Fort Douglas WWI German Internment Camp

WWI German Internment Camp

Though Utah had first been an asylum for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from mobs and an earlier extermination order, Utah detained Germans during WWI under submission to federal order. Fort Douglas operated as a German POW and German enemy alien internment camp from 1917 to 1920. In the eyes of Utah and the larger United States, German enemy aliens were not American and would/should not receive the same rights as such, even though they had been residents of the United States prior to confinement.

Fort Douglas operated during WWI as a German internment camp, detaining threats to security. The first civilian enemy aliens arrived in July 1917 and the last did not leave until May 1920. Fort Douglas internee composition consisted of German Prisoners of War (POWs) and a selection of enemy aliens. President Woodrow Wilson defined general enemy aliens as, "All natives, denizens, or subjects of Germany, being males of the age of fourteen years and upwards, who shall be within the United States, and not actually naturalized." Though residents of the United States, it is significant to recognize why these Germans were not citizens. Before WWI, immigration legislation was largely laissez-faire. Living in the United States preceded citizenship; a five-year residency with a declaration of intention after two years was required to qualify for naturalization. If these Germans had not planned to obtain citizenship early after arrival and file declaration, they could not become a citizen—even after a five-year residency. A minor difference of paperwork meant risk of internment. In addition, several "noncombatants" were not intentionally "enemies," either. Arriving before declaration of war, some immigrants were "trapped behind enemy lines" with wartime policy. These civilians were not American citizens and residency in America granted them no empathy.

Other German internment camps in the United States were made entirely of POWs or enemy aliens; however, Fort Douglas uniquely detained both. Prejudice towards the civilians, however, began before the camp. For some, "signing one’s name to a piece of paper that acknowledged him as an 'enemy' was offensive and humiliating" (Divjak and Potter, 2019). German residents individually petitioned for exception to classification as enemy aliens and sent requests for naturalization, but many of them would have to yield to registration and then possible internment. At the camp, the German POWs' nationalism and loyalty was recognized as more honorable and acceptable by Americans than the civilian "traitors." "At Fort Douglas those in charge decided to save the government money by dropping the individual food rations from 44 cents to 11 cents per day." Given the account of one German sailor—found in Raymond Kelly Cunningham, Jr.'s, Internment 1917-1920; A History of the Prison Camp at Fort Douglas, Utah, and the Treatment of Enemy Aliens in the Western United States—"Daily fresh meat, daily fresh bread and very often fresh fruits, quantities as well as qualities, leave nothing to be desired," it would seem that it was the civilians receiving that lowered ration. Though residents of the United States, at Fort Douglas their credentials did not grant them even treatment equal to that of the POWs.