The Train to Crystal City recounts the dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved American internment camp in Texas during World War II, where thousands of families—many U.S. citizens—were incarcerated.
During World War II, between 1942 and 1945, secret government trains delivered over 6,000 civilians from the United States and Latin America to Crystal City, Texas, a small desert town at the southern tip of Texas. The trains carried Japanese, German, Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The only family internment camp during World War II, Crystal City was the center of a government prisoner exchange program called "quiet passage." During the course of the war, hundreds of prisoners in Crystal City, including their American-born children, were exchanged for other “more important” Americans—diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries—behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany.
The Train to Crystal City focuses on two American-born teenage girls incarcerated in an internment camp in Crystal City, where they lived as ready-made bargaining chips until being swapped for higher-esteemed Americans behind enemy lines in Japan and Germany. In the book, Russell details their families' subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan, and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States. Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, the book reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.
Copies of the book will be available for purchase. In research for her book, Russell interviewed over 50 surviving Crystal City prisoners to uncover the truth in the tragedy. Her book has gained rave reviews. S.C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, called The Train to Crystal City a “story of heartbreaking dislocation, of lives smashed and ruined, and of almost unbelievable human endurance, resilience, and determination.”
The facilitator for the program will be Matthew Levey, professor of history and director of Asian Studies at Birmingham Southern College. Russell’s visit is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Haruyo Miyagawa, head of the Arts, Literature, and Sports Department at the Central Library, said the book is timely not only due to the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War in World War II, but also because of today’s era of civil rights violations making headline news.
Russell is currently a contributing editor for Texas Monthly magazine. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 with a BA in journalism, she has written for the New York Times, the San Antonio Express-News, Slate, and many other publications and won numerous awards.
Reviews of The Train to Crystal City:
"Engrossing . . . Russell documents in chilling details a shocking story of national betrayal."
"This is an informative, disturbing, and necessary reminder of the dangers produced by wartime hysteria."
“Poignant… Russell movingly focuses on human stories coming out of one camp that held both Japanese and Germans, outside Crystal City, Tex.”
— New York Times Book Review