Internee Tags


This story is part of a year-long exhibit on German American internment at the Texas State History Museum, in partnership with St. Mary's University.

A baggage tag often symbolizes an enjoyable vacation from the stresses of home life. And these were baggage tags, but they were also stuck on the chests of two little girls and their parents who were abruptly deported and interned during World War II. The Gurcke family was taken unwillingly from Costa Rica to the Crystal City internment camp in the United States.

As Pearl Harbor spiked national panic, the United States government began to arrest thousands of people deemed “dangerous alien enemies”, usually with little to no actual incriminating evidence. On top of this, the United States illegally coerced many Latin American countries into shipping their German population to internment in the United States.

The Gurcke family was one of the many families who were victims of this policy. Originally from Germany, Werner Gurcke, had immigrated to Costa Rica. His wife, Starr, had been born in the United States. Their two daughters, Heidi and Ingrid, were born in Costa Rica. Internment began with their father’s unlawful arrest, but quickly transformed into the family being boarded onto the USAT Puebla on its way to Crystal City (Family) Internment camp. The Costa Rican government confiscated all their property except the few belongings they were permitted to take with them. Those belongings were tagged. Werner, Starr, Ingrid, and Heidi were also tagged. These tags meant not a relaxing vacation, but rather a traumatic ordeal for Starr, Werner and their two little girls forced to lose everything and live behind barbed wire indefinitely. 

Place(s): Costa Rica; Crystal City, Texas;

– Claudia Sanchez

Relationship:  Im/migrant who arrived as a child Im/migrant who arrived as a child