Such Splendid Prisons: Diplomatic Detainment in America during World War II
2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Silver Medal Winner
2020-21 Reader Views Literary Awards Bronze Medal Winner
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.
Praise for Such Splendid Prisons: Diplomatic Detainment in America during World War II
"Such Splendid Prisons is a detailed, thoroughly researched study that should be essential reading for anyone interested in the Second World War in America, diplomatic history, and the history of internment in general. Thanks to author Harvey Solomon's fluent prose, his book will attract both academic and general audiences."—Rachel Pistol, Michigan War Studies Review
“It’s not every day that a significant piece of neglected WWII diplomacy comes to light, but it has done so in Such Splendid Prisons. . . .[I]t’s a fascinating lesson in how diplomacy is meant to function and should enthrall American history buffs, current and retired U. S. diplomats, and employees of the FBI and CIA whose predecessors played such crucial roles in this daring operation.”—Peter F. Spalding, Foreign Service Journal
“Uncovering a hidden slice of wartime America, Harvey Solomon’s Such Splendid Prisons tells an intriguing story of elite Axis prisoners incarcerated by the U.S. government, replete with behind-the-scenes diplomatic machinations and political calculations.”—Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, The Generals, and The Allies
“In World War II the U.S. government detained thousands of the Axis powers’ diplomats and dependents—by putting them up in luxury hotels. In this absorbing, cinematic account, Harvey Solomon examines the one place where Germans, Italians, and Japanese all had to live together: the United States of America.”—Stephen Wertheim, visiting assistant professor of history at Columbia University
“With sharp characterization, crackling prose, and an eye for humorous detail, Harvey Solomon takes us on a wild technicolor ride. . . . His prodigious research has cracked the code of silence surrounding the secretive detention of Axis diplomats and their families. This is the most detailed and lively account of this ironic wartime episode yet written.”—Max Paul Friedman, professor of history at American University
“In a consistently fascinating book, Harvey Solomon guides his readers though what really is—in that overused phrase—one of the last untold stories of World War II. Here in their faded glory are the experiences of the enemy diplomats obliged to remain in the custody of the U.S. government after the outbreak of war. Exotic characters and arcane attitudes abound in this window on diplomatic lives as they were lived in what now seems like the end of an era. Readers have to pinch themselves to be sure this isn’t some dream of the nineteenth century but rather events that unfolded simultaneously with the horrors of Auschwitz, Stalingrad, and Hiroshima.”—Nicholas J. Cull, professor of communications and director of the Masters of Diplomacy Program at the University of Southern California
“In this engagingly written volume, Harvey Solomon tells the unknown—and fascinating—story of enemy diplomats who were detained in America during the Second World War. Anyone interested in the war will find Such Splendid Prisons an intriguing, memorable tale.”—Jonathan Rosenberg, associate professor of history at Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center
“A lively depiction of the Washington scene on the brink of World War II, with fascinating revelations about the fate of Axis diplomatic staffs interned in the U.S. at the outbreak of hostilities. Highly engaging and personal, this account will captivate general readers and scholars alike.”—Alfred M. Beck, author of Hitler’s Ambivalent Attaché
“Such Splendid Prisons provides a well-crafted and dramatic narrative of a little-known aspect of World War II. It tells a fascinating story with lively accounts of the individual personalities: a real pleasure to read.”—Derek Mallett, author of Hitler’s Generals in America: Nazi POWs and Allied Military Intelligence