press releases in the early days of the war indicated, one of the purposes of the “Alien Enemy Control” program was to show the country that a previously identified group of people had been followed, arrested and isolated by a diligent and vigilant government. And, that those arrested had documented sympathies for Axis powers and an implied potential for fifth column sabotage or espionage. The program however had no congressionally approved legal authority, and no judicial oversight. It also exceeded the legal boundaries officially permitted to the FBI at that time. This may be why some of its records remained secret for so long. And, it is perhaps why many more continue to be unavailable for review even today.
A massive file was created ranking suspects by an “A”, “B”, or “C” classification. It was called the “Custodial Detention Index. (CDI) Those ranked as “A” were to be arrested upon the outbreak of war. While war with Germany was not declared (by Germany) until December 11, previously prepared proclamations were issued by Roosevelt on December 8 outlining what resident aliens, including Germans, could and could not do. It also informed them of the possibility of arrest and detention. It did not mention that many had been chosen and classified for arrest long before either the attack at Pearl Harbor, declared war with Germany or the official proclamation itself. The so called “Presidential Warrant” was derived by implication from this proclamation and it became the FBI’s sole authority, ex post facto, for many enemy alien arrests.
Paul Lameyer along with others on the “A” list were immediately taken by the FBI after arrest to the INS waterfront facility in East Boston near today’s Logan Airport. The same process occurred during the war throughout the US. In New York City many were held for years at Ellis Island. Some were there as late as 1948. There is no mention of the island’s wartime use today at the restored facility. The total arrested nationwide under “Custodial Detention” was over 20,000. Several thousand were also arrested in South America and sent to camps in the US.
Other than being interviewed by DOJ and INS officials, Paul was held incommunicado at East Boston until January 1942. He was given a notice by the DOJ which instructed him to appear one day later at a hearing. This notice specifically warned him that no one was “permitted to act on his behalf in the capacity of an attorney.”
Based on information presented at his hearing, the hearing board recommended internment for the duration of the war. It concluded he was a “dangerous enemy alien.” Attorney General Francis Biddle (later the US judge at the Nuremburg Nazi War Crimes trials) concurred and ordered him sent to Camp Upton on Long Island, run by the Army.
By previous arrangement, Army camps, such as Camp Upton, in contrast to those run by the DOJ or the INS, had stricter security. They required that internees wear POW uniforms and be treated identically to captured POWs. Initially, all mail was prohibited. The Army camps were intentionally reserved for those deemed the most dangerous. With civilian internees classified as POWs, it is rare to find Army records that make the distinction between civilians and actual captured combatants who later were held in many of the same camps. They were to be shot if they tried to escape.
After the Swiss report (shown on this website), which applied to civilian internees not enemy combatants, all internees at Camp Upton, including my grandfather were sent to Fort Meade in Maryland. They were later moved to Camp Forrest in Tennessee and finally to Fort Lincoln in North Dakota which was run by the less regimented INS.
Throughout this time, my grandfather drew many internment camp scenes. The ones shown here are just a few of the more than 40 I have collected. He traded these with other internees and hand made many copies of the same scene if popular. He appears to have traded them much like postcards. I have found “originals” from Germany, California, Arizona and Maryland. I also have the ones he left to our family. Some of his camp drawings were chosen by the YMCA as topics for Christmas cards provided to war prisoners.
He was paroled in June 1945. Among other things, his parole officer concluded he had never been a Nazi. He returned to Boston and worked as an architect for a number of years into the 1950’s.
I only knew him when I was a little boy. He left from New York by ship in 1957 and returned to Florence where he died on December 8 1960, 18 years to the day of his arrest by the FBI. His complete story is the subject of a book I am writing.