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The Exchange Voyages
of German and Italian Americans During WWII
By Stephen Fox ©
Many thanks to Stephen Fox, author of
Fear Itself: Inside the Roundup of German Americans during World War II: The Past as Prologue,
for the permission to publish this excerpt.
The Germans and Americans began negotiations on a repatriation/exchange program in December 1941, the day after the German war declaration. These discussions ran into problems, and exchange voyages began only in 1942.
For the first voyage in 1942, the United States chartered the Swedish steamship Drottningholm. About 2,000 “dangerous” German and Italian nationals from the American republics returned to Europe on three voyages of the Drottningholm and two supplementary sailings by other vessels. Another Swedish liner, the M.S. (Motor Ship) Gripsholm, began its runs in spring 1944. By April of that year, a total of 2,361 Americans had been brought back from Europe , and the United States had repatriated 4,176 Axis nationals.
The Gripsholm made its final exchange voyages to Marseilles and back in January and February 1945. 183 German POWs, including 71 from Canada , joined the 856 civilian repatriates. Fifty of the POWs from Canada were boarded on the Canadian Hospital Ship Letitia, which docked at Pier D in Jersey City, New Jersey , to transport an added 565 POWs from both the United States and Canada.
The plan called for delivery of the repatriates and POWs to the Swiss in two separate exchanges. But at the last minute Berlin's list of 713 persons fell “considerably short” of the 875 civilians that the United States expected to receive, although it did include 75 from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Those in German hands would enter Switzerland at Kreuzlingen (the exchange point) from Konstanz, Germany , continue to St. Gallen to await completion of the exchange, then resume their journey to Marseilles. The Swiss would also transport those coming from the United States and Canada to Bregenz, Austria. Still 100 internees short of its commitment, the German government suggested that the United States accept instead 46 of its nationals from Belsen, ten sick Latin Americans, and some people of “Polish origin.” To further sweeten this deal, the Germans offered to release about 300 more in-mates from Belsen in the “near future.” In the end, the Germans returned 826 civilians to the countries of the Western Hemisphere.
The first eastbound train had departed Marseilles for Montreux, Switzerland, on January 21 with 540 civilians from the Gripsholm; the second left the same day with 316 more. The two exchange trains arrived at Kreuzlingen on January 23 and 24. Those who had come from Germany awaited in deplorable conditions at St. Gallen.
The Gripsholm departed Marseilles for Jersey City on February 8. On April 25, the United States requested further exchanges, but the German government, by this time fighting a desperate two-front battle for its survival, decided there would be none “until two months after completion of necessary arrangements.”
For additional information, including extensive interviews with passengers going to and from Germany, see the book by Stephen Fox, Fear Itself: Inside the Roundup of German Americans during World War II: The Past as Prologue. Information about this book and Fox's other work can be found at: http://fear-itself.com .
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