Fritz J. Hansgirg

An account written by Hansgirg of his career before his employment at BMC. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 1

Fritz Johann Hansgirg was born in Graz, Austria in 1891 and became a well-known electrochemist and metallurgist over the course of his career.[1]

In 1935, Hansgirg worked as the American Representative and Vice-President for the Japanese Magnesium Company due to his advanced understanding of the field and patented discoveries regarding magnesium and hydrogen, primarily the Combined Electrolysis Catalytic Exchange (CECE). He returned Austria in 1939 in order to visit family and negotiate business transactions for what he had anticipated being a brief trip. However, upon the outbreak of the Second World War, he was detained in Austria. In Hansgirg’s own words, he was, “…practically held prisoner by the Gestapo in Vienna, Austria.”[2] After many long consultations and negotiations between his lawyers and the state, Hansgirg’s passport was eventually returned to him and he was given permission to leave the country.

A letter by W. R. Wunsch to Joseph J. Cole, the District Parole Officer of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, about transferring the responsibility of parole to Isaac Van Horn. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 2

After the incident in Austria, Hansgirg returned to the Japanese Magnesium Company plan in Manchukuo in February of 1940. He was shocked to find that the social and political climate had dramatically shifted toward Pro-Axis fervor. Upon this change, Hansgirg decided to leave Japan and settle within the United States—which he had admired since his first visit to the U.S. in 1929. He left Japan for residence in the United States in May of 1940. Three months after, in August, Hansgirg developed a new process with which to precipitate new magnesite from seawater and sold this process to Marine Magnesium Products Corp. in San Francisco. In the August of 1941, Hansgirg was detained by the FBI and held in Santa Clara County Jail. After much consideration, on April 6, 1942 Hansgirg was transferred to the U.S. alien internment camps in San Antonio, Texas and Stringtown, Oklahoma.[3]

A letter from the Director of the Alien Enemy Control Unit of the Department of Justice, addressed to W. R. Wunsch on the acceptance of Dreier’s proposal to parole Hansgirg. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 3

On October 8, 1942, Hansgirg was appointed the Professor of Chemistry at Black Mountain College and as of October 19 was placed under the parole of Theodore Dreier, the Treasurer of the college. His movements were closely watched by Dreier, and though they saw one another every day, strict law regarding the parole of enemy aliens required them to meet and discuss movements once a week. They met each Saturday, during which Hansgirg would recount his activity over the week and, most importantly, any instances in which he had left the Black Mountain College campus. Dreier would record each date that Hansgirg left the campus and even noted that Hansgirg would often invite others on the campus to accompany his wife and himself—one might infer why.[4]

A list of regulations that are to be observed by alien enemies during the Second World War. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 4

Possible enemy alien parolees were not allowed to own firearms, explosives, signal devices, codes, ciphers, or cameras. They were also not permitted to travel by air. Each of Hansgirg’s telegrams had been recorded and documented, as well as the dates and duration of any phone calls he had made. His parolee sponsorship was transferred from Theodore Dreier to Dr. W. R. Wunsch, another employee at Black Mountain College, on December 9, 1943. For their interview concerning the matter, the two were asked to bring four to five other “responsible persons” from the college.[5] Finally, his sponsorship was switched to Isaac Van Horn as of July 7, 1944 in order to work with Permanente Metals Corp.[6]



[1] “Fritz Hansgirg,” Faculty’s Who’s Who Dossier, Black Mountain College 1933-1956 Faculty Files, Box 1, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[2]  Fritz Hansgirg, Short Description of his Career, July 42, 1942, Fritz J. and Maria Hansgirg Dossier, Black Mountain College 1933-1956 Faculty Files, Box 3, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[3] Fritz Hansgirg, Short Description of his Career, July 42, 1942, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[4] Letter from the Department of Justic Alien Enemy Unit to W. R. Wunsch, September 23, 1942, PC 1956.50 Gen Corres. Dreier BMC Coll, Hansgirg, Dr. Fritz J. Sponsor Records and Undated 1942-1943. Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain College Collection, 1925-1988, Subseries 6, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[5] PC 1956.50 Gen Corres. Dreier BMC Coll, Hansgirg, Dr. Fritz J. Legalities and Corresp. And Undated 1942. Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain College Collection, 1925-1988, Subseries 6, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[6] Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service, Conduct to be Observed by Alien Enemies, PC 1956.50 Gen Corres. Dreier BMC Coll, Hansgirg, Dr. Fritz J. Sponsor Records and Undated 1942-1943 Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain College Collection, 1925-1988, Subseries 6, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 1 Fritz Hansgirg, Short Description of his Career, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 2 W. R. Wunsch, letter to Joseph J. Cole, March 15, 1944, Fritz J. and Maria Hansgirg Dossier, Black Mountain College 1933-1956 Faculty Files. Box 3, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 3 PC 1956.50 Gen Corres. Dreier BMC Coll, Hansgirg, Dr. Fritz J. Sponsor Records and Undated 1942-1943, Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain College Collection, 1925-1988, Subseries 6, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 4  Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service, Conduct to be Observed by Alien Enemies, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

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