By Harvey Solomon
In the chaotic days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration made a dubious decision affecting hundreds of Axis diplomats remaining in the nation’s capital. To encourage reciprocal treatment of U.S. diplomats trapped abroad, Roosevelt sent Axis diplomats to remote luxury hotels—a move that enraged Americans stunned by the attack. This cause célèbre drove a fascinating yet forgotten story: the roundup, detention, and eventual repatriation of more than a thousand German, Japanese, Italian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian diplomats, families, staff, servants, journalists, students, businessmen, and spies.
Such Splendid Prisons follows five of these internees whose privileged worlds came crashing down after December 7, 1941: a suave, calculating Nazi ambassador and his charming but conflicted wife; a wily veteran Japanese journalist; a beleaguered American wife of a Japanese spy posing as a diplomat; and a spirited but naive college-aged daughter of a German military attaché.
The close, albeit luxurious, proximity in which these Axis power emissaries were forced to live with each other stripped away the veneer of false prewar diplomatic bonhomie. Conflicts ran deep not only among the captives but also among the rival U.S. agencies overseeing a detainment fraught with uncertainty, duplicity, lust, and romance. Harvey Solomon re-creates this wartime American period of deluxe detention, public outrage, hidden agendas, rancor and racism, and political machinations in a fascinating but forgotten story.