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Fort Lincoln Internment Camp: Ernst Pohlig


Yesterday we brought you the story of Toyojiro Suzuki, a Japanese American interned at Fort Lincoln during WWII. At its peak population, Fort Lincoln housed 1200 Japanese and 500 German detainees.

Today we bring you Ernst Pohlig's story from the German side of camp. Technically he was a "detainee" until the US declared war on Germany. Federal officials emphasized that "internment camps" were for citizens of an enemy country during war.

About 6 feet tall, Ernst Pohlig was blond-haired and blue-eyed. Born and raised in Germany, he was drafted into the German navy. After he got out, he joined up with a merchant vessel, and on this date in 1939, he landed on US soil when his ship docked to make repairs. Two days later the war broke out. Stuck in the US, Pohlig and other seamen stayed longer than allowed without a visa.

Pohlig was eventually shipped to Fort Lincoln in 1941. Though the camp adhered to international standards of treatment, Pohlig was not content to remain idle, and he wanted to become an American citizen. He was not only impressed with the American way of life, but also opposed German politics and feared prosecution. In one letter to the Special Assistant to the Attorney General, he wrote, "I am convinced that I can be of more value to this country in its Armed Forces..."

While awaiting parole, Pohlig served as an interpreter at the camp hospital. After he got out, he was drafted, and during basic training he became an American citizen. "I wanted to get in, especially because it made it so much easier to get my citizenship," he said. Though he technically served both for and against Hitler, Pohlig didn't worry about potentially fighting his former countrymen - he considered the German government the opponent, not the German people. And as it turned out, he spent his service time in the Pacific.

After the war, Pohlig returned to Bismarck, where a job awaited him. He married in 1944, raised a family of three daughters, and became active in the American Legion. Under the GI bill, he received further training and later became a foreman at Vantine's Paint and Glass. Twice he visited Germany, saying it was a beautiful place, but that the US was "...still a good place to live."

Ernst Pohlig was in the wrong place at the wrong time - a German on American soil when WWII broke out. Still, it all worked out for the best. Ernst Pohlig became an American citizen and found a home in Bismarck.

Dakota Datebook written by Alyssa Boge


Manuscript 10902 from the State of North Dakota Historical Society

State Historical Society of North Dakota general reference file for Fort Lincoln

Internment Camp

"The Great Plains during World War II" by R. Douglas Hurt - 2008.