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Loyalty on Trial: One American's Battle with the FBI    by Erik V. Wolter order for
Loyalty on Trial
by Erik V. Wolter
Order:  USA  Can
iUniverse, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This book recounts the ordeal of Arthur Wolter, father of Erik. Born in 1906, he grew up in a Germany ravaged by World War I, and emigrated to the United States as a young man. Not particularly political, a writer and poet, he nonetheless was distressed enough by anti-German sentiments in the United States to voice his protests against what he felt to be hateful propaganda. His attempts to set the record straight led him to write letters and articles; and he joined an organization called The Friends of New Germany, later to be renamed the German American Bund.

Emotions ran high in the period between the wars, even before the United States officially entered World War II. In the shadow of 9/11, it should be no surprise that Americans of German origin (and Italian and Japanese) were regarded with suspicion. Unsubstantiated accusations could and did result in suspects being investigated and detained. Arthur Wolter came to FBI attention after he walked out of a film that he considered offensively anti-German. Although the investigation cleared him, he came under suspicion again when a raid on Bund headquarters turned up letters and articles written by Wolter, sometimes under a pen name.

Subsequent events, painstakingly detailed by the authors, reveal how frighteningly easy it is to be condemned on nothing but shadow allegations, and how careless words or comments can be made to look damning. Wolter was declared guilty by the judge, and his citizenship revoked. He lost his job as well as his standing in the community. Fortunately, he had a competent and determined lawyer. Zeno Fritz launched a successful appeal. Cannily, he had waited for the conclusion of a similar case in which the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of the defendant. 'A naturalized citizen has as much right as a native-born American to criticize public men and measures and express 'silly or even sinister-sounding views'.'

Arthur Wolter's life vindicates the successful appeal. Deeds weigh more heavily than incautious words, and certainly more than anonymous accusations. He went on to rebuild his life, although he was much warier in his choice of written material, limiting himself to poetry and artistic endeavours rather than political commentary. In addition to the material relevant to the trial (perhaps in more detail than the ordinary reader will welcome), there are interesting extras like commentaries by experts on history. Perhaps the most compelling is the account of Arthur D. Jacobs, summarized in the Epilogue. Jacobs' father, unlike Wolter, lost his citizenship and was repatriated to Germany. His wife chose to accompany him, taking her young sons with her. Arthur was only twelve years old. He tells of their harrowing experiences in A Prison Called Hohenasperg, an even more chilling tale of justice denied.

Loyalty on Trial is timely. We are wrestling with the mutually opposing needs of security vs. individual rights. How far can we go to protect society before we turn into the enemy?

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