The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell

The Train to Crystal CityThe 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 US citizens -- were incarcerated.

During World War II, trains delivered thousands of 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.

Focusing her story on two American-born teenage girls who were interned, author Jan Jarboe Russell uncovers the details of their years spent in the camp; the struggles of their fathers; their families' subsequent journeys to war-devastated Germany and Japan; and their years-long attempt to survive and return to the United States, transformed from incarcerated enemies to American loyalists. Their stories of day-to-day life at  the camp, from the ten-foot high security fence to the armed guards, daily roll call, and censored mail, have never been told.

Combining big-picture World War II history with a little-known event in American history that has long been kept quiet, The Train to Crystal City reveals the war-time hysteria against the Japanese and Germans in America, the secrets of FDR's tactics to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan, and how the definition of American citizenship changed under the pressure of war.

Jan Jarboe RussellJan Jarboe Russell is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Train to Crystal City. The book exposes the little-known story of a family internment camp in World War II located in Crystal City, Texas that housed Japanese, German and Italian immigrants and their American-born children. The camp in Crystal City became the center of President Roosevelt’s prisoner exchange program. In 2016, The Train To Crystal City won the Carr P. Collins Award for Best Book of Nonfiction, given by the Texas Institute of Letters.

Russell was born in Beaumont, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1972 and became a political reporter for The San Antonio Light. In 1976, she joined the Hearst Bureau in Washington, D.C. She later went to work as a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.

In 1984 she was named a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, one of twelve American journalists to study at Harvard that academic year. Upon her return home to Texas, she shifted her career to long-form journalism and joined Texas Monthly magazine as a senior editor. In 1989, her story, “Adoption: The Woes of Wednesday Child” She is currently a contributing editor to Texas Monthly.

In 1999, Scribner’s published her well-received biography of Lady Bird Johnson, named by The Washington Post one of the best books of the year. She also compiled and edited They Lived To Tell The Tale, published under the Explorer’s Club imprint.

Jan lives in San Antonio with her husband, Dr. Lewis F. Russell, Jr. They have four children.


Photo by Trish Simonite

Location Date Time  
Wharton County Library  October 4 6:00 PM  
Holocaust Museum Houston October 5 6:30 PM RSVP Here
Asia Society Texas Center    October 16 3:00 PM RSVP Here
Lone Star College North Harris October 17 12:30 PM  
Harris County Law Library  October 18 1:00 PM Register Here
Cypress Creek Community Center October 18 6:30 PM  
Lamar University, Mary and John Gray Library October 19 1:00 PM  
Houston Community College  October 20 11:00 AM Central, Learning Hub 100
San Jacinto College Lee Davis Library October 25 10:00 AM  
Texas Southern University Library     October 27 6:30 PM  

About the Book

History in Five: FDR’s Secret Enemy Exchange Program
Journalist Jan Jarboe Russell, author of THE TRAIN TO CRYSTAL CITY, exposes the secret history of a family internment camp in Texas and its use in FDR’s secret prisoner exchange program during WWII.

About the Crystal City Internment Camp

A video made from a public domain film produced by the Immigration and Naturalizaton Service in 1945 of the family internment camp at Crystal City, Texas. This camps was used for the incarceration of German Americans, German Latin Americans, Italian Americans and Italian Latin Americans, as well as Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans.


See how the dedication of an historic site has led to healing for hundreds of families that were once held at the Crystal City Family Internment Camp.




Thanks, and We'll See You Soon!

We want to take a minute to express our gratitude to everyone who worked so hard for the better part of a year to make Gulf Coast Reads 2016 a success. Special thanks, of course, go out to our author, Jan Jarboe Russell, who traversed the region end to end and top to bottom with far more graciousness, good humor and gusto than we had any right to expect. Thanks also to Dr. Abbie Grubb, William McWhorter and our other visiting scholars whose expertise put the events described in The Train to Crystal City into other contexts both past and present. Thanks to Crystal City internee Eb Fuhr who joined us via Skype at Harris County Law Library for sharing his experiences. Finally, we want to thank all of the Gulf Coast Readers who attended programs and book discussions. It is your enthusiasm for reading and its power to strengthen communities that makes this program possible.

Until next time, we wish you all happy reading!

Author Talk @ Texas Southern University. Thursday, 6:30PM

Note: This program is your last chance during Gulf Coast Reads to hear Jan Jarboe Russell speak and to get a signed copy of The Train to Crystal City

That thousands of Japanese, German and Italians were sent to internment camps as "enemy aliens" is one thing, it is another thing entirely to use those people--some of the U.S. citizens--as bargaining chips to gain the release of other U.S. citizens captured abroad during wartime. As is so movingly illustrated in The Train to Crystal City, the strain that coerced "repatriation" put on families was immense. Thursday at Texas Southern University Library, Jan Jarboe Russell will this prisoner exchange program dubbed "Quiet Passage" in context of how war intensifies painful jolts to personal, family, cultural, and national status, and stymies opportunity.

This event will take place in the Honors College Auditorium in the basement of the Robert J. Terry Library on the TSU campus, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m and will be followed by a book signing.

Jan Jarboe Russell Talks About Motivations and Process @ San Jacinto College Tuesday

Writing a book takes serious committment. Think about the time and energy that goes into one, then think about the fact that in many cases, the writer has no guarantee that anyone will want to read the end product, let alone publish it. Tuesday at San Jacinto College, Jan Jarboe Russell will talk about what motivated her to write The Train to Crystal City, as well as her writing and research process. A book signing will follow.

Also of interest tomorrow, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Ph.D., Director of Graduate Studies in History, Sam Houston State University, will discuss The Train to Crystal City at Montgomery County - Charles B. Stewart West Branch and historian Dr. Abbie Grubb will review the events that fueled The Train to Crystal City with a special emphasis on the role of minority military units durning World War II.