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The story of William Sienang, immigrant from Germany who stowed away to come to America but died at the Angel Island hospital, is told in Maria Sakovich’s “Deaths on Angel Island.” Here again is the story about Mr. Sienang.
Ship’s cook William Sienang (he always signed himself as Willie) arrived on October 10, 1917, as an “alien enemy,” subject to interrogation and detention under the “President’s Proclamation of April 6, 1917.” He was among 250 or so German crewmen removed from German merchant and American ships and detained at the Immigration Station after the United States entered the war, which had engulfed Europe since August 1914. He understood and spoke English and wrote it as well, albeit awkwardly. Excerpts from documents in his file provide information about his background and the last few months of his life. (Willie’s spelling has been corrected.)
The reason for leaving the German-Ship [in September 1916 in Mexico], was bad treatment and sickness. The condition on Ship was unbearable, so I deserted the Ship without any pay. I lost about 400 dollar. Soonest I get acquainted with American-custom, I made up my mind to become a American-citizen and settle down here.
Willie Sienang stowed away on an American ship, arrived for the first time at Angel Island and was admitted the next day. For a year he then worked aboard American ships along the West Coast.
October 15: “Q. Are you now, or have you ever been, connected with the German army or navy? A. No, I ran away before they got me. Q. How old were you when you left Germany? A. . . . I was about 18 when I left first. Q. Do you consider yourself now a German subject? A. No. I got nothing to do with the German army or navy. Q. Have you ever declared your intention to become a citizen of the United States? A. Yes, I applied but could not get my first paper. I tried in June this year . . . they said it was too late.” The board determined that Willie was “admissible so far as the Immigration Law applies, but you are excluded as an alien enemy. . . .”
Also on October 15, Sienang applied to enter the country under a special provision of the President’s Proclamation to make “the United States my permanent home, reshipping if permissible, or otherwise securing employment on shore.”
November 9: Today I am interned on this Island, for the last four Weeks; and I haven’t heard from this Department . . . for what reason I am interned on this Island. Alls I know of is that mentioned to me that my case has to be sent to the Authorities in Washington, D.C. for decision. If there has come an answer from [the] mentioned Department, please be so kind and instruct me. Further would I like to know the reason why I am arrested.
November 27: I am [now] here for about 7 weeks and heard today [that] my Application is denied. . . . If not possible to obtain Liberty, I wish you would deport me back to Mexico, because I can’t stand to be without work.”
December 20, 1917: The Department of Justice has been communicated with regarding the proposed deportation of the alien William Sienang, and states . . . that there is no objection to his being sent to South America at this time.
January 8, 1918, A.A. Surgeon of the U.S. Public Health Service: I respectfully advise you of the death of William Sienang, 16581/1-1, Interned German, which took place in this hospital at 8:10 p.m. January 6, 1918. The immediate cause of death being acute dilation of the heart, of which the contributory cause was chronic inflammation of the kidneys, which was undoubtedly a sequel of an attack of scarlet fever one year ago.
February 5, 1918, San Francisco Commissioner to the Commissioner General: All the alien’s effects, consisting of one razor, one stick shaving soap, one pocket knife, two postal cards, one account book, two suit cases, and $4.85 in money, were delivered to Dr. F.E. Sawyer, Coroner of Marin County, with the body, and the interment was made by the Coroner’s office at the County Farm of Marin County, San Rafael. No relatives or close friends of the deceased could be located by this office, but Miss Katherine Maurer, Deaconess [in charge of social work at the Immigration Station], and Rev. G.A. Wassa, both of the Methodist Episcopal Church, San Francisco, conducted a short funeral service in the Coroner’s office at San Rafael.
William Sienang (File 16581/1-1, RG 85, National Archives, San Bruno, California.
Maria Sakovich, “When the ‘Enemy’ Landed at Angel Island” in Prologue, Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer 2009).
Maria Sakovich is a public historian and independent scholar who researches, writes, and develops exhibits in the areas of immigration, family, and community history. She has written articles on Methodist women including Deaconess Katharine Maurer, a beloved social worker at the Angel Island Immigration Station, and “When the Enemy Landed at Angel Island,” from the National Archives and Records Administration’s website.
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