La Porte, IN Courthouse postcard Fred sent to his family

La Porte, IN Courthouse
postcard Fred sent to his family

In the post, Explosive News, we heard that my dad, Fred, a chemist, quit his job with Lanteen to make almost double the salary as a blasting powder blender at the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant in LaPorte, Indiana. He started the job on March 30, 1942.

After Lil’s Easter post on April 5, 1942, she didn’t write for several weeks, until she made this startling entry.

May 16, 1942

Fred lost his job in Indiana through no fault of his. He felt so blue, poor guy, particularly over the injustice of it all. One thing Fred did find out through this experience is that he could fight back against any odds. He didn’t give up until he found out why he was canned. 
[Mom also turned to shorthand in this entry, discussing what she understood about the dismissal (revealed below)––but clearly wanting to keep her thoughts hidden, perhaps for the same reasons Fred was fired? Thank you to Sandy Arnone, blogger extraordinaire at Spittal Street, for helping me decipher sections of Mom’s shorthand].

This is a tale about being “the other,” during war, even as a United States citizen. Most Americans know about the shameful injustice perpetrated against Japanese-American citizens during World War II. More than 100,000 were rounded up and sent to “internment camps.”

But many are unaware that thousands of German-Americans also suffered this knee-jerk discrimination. Internment camps were set up to hold not only Japanese Americans, but also those with Italian and German heritages.

My father became victim to anti-German bigotry, despite the fact that he and his brothers were natural-born American citizens and both his parents had attained American citizenship around 1920. A further irony is that my father’s parents had no affiliation to Germany: they were from Transylvania, in Romania after WWI, ethnic Germans whose ancestors had emigrated from Alsace in 1770 (my grandfather’s side) or had been driven out of Austria in the 19th century (my grandmother’s side), the latter because of religious bigotry against Lutherans.

Dad had often told the story of how he was fired, without warning, from the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, just two months after starting, but I recently found a letter that detailed his reaction to this traumatic experience as it unfolded.

On Sunday, May 10, 1942 (Mother’s Day), Fred wrote an eight-page letter to his mother and family, explaining his summary dismissal, the outright lies and run-around about the reasons behind his firing, and how he fought back to get at the truth and clear his and his family’s name. As Lil notes in her diary entry, he tapped a reservoir of confidence he hadn’t realized he possessed.

These are the key events in the story, all culled from that May10th letter.

On Monday May 4th, Fred was in the lab at the Kingsbury Plant when Mr. Barab, one of his bosses, called Fred into his office. With no explanation nor prior warning, Barab told him, “I have a very painful duty to do, Gartz, but I’ll have to let you go.”

“Why?!” Fred was flat-out blindsided.

“I don’t know.”

“How can I find out?”

“Perhaps at the personnel department.”

Barab gave Fred a “termination slip” so he could pick up the pay due to him. A security guard escorted Fred to Personnel, to ensure he turned in his identification badge.

Fred refused to give up the badge until he had a full explanation as to why he was being fired. No one was available in personnel except a Mr. Vail, who “was reluctant to give out any information” and told Fred, “You’ll know what’s wrong.”

“I certainly don’t know what’s wrong!” said Fred. “This entire department is incompetent if I can’t even get the truth!” For my dad, who hated confrontation, this aggressive statement reflected the level of outrage and frustration he felt.

Fred wrote, “Mr. Vail got sore and told me to leave. I said I wouldn’t until I found out who could give me information leading to my dismissal.”

Vail replied that nothing could be done, but implied that the trouble had to do with the quality of Fred’s work, which Fred knew “was patently untrue.”

“My work has always been satisfactory,” he told Vail, who summarily dismissed Fred from his office.

Going back to the Personnel office, the security guard pressured Fred to give up his badge because his day was up and he wanted to go home. “I’m not leaving until I find out why I was fired,” Fred told him. “It may be a little overtime for you, but to me it’s a job.”

In my goal to keep these posts readable within a few minutes, I’m breaking up this story into parts. I’ll continue the story of how doggedly Fred had to work to track down the real reason for his firing next week with “An F.B.I. investigation of the whole family?!”