The guest speaker for the 68th Night at the Museum held at the Dorcheat Historical Museum was Adolf Wesselhoeft. Wess was a member of the United States Airforce, and the fact is surprising after understanding the life that he lived as a young child, experiencing the Second World War first hand.
Both of Wess’s parents were from Germany and came to the U.S. and they met in Chicago where Wess was born only a short time later in September of 36’.
As he tells it, his time in America was that of a typical American boy.
“They never spoke to me in German, just in English, so I grew up as an American boy,” said Wesselhoeft. “By the time I was six, I finished first grade and we said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning when I went to school.”
Even in his early years Wess could always recall being fascinated by airplanes and had a dream to become a pilot. “One of the things that interested me was flying and planes. In my yearbook that I still have, I drew a little picture of an airplane,” said Wess.
After World War II had started, unfortunately, Wess’s family became a bargaining chip in the United States negotiations to try and get some of their citizens back.
“President Roosevelt had a problem with the people that were trapped under Hitler. So he had to figure out how he could get the American people back,” said Wess.
“So he came up with the idea to see what there was for Germans that he could maybe trade. And so my parents were declared as enemy aliens, and I was a volunteer somehow, they listed me as a volunteer anyway.”
For a while, his Dad was put into a prisoner of war camp, and he had to live alone with his mother. However, this didn’t mean that the Father was the only one harassed by the government. “While I was with my mother, the FBI came in and they were looking for something. They started opening all the cabinets and drawers, dumping everything on the floor. Never did figure out what they were looking for, but then they left again,” said Wess.
After some time his dad had returned, but soon after they were on a train to an internment camp in Texas. “They put us on the train to Crystal City in Texas. When we got to the camp, we were basically the first ones there, then the Japanese and also the Italians. In the time of history, we know that the Japanese were recognized for being interned, and also the Italians were recognized by the government. But the Germans have never been recognized that they were interned. Why? I have no idea.”
Wess stated that they were there for roughly a year, before being sent to New York, and then being put on a Swedish ship to be taken for the trade between the U.S. and Germany. “We were put on that ship and taken over the Atlantic. Now this was in Feb, not exactly the nicest weather, I was seasick for half the trip,” said Wess.
“The exchange took place in Portugal. Who we were traded for I have no idea, but there were wounded soldiers, diplomats, business people and so forth.”
After returning to Germany, Wess and his family returned to the village of Hamburg, given that that is where his family had come from. However, to say that the family had a happy welcome home would be inaccurate at worst.
“It started the day we got there, with the bombing,” said Wess.
With bunkers not being an option due to people being trapped after seeking shelter due to the debris, Wess’s family had to find an alternative means of dealing with the bombings.
“We decided to move out of the way, because they never changed their plan. They flew right up where the Germans had lined up the artillery, so we knew exactly where they were going to come exactly the same way,” said Wess.
“When they did that we had enough time to move out of the way. My mother always had all the clothes ready, and I could hardly move from all the stuff she put on me.”
On top of the near-constant bombing, they also had the hardship of simply getting the bare necessities.
“That was a pretty rough time when there was no food available because the stores didn’t have anything. So basically what we lived on was the black market,” said Wess.
He even told a melancholy tale of finally getting his American Bicycle back after coming to Germany, but never being able to rise it due to its value.
“Now the bicycle I had in Chicago finally caught up with me, so I had my American bicycle. I never rode it because it was too valuable in trade,” said Wess.
While it was a difficult time, his family ended up making it through the war, and a few years after Wess ended up returning to America, on his own this time, where he would end up joining the American Airforce.
For more details of his life during the war and after returning to America, it can be found in his book “Traded to the Enemy” which is available at the Dorcheat Historical Museum.