“I do believe deeply that the arts (reside) in the truly human area, where each individual is going to do something he or she does because he or she wants to do something well and does it better and better and better until he or she is gratified; that this is the essence of a successful life. Because you can do that as a cook, you can do that by making beds.” (Alfred Preis)
“I hoped to be interned! I wanted America to win the war, and if I hadn’t been picked up, I would have lost confidence in the authorities.” (Pries; Clarke)
Whoa … let’s look back …
Alfred Preis was one of 112 Germans and Italians – both aliens and naturalized citizens – who were interned in Hawai‘i on December 8, three days before the US went to war. (Clarke)
Preis “was born February 2, 1911, in Vienna, Austria. That was before the outbreak of the First World War. I lived at that time in a working-class district. My grandfather, whom I never knew, was a furniture maker and had his workshop there.”
“And my father was in the army and sent his wife to live somewhere near the grandmother, so that she would be sheltered and protected and have help. I lived in that area for three years and got ill, because the living conditions in Vienna at that time were dreadful. The apartments were not worth anything.”
“My grandmother lived in a suite composed of a large kitchen and one room, and to get into the room you had to walk through the kitchen. The only illumination at that time was kerosene lamps, which absorbed all the oxygen in the room.” (Preis; SFCA)
“But the situation in Vienna at that time-already before the outbreak of the war – was so that tuberculosis was all-prevalent. And when I was four years old, I got a touch of [tuberculosis] on my lungs.”
“The war broke out in 1914. [The sanatorium] was administered by the wives and daughters of Austrian aristocrats. It was a little chalet – a hunting chalet – up on the foothills of the Alps. I was dropped there by my mother, and she was advised, evidently, to leave me (without saying goodbye).”
“I (was released) after about half a year, not only hale but a different person. They planted seeds in me of curiosity-of (love for) literature (and good German). But the sheer interest these women had in us left an imprint on me which I still cherish. It was very important (for my future education).”
“I (grew up) in Catholicism. My father, however, was Jewish. Under the Nazi’s law I would have been considered half Jewish or Jewish, which (in effect) is the same thing. I was in danger.”
“My future wife also was in danger, although she was Catholic. She came as a refugee from the Russian Revolution and had to leave, as a child at that time, without a passport. So she had no citizenship, and she was vulnerable therefore.”
“The Nazis announced that they will put into concentration camp gypsies and loafers. And we were afraid that something would happen to her. We knew the Nazis would come. We still never talked about marriage or of intentions like that. After graduating from high school in 1929, he traveled throughout Europe and later returned to Vienna to study architecture.” (Preis; SFCA)
“We got our papers. But then we had to have a valid passport, which we had originally. But every time the Nazis reorganized the status of Austria, it meant that it had to be a different passport. So I think we had about five passports. The fina passport was a Nazi passport.”
“(W)e found out that the Queen Mary – an English ship, (and the fastest liner at the time) – that they (sold with the tickets) board money. That means (we) could pay with German money and get scrips. And (what we didn’t spend on board), they will (refund) them then in (dollars).”
“We arrived on April the 6th, 1939, in New York, before Easter – we saw an Easter parade on the 5th Avenue – and left on the 28th of May. Now before we could do that, we had to find contacts. I still wanted to go to Hawai’i. We had a letter [from] the priest who married us to a Catholic refugee organization in New York, which we presented.”
“(T)here was a priest – his name was Father Ostermann – and he was very different from the Austrian clerics. He was a very worldly man, experienced, had a sense of humor. I suspect he was skeptical, but certainly he was frivolous. And he said, “What do you want?”
“And we showed him our letter. ‘We would like to go to Hawaii’ (a destination they chose after seeing movies about the South Seas. (Clarke)) Father Ostermann looked at it and said, ‘Let me try.’ He obtained a waiver of a particular prohibition that people could [not] travel from an American port to another American port on a freighter.”
“Maybe Hawai’i was, to them, still a foreign port. He had to get that waiver. So we actually were then booked as a passenger on a 9,000 ton ship (of the Pioneer Line), a freight boat called the Sawoklah. And we were supposed to go through the [Panama] Canal to Hawai’i. … Then we left.” (Preis; SFCA)
Upon arrival in the Islands, he went to work with an architectural firm; “I did (design) a great number of (buildings) and residences, predominantly for Chinese.”
Then, that fateful day that changed the Islands and the world … “(we heard shooting and felt the impact of bombs or shots. And I turned to my wife and said, ‘That’s a very realistic maneuver today.’”
“At ten-thirty we … turned it to radio. KGU every Sunday at ten-thirty had a symphony concert, which we turned on. There was no symphony. There was a man who said, ‘This is not a maneuver. This is the real McCoy.’ We couldn’t believe it. We were all prepared for it, but we couldn’t believe it.”
“About seven o’clock in the evening … (following) the attack (on Pearl Harbor) – two men in civil[ian dress] came and said, ‘We have to ask you to come with us. We have to ask some questions. You will be back very soon.’”
“But it was seven o’clock in the evening. Somehow my upbringing under the Nazis made me skeptical. I said, ‘Do you mind if we take some toothbrushes along?’ ‘Well, you don’t need them, but okay, if you want to.’ We were the only people with toothbrushes.”
“We drove very, very slowly at that time (through the) darkened streets. The headlights were blue – later on red – (painted) with a tiny slit (for) the light (to shine through). And so the cars were creeping. I recognized – it was dark already, it was December – that we (were driving) to the immigration station.”
“We came to a one-story building which used to be a part of the quarantine station for immigrants. (The) man in charge, a major (who was originally) a customs officer, was (evidently) overanxious (and) strict. He (made us strip off) our (wedding) rings, which made me break down. Not even the Nazis took my wedding ring.”
“I was very nervous. I was worried about my wife. I made such a scene there that he returned all of our rings to all of us. With that man we had other (troubles). We were moved to an open area. There was a bunch of rolled up tents, and they said, ‘Erect them.’ So we built tents.”
“We were guarded by people from the national guard, local people. Some of them we were befriended with (from before). They were tired, and they didn’t have any sleep, (so) they begged us to (let them) sleep in our tent and that we would watch them so they wouldn’t get caught, which we did.”
“There were two camps side by side, separated by about (a) twenty-feet (wide maze) of barbed wire. We, the Haoles, were about fifty men. The Japanese camp had about 2,500”.
“The difference between the Japanese camp and ours was striking. Every tent – they had tents, as we did – (was adorned with tiny) pebbles, shells, and coral (splinters). They picked (them) up, and they made patterns like stone gardens out of it – neat, beautiful, clean, (with an innate genius) compared to us. We (at most) picked up cigarette butts (which our men just) threw away.”
“We saw that (from our) fifty people-Germans, Norwegians, Italians, (Austrians, and) Hungarians, all people (whose countries) were invaded and occupied by the Nazis and therefore (suspect) – small groups were leaving the camp.”
“The others, we later learned, were shipped to the Mainland. My wife and I and two others were left over. But eventually we were released on parole on March 28, 1942.” (Preis; SFCA)
Preis returned to his architectural practice. A notable, now iconic, structure was the USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona Memorial, located at Pearl Harbor, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed on the USS Arizona during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 by Japanese imperial forces and commemorates the events of that day.
The memorial, which was dedicated in 1962 and spans the sunken hull of the battleship Arizona, without touching it. The memorial visually floats above the water like an out stretched white sail hovering above the waters of the harbor.
The memorial was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, his design set out to create a bridge that would float above the battleship with room for approximately 200 visitors at a time. (Johnston)
Critics of the memorial’s design have likened it to a “squashed milk carton,” but the USS Arizona Memorial’s design is a little more complex than that. Preis had a clear idea in mind when he designed the memorial and everything about it serves a purpose.
The structure is about 184 feet long, and at both ends, it rises. The peaks are connected to a sag in the middle of the structure. This was no random design choice. It’s a metaphor for the United States at the time of World War II.
On one side, the first peak represents the country’s pride before the war. In the middle, the sag represents the shock and depression the country faced just after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
One the other side of the structure, the second peak represents the might and power of the US after the war. Together, all three components tell a story. (Visit Pearl Harbor)
In 1963, Preis became state planning coordinator. While serving in that position, he helped draft the bill that established the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts [SFCA] in 1965. Preis served as acting executive director of the SFCA until July 1, 1966, when he was formally appointed executive director. He retired from the position in 1980. (SFCA)