VERSAILLES — Eberhard Fuhr’s dream was to become a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
“I thought I was a pretty good catcher on the high school baseball team,” he said. “I had a really beautiful portrait made for the yearbook, and when I got the yearbook, my picture was gone. It was like I never existed, except I was still in the photos of the team. They expunged me.”
During World War II, Eberhard and his family were victims of the internment of German Americans. He shared his story, Sunday, July 30, at the Versailles Performing Arts Center, presented by the Versailles Area Historical Society. On the afternoon of March 23, 1943, while in class at Woodward High School, in Cincinnati, Ohio, two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents arrested the 17-year-old Eberhard.
“The principal came in and said, ‘Eberhard, I am going to have to ask you to step into the hallway’,” Eberhard said. “If you had a date that night; you didn’t have it. You were gone. And when you finally got out, that date was married to someone else. When we got outdoors, I was handcuffed. I never returned to school and did not graduate two short months later. I lost not only belongings in my school locker, but my dignity,” he said.
Along with the FBI Agents, Eberhard traveled to arrest his 18-year-old brother Julius, at his job. They were taken to the city police station where they were booked on suspicion, fingerprinted, and taken to the Hamilton County Prison. The three-tier prison was a medieval looking structure with iron doors. The beds hung from the walls by chains, in 5 x 10 feet prison cells. The toilet was a galvanized bucket in the corner.
The boys’ clothing were taken and replaced with prison uniforms without belts or shoe laces. They were locked into separate cells some distance apart. The next morning, they were brought to the federal building for their hearings, before the five to six member “Civilian Alien Hearing Board”, without witnesses or counsel. Two FBI agents presented the evidence, that partially consisted of glossy photographs of Eberhard attending the Coney Island German – American Day and German-American picnics in 1939 and 1940.
“The high point was when they asked, ‘What would you say to your German cousin if he came to you for sanctuary after coming up the Ohio River in his German U-boat?’ I said, ‘A sub couldn’t come up the Ohio River; it only drafts four feet’. Of course, they didn’t like that response.”
The same people interned their parents, seven months earlier. Eberhard’s father Carl immigrated to the United States, in 1927. His mother Anna immigrated along with Eberhard and Julius, in 1928. They settled in Cincinnati Ohio. In 1940, they were made to register as aliens by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI.
On August 5, 1942, his parents were taken into custody by the FBI. Several weeks later they were given hearings, by the “Civilian Alien Hearing Board” and ordered into internment. Eberhard’s younger brother Gerhard, was 12 at that time and interned with his parents, even though he was an American citizen. The alternative was an orphanage. On September 13, 1942, the three of them boarded a train headed for Chicago, Illinois, where they changed trains, and along with many other families, headed to Dallas and finally to the Federal Women’s Prison in Seagoville, Texas. At that time there were 700-800 family internees in this large facility which was run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. They remained there until early July of 1943, when they were transferred to a camp in southwestern Texas called Crystal City.
After Julius and Eberhard’s hearings at the Hamilton County Prison, the boys were shackled up and transported to Chicago. In July, 1943, they were sent to Crystal City, Texas, and reunited with their parents and younger brother. In Crystal City, Eberhard met Japanese people for the very first time. The internee population was almost equally German and Japanese. In 1947, the family was shipped to Ellis Island, where they constantly felt threatened by deportation. Finally, after a great deal of legal wrangling and a Congressional hearing, the Attorney General granted release to those remaining in custody in September 1947, two and a half years after the cessation of hostilities with Germany.
The Fuhrs finally were sent back to Cincinnati to handle their final affairs. Unfortunately, there were no final affairs to handle, as their house was totally destroyed by looters. The family had to start from scratch, burdened with the stigma of internment. Despite the dismal details of his family’s internment, Eberhard remains positive. He met his wife, Barbara, in Crystal City and they were married for almost 56 years, before her death. He completed high school and graduated from The Ohio University with highest honors. After 12 years with Shell Oil, he earned an MBA from the University of Wisconsin, and held responsible jobs until retirement. When asked if something like this could happen again, Eberhard said he is an optimist.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I spent my life, after interment, in sales and marketing and finally sales management. You have to be an optimist to survive in that, because all of the statistics say it takes seven sales calls to make a sale. That means you have to accept six rejections. I would like to answer your question positively. It depends on the government. The thing is, I don’t believe there was a single United States citizen interned in Germany by the German government.”
To find out more about Eberhard’s story, visit the Versailles Area Museum, 552 S. West Street, Versailles.
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4354. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.