Crystal City and the U.S. Supreme Court - Ackermann v. O'Rourke, 334 U.S. 858 (1948).

The story of one family at the World War II internment camp in Crystal City leads all the way to the nation's highest Court. Explore this page to discover the story of Hans and Frieda Ackermann as it played out on the pages of the Law Library's historic collection.


Hans & Frieda Ackermann

A Timeline of Hans and Frieda's Path to Citizenship

photo of wedding rings

1923: Hans and Frieda Married in Germany

Prior to emigrating to the United States, Hans and Frieda Ackermann lived in Germany where they met and were married in 1923.


Ship manifest listing Hans and Frieda Ackermann - click to enlarge.

1924: Hans and Frieda Arrive in Texas

Although not native Texans, Hans and Frieda got here as quick as they could. In September, 1924, the Ackermanns boarded a ship at Bremen, Germany, and reported their destination as Giddings, Texas. Upon arriving in the U.S., they completed the requirements to become lawful permanent residents.

 


1926: Hans Entered the Newspaper Business

After working as a printer, Hans became part owner of the German-language newspaper, The Tayler Herold. Over the next decade, Hans and his brother-in-law, Max Keilbar, purchased the paper and made it very successful.


1939: Hans and Frieda Become U.S. Citizens

Fifteen years after arriving in the U.S., Hans and Frieda completed the multi-year process of becoming citizens. According to Frieda's testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Ackermanns first began the application for citizenship in 1924, but missed deadlines and had to restart the process. For more information about the struggles of German immigrants to complete the naturalization process, read Chapter 4 of The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell.


U.S. Enters World War II

On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan mounted a surprise attack against U.S. military installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, prompting the United States' entry into World War II. Within days, Congress passed joint resolutions declaring war against Japan, Germany, and other Axis powers, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Proclamations 2525 and 2526, which gave the U.S. Attorney General the authority to declare individuals of Japanese and German ancestry to be enemy aliens under the Alien Enemies Act of 1798.

Hans and Frieda Appear Before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee

With the outbreak of World War II imminent, the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by Representative Martin Dies of Texas, increased its activity to find individuals and groups giving support to Axis countries. On July 9, 1940, Hans and Frieda appeared before the Committee, where they were questioned about their citizenship and content published in their newspaper. To read the Ackermann's testimony before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, find a digitized copy on Google Books of an original printing from the Government Printing Office from the University of Michigan Libraries.


1943: Hans and Frieda Denaturalized

On December 7, 1943, a federal judge revoked Hans and Frieda’s citizenship along with that of Frieda’s brother and Hans’ business partner, Max Keilbar, based on the pro-German content they published in their newspaper. See U.S. v. Ackermann v. Keilbar, 53 F.Supp. 611 (W.D. Tex, 1943). Find the text of the case on CaseText.


1943: Hans and Frieda Detained and Interned at Crystal City, Texas

Without citizenship, Hans and Frieda were immediately detained by FBI agents on the orders of U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle. Hans and Frieda were quickly interned at the family detention camp in Crystal City, Texas. The trial and internment of the Ackermanns was big news and appeared in newspapers throughout the state.


1945: Ackermann v. O'Rourke

After two years at Crystal City, Hans and Frieda sued Joseph O’Rourke, the officer in charge of the camp, to challenge their internment on the basis that they were unconstitutionally detained without a trial. After the district court and the Fifth Circuit denied their writ, they petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari. In denying the petition, the Court tacitly approved the method used to intern those with German and Japanese ancestry at Crystal City.


Style of Ackermann v. U.S., 340 U.S. 193 (1950). Click to read the case from Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute.

Style of Ackermann v. U.S., 340 U.S. 193 (1950). Click to read the case from Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute.

Influencing American Jurisprudence: The Ackermann Rule

While challenging their internment, Hans and Frieda also appealed their denaturalization to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled the Ackermanns did not appeal quickly enough and that the high cost of filing the appeal (twice the value of their house) and internment did not excuse their delay. The high standard set for excusing delayed appeals became a precedent cited in subsequent cases as “The Ackermann Rule.” For more on The Ackermann Rule, read Scott Dodson, "In Practice, Professor Dodson on Restricting the Ackermann Rule," The Recorder, Nov. 9, 2012.


Afterword

As noted in Justice Minton's opinion for the Court in Ackermann v. U.S., Hans and Frieda's "orders of deportation are still outstanding." Despite efforts by all three branches of the federal government, the Ackermanns were not deported to Germany. Instead, they remained in the Texas hill country for the remainder of their lives. Hans and Frieda's death certificates, which are on file with the Texas Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, indicate that Hans passed away at the age of 63 and Frieda at the age of 82, both in Travis County.

Texas Death Certificate - Frieda Ackermann

Texas Death Certificate - Hans Ackermann

The Harris County Law Library would like to thank Lynn Chamberlain, Assistant County Attorney, Office of Vince Ryan - Harris County Attorney, for helping us locate Hans and Frieda's death certificates.