The National Archives recently completed digitization of the Alien Enemy Index, 1917–1919 (National Archives Identifier [NAID] 602456), that contains 57,722 index cards that document U.S. government interest in – and actions concerning – enemy aliens during the First World War. Enemy aliens were citizens of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire.
“Digitization of this important index provides all genealogists and historians online access that will enable broader use and study of a forgotten chapter in American history,” said Denise Henderson, Director of Digitization in NARA’s Office of Research Services. “The internment of over 110,000 Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II is well known but World War I internment of over 6,000 Germans and other enemy aliens is rarely mentioned.”
The index cards indicate each enemy alien’s name, subject matter, judicial district or state of residence, and related file number. For example, the index card shown below for John Sattler indicates "Kans" (for Kansas), “alien enemy detained,” and the file number 9-16-12-4418. The index card for Stepan Murawski indicates “W.NY” (for Western District of New York), “naturalization,” and the file number 189796-4227.
|Alien Index Card, John Sattler, NAID 296727630.||Alien Index Card, Stepan Murawski, NAID 296711508.|
When searching the Enemy Alien Index in NARA's Catalog, keep in mind that the first name of some aliens are abbreviated, such as "Chas." for Charles or "Robt." for Robert. Therefore, if searching by first and last name yields no results, search by surname only, or even by first name only for unusual first names. Also consider searching by alternate spellings of a surname if you get no results. In addition, some women are listed by their husband's name, such as Mrs. Theodore Zeigler (NAID 296756836). You can also browse through an entire file unit (there are 23 file units), but be sure to set the "Sort by" order to either "Title (Alphabetically, A-Z)" or "Title (Alphabetically, Z-A)" instead of "Most Relevant."
What Do These Cards Index?
Alien enemy index cards are finding aids to Department of Justice case files in two separate record series in Record Group 60, General Records of the Department of Justice:
- Cards with the “9” prefix refer to Class 9 (European War Matters) Litigation Case Files and Enclosures, 1914–1961 (NAID 599528).
- Cards with the “189796” prefix refer to File 189796 of the Straight Numerical Files 1904–1974 (NAID 583895). These files document naturalization matters related to the individuals identified in the index. None of these files have been digitized.
Class 9 (European War Matters) contains Department of Justice files documenting a variety of topics connected to World War I, including neutrality matters, censorship, the registration of foreign vessels, the seizure of foreign assets, the regulation of commerce with enemy nations, and enemy alien matters. Each topic received its own designated sub-category within Class 9.
The Class 9 files identified in the alien enemy index cards are primarily from the sub-category “9-16-” (Regulation of Alien Enemies). Many of these files document the arrest, detention, and internment of enemy aliens during World War I. Other files document the operation of the enemy alien registration program, the issuance of permits to enemy aliens to enter or depart the United States, the regulation of the possession of firearms and radios by enemy aliens, and the enforcement of restricted zones around sensitive sites such as military bases, naval yards, arsenals, factories, and waterfront areas.
Most files from Class 9 (European War Matters) Litigation Case Files, 1914–1959 (NAID 599528) have not been digitized. After identifying a file of interest using the Alien Enemy Index, researchers must contact firstname.lastname@example.org for access or copies. Note that some records must be screened for personal privacy and law enforcement information under 5 U.S.C. 552(b) prior to public release.
Why Were Germans and other enemy aliens sent to internment camps?
Congress declared war against Germany on 6 April 1917. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation containing twelve regulations that restricted the conduct of alien enemies in the United States. Regulation 12 was most significant. It stated that “an alien enemy whom there may be reasonable cause to believe to be aiding or about to aid the enemy... or violates any regulation promulgated by the President... will be subject to summary arrest... and to confinement in such penitentiary, prison, jail, or military camp.” Enemy aliens were persons born in countries with which the United States was at war who had not become naturalized US citizens.
The specific reasons for detention varied. Brothers John Sattler and Gotlieb Sattler of Lyon County, Kansas, expressed pro-German sentiments and hostility to U.S. involvement in the war. Max Schachman of Norfolk, Virginia, was interned for selling liquor to men in uniform and providing women for immoral purposes. Adolph Schmidt of New York City was allegedly involved with the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World. These men and many others were sent to war prison barracks established by the War Department at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; Fort McPherson, Georgia; and Fort Douglas, Utah. Some of the men imprisoned at Fort Douglas, Utah, are shown below.
Photo: Enemy aliens interned at Fort Douglas, Utah, who were members of a stenography class. Klasse für Gabelsberger Stenographie, ca. 1919. 165-WW-161C-40. National Archives Identifier 31478829. American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917–18; Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs; National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
Class 9 files relating to interned enemy aliens provide a detailed history of each case. For example, Gotlieb Sattler’s file (9-16-12-6414) includes U.S. Attorney Fred Robertson’s brief request to arrest Sattler, August 28, 1918; Robertson’s five-page detailed report on Sattler’s attitudes and conduct, September 14, 1918; Department of Justice notices to Robertson that Sattler would be interned, September-November 1918; the U.S. Marshal’s report that Sattler had been delivered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, November 22, 1918; Department of Justice correspondence with the Department of State, February 1918; a letter from Senator Charles Curtis and accompanying petition by thirty residents of Americus, Kansas, for Sattler’s release, April 1919; Sattler’s release from Fort Douglas, Utah, on May 27, 1919; and post-release correspondence with Sattler, June-July 1919, about personal belongings he left at the Wyandotte, Kansas, jail, at the time of his arrest. Gotlieb Sattler was released from Fort Douglas, Utah, a few weeks later, on May 27, 1919, but the experience had not embittered him. On that day he wrote, “I have every reason to be pleased with the treatment I received during internment; I can speak well of the Government of the U.S. though there are some of the employees that are a detriment to the Gov. [Government].” Note: Although Gottlieb Sattler and most of the records in his file spelled his name as Gottlieb (with two T’s), the related index card spelled his first name as Gotlieb (with one T).
The file of Gottlieb’s brother, John Sattler (9-16-12-4418), is equally informative. In addition to providing a chronology of events, these files offer a window into the alien’s mentality and circumstances. U.S. Attorney Fred Robertson on June 1, 1918, described Sattler as “a tight-fisted, greedy money maker, who has lived a life of self deprivation and thereby became wealthy for a man in his community, he being estimated to be worth at least $150,000.00. He has constantly and consistently assumed an attitude of opposition to this war, and one of favoritism for the German cause.” Robertson also reported that John Sattler disbelieved stories of German atrocities and had said that the deaths of American civilian adults and children on the Lusitania “was all right” as “these people had been warned…and if they didn’t want to be blown up they should have stayed at home.” Robertson’s February 28, 1919, letter to the Department of Justice reported that prominent people in John Sattler’s community felt that he had received “ample punishment” and should be paroled. Robertson also commented, “One of the strange features of this case from the beginning has been that this man’s children appeared to be very loyal and enthusiastic supporters of the United States in the present war.” John Sattler was released from Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, on April 5, 1919.
For Further Reading
The text of the President’s proclamation along with the Justice Department’s actions through 4 December 1917 are reported in Department of Justice, Annual Report of the Attorney General (Washington, DC, 1917): 57-73. The Attorney General’s Annual Reports for subsequent years give a good summary of the government’s policies and actions.
Acknowledgment: The map above, courtesy of Australia's Digital Classroom, shows the European boundaries of the Central Powers whose citizens were considered enemy aliens. Map URL: https://digital-classroom.nma.gov.au/images/map-showing-first-world-war-alliances