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.




Gulf Coast Reads 2016 Begins Tomorrow!

After nearly a year of preparation and more phone calls and emails than we care to think about, as well as a lot of behind the scenes work by libraries, colleges and partner organizations across nine southeast Texas counties, Gulf Coast Reads 2016 is finally upon us.

As we have done in years past, we have chosen a book we believe will be of special interest to people of the region. This year's selection, The Train to Crystal City by Beaumont-born, Texas Monthly senior editor, Jan Jarboe Russell, tells of a little-known chapter in our country's and our state's history. While it is neither's finest hour, the book will leave you with clearer insight into the big picture history you may think you already know, as well as admiration for the strength and perseverance of the German- and Japanese-American families who are the book’s focus.

As it has been since its beginning six years ago, Gulf Coast Reads is not just about reading and raising awareness of libraries, it's about community and interaction. To that end, you will have plenty of opportunity to discuss the book with other Gulf Coast readers both in person and online all month long. Not to mention all the special events and programs to deepen your understanding and spark your curiosity:

  • Author Jan Jarboe Russell will visit ten libraries spanning the breadth of the region from Wharton County Central Library to Lamar University in Beaumont.
  • Gulf Coast Reads at Museum of Fine Arts Houston allow you to trace the story of the Crystal City camp through the MFAH's galleries and to discuss the stories of life at the camp through the lens of artworks and artists of the era.
  • Area archives and archivists have contributed to an online exhibit of photos, documents and other memorabilia that adds other perspectives to the book's story,
  • And lots more! See the events calendar for full-listings, and keep an eye on this for special features, follow us @gulfcoastreads on Facebook and Twitter.

Learn more about the author at