Healing Through History

The Texas Story Project.

When Nicole Johnson was a freshman at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas, she was assigned a research project in her history class. Immediately, she knew the focus of her research. "I came across the topic of the Crystal City internment camp during World War II and I knew that this was a part of Texas history I wanted to learn about," she said.

"There were three internment camps in Texas during World War II," she explains. "The largest was in Crystal City." In addition to researching the history of the Crystal City internment camp, Johnson wanted to interview an actual internee. While her professor, Teresa Van Hoy, Ph.D., was supportive, she doubted the feasibility of such a task. "I thought 'Well ... that was 75 years ago," Dr. Van Hoy remarked. 

Lt. Col. Adolf 'Wes' Wesselhoeft, now 81 years old, was interned in Crystal City, Texas, at the age of six during World War II. "On the train coming here, (I) was astonished more than anything else," he told Nicole. "All of us, being Americans, were under armed guard going south. For what we didn't really know." Despite being an American citizen, Wesselhoeft was sent to Germany in exchange for American soldiers captured during the war, returning 14 years later in 1958.

Wesselhoeft returned to the Crystal City internment camp on the 75th anniversary of his internment for a ceremony co-sponsored by St. Mary’s University, the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and the Texas Historical Commission. Attended by St. Mary's Universtiy students and the general public, the event honored Wesselhoeft and others interned at Crystal City.

"There's a lot at stake when we don't know our history, or worse, repress it." Dr. Van Hoy reflects. "Talking about it, owning it, learning from it has a great power to heal." 

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