Italian American Internment During WWII

This story remained hidden for over 50 years. The
government and others involved have suppressed this
information . The fact that many innocent Italian and
German Americans Where oppressed and confined such as
the Japanese Americans. The Italian Americans in
particular, have the same historic background as
Japanese Americans.
600,000 Italian Americans where branded enemy aliens
during WWII.
The prejudiced that America had long it’s alienness.
Concentrated its hate during that period.
Many immigrants where aware and subjected to racism
and oppression. They now had to deal with becoming a
enemy ethnic group.
Their language became the enemy language, Italian
American heritage became suffered ethnic alienation.
Italians have a long history of labor struggle. This
is well documented at the Botto House Labor Museum in
Haledon, New Jersey. The Italians Americans and
immigrants where Key figures in many of Paterson, New
Jersey’s strikes. They where involved nationally as
By the 1930’s the Italians comprised of the largest
ethnic group in the nation.
These where not easy times for these immigrants
politically, nor economically.
Italy was under Mussolini, and was split between
pro-fascists and anti-fascists.
Not to mention old time divisions still fostered in
the Italy. Southern Italians in particular where
mistreated and oppressed in there own homeland.
Kept in constant poverty and squalor. The racism
continues today.
With that came a new wave of immigration, because in
America anything was possible and was considered the
land of opportunity.
When the Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. On
December 7th, US government declared war on the Axis
In many cities such as San Francisco, many Italians
had to reregister.
They where placed under restricted movement and
restricted possessions.
Many where evacuated from prohibited zones.
In Italian neighborhoods such as San Francisco’s
North Beach, and the Western States,curfews had been
set. Even on the East Coast, my family received some
harassment, along with my grandmothers radio being
confiscated. Italians where restricted to their
Executive order 9066 had been signed by President
Roosevelt and General John L Dewitt, West Defense
Command implemented it. On December 7th,
Italians , Japanese, and Gremans where arrested even
before war was declared.
Roosevelt Had FBI chief J Edgar Hoover make a list of
persons to arrest in case of national emergency.
The Custodial Detention List included pro-Communists,
pro-fascists, pro-nazi, and some Jewish refugees.
Under this authority hundreds of Italians where
relocated and interned. Many where placed in
military camps in Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and
Texas. By June, thousands of Italians had been
arrested by the FBI.
One of the Largest Camps where in Missoula, Montana.
Interned Aliens where given pro-forma hearings before
boards consisting of military officers and citizens.
They often where not informed of the charges against
them nor represented by legal council. The evidence
only consisted of FBI reports. Researchers have
discovered FBI files where plagued with errors,
misinterpretation of innocent acts, and replete with
In San Francisco, the Ex-Combatti, a group of WWI
Veterans (Italians where WWI allies to the USA at the
time). The FBI listed them as a dangerous
organization. Their main project was to raise funds
for Italian war widows and orphans. Most where
anti-fascists or a-political. They where interned
By 1942 all enemy aliens where required to register
with their local post offices.
They where finger printed and where given photo
bearing cards called ” Enemy Alien Registration Cards.
They had to be carried at all times.
A proclamation was issued by the Army:
1. No traveling 5 mile from home, extended trips
required a Application For
2. Travel Permit.
2. Contraband and all firearms, short wave radios,
cameras, and signaling devices (Flash lights) where
prohibited property. These items where often
confiscated and never returned.
3. Curfew was between 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM.

For many Italian laborers, fishermen, cooks, waiters,
construction workers, shop keepers, and janitors,etc,
these restrictions cause serious employment and
hardship problems.
The order to evacuate prohibited zones along
California, and other west coast cities, the total
number of persons where unknown.
This order was also initiated in the East Coast. From
Monterey, Santa Cruz, Pittsburgh, and Boston.
Thousands had to relocate.
Stephen Fox, Humboldt University Historical Professor
pointed out that General John L Dewitt was anxious to
carry out executive order 9066.
He was paranoid about so called “Fifth Column”
(Spying by enemy nationals). This was done for more
complex reasons than simple racism. As heinous as the
treatment of Japanese Americans, it can be considered
more heinous than the Italians or Germans.
None the less 25,655 enemy aliens where arrested
during WWII, 14,426 55% where either Italians or
In recent years the Japanese relocation during WWII
had been so widely publicized in the media, it over
shadowed the plight of Italian and German
immigrants during that period. The San Francisco
Examiner recently declared, ” The US was at war with
Italian and Germans during WWII, but no Italian or
Germans where sent to concentration camps”. Nothing
could be further from the truth.
Local Italian Americans such as Mary Cagniglia, and
Mario Stagnaro, along with Santa Cruz Judge James J
Scoppetone of the Marconi Civic Club wrote letters and

campaigned in behalf of Italian American Laborers .
The periodic announcements coming from the Justice
Department, many contradictory, had effect on local
Japanese, German, and Italian communities.
No one seemed to know what was going on. Various
departments and competing euracracsies established a
policy one day, only to have it over ruled the next
day, contradicted by the another the next day. The
reports read like a Franz Kafka novel.
The attention given to the issue of Italian American
no way diminishes what the Japanese where forced to
endure. During Desert Storm much media prejudice was
focused on Arab Americans.
As it is told, no one can deny the suffering and
oppression of Italian Americans.
The Italian Americans of WWII went back to there
lives, but their lives would never be the same.
Italian Americans today still face a similar dilemma
as during the plight of the immigrants.
Still not embraced by their host society in this
nation, yet in Southern Italy, the plight oppression
and poverty still rages on.
Italian Americans have had much success in the US,
yet for many, for those who don’t seem “All
American”, their future seems dismal.
However Italian Americans do not see themselves in a
constant state of victimization , for they feel it
diminishes their humanness.
Past Developments:
U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio (R-Long Island) urged Congress
to pass and the President to support a bill that calls
for a full and complete Justice Department probe of
civil liberties violations of thousands of Italian
Americans during World War II.

Congressman Lazio, working with Congressman Eliot
Engel (D-Bronx), had a bill pending in the House —
The Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil
Liberties Act — that sheds light on a little-known
episode of World War II in which hundreds of loyal
Italian Americans were forced from their homes and
placed in internment camps. The Senate bill sponsors
are Senator Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) and Senator Robert
Torricelli (D-NJ). I have assisted in petitioning the
Senate to pass the bill and have communicated with
Senator Toricelli on this issue.

Congressman Lazio called for support of the bill
during a press conference on Capitol Hill in
honor of “Una Storia Segreta” (the “Secret Story”), a
traveling exhibit detailing the lives of Italian
Americans who suffered extreme hardship during this
painful, yet largely unknown chapter of American
history. This was displayed at Passaic Community
College, and Colleges in New York City.

In addition to the thousands of Italian Americans who
were forced to relocate from their homes,
Congressman Lazio noted, thousands of others were
subjected to curfews, confiscations, and travel
restrictions. Some were held on Ellis Island — the
symbol of the American melting pot — while others
interned in military camps. Many of these Italian
Americans fought for our nation in Europe and the
Pacific, and those who had not attained citizenship
were deemed “enemy aliens” and were banned from
traveling beyond five miles from their homes.

“Whole Italian American communities on the West
Coast were evacuated. Shopkeepers, fishermen, and
farm workers were ordered to move inland,” Even
some lives were lost. In the South and other areas
there where lynchings and acts of violence. So many
Italian Americans suffered. Yet more than fifty years
theirs is a largely untold story.”

The Wartime Violation of Italian American
Civil Liberties Act includes the following provisions:

A full investigation and report by the
U.S. Department of Justice documenting the specific
civil liberties violations of Italian Americans during
World War II.

Official acknowledgment by the
President on behalf of the American people that the
civil liberties of Italian Americans were violated
during this period.

A recommendation that federal
agencies, such as the Department of Education and the
Endowment for the Humanities, sponsor conferences,
seminars, exhibits, and a documentary film to
heighten public awareness of these events.
The bill is strongly supported by the National
Italian American Foundation, which sponsored the
Capitol Hill press conference. It was stated
“As we work for equality and justice in America
today, we cannot ignore the mistakes of our past,”

NOTE: Additional information about the
Wartime Violation of Italian American Civil Liberties
Act may be obtained by contacting the National
Italian American Foundation at (202) 387-0600.

�Recommended Reading :
�John Chistgaus ” Enemies”: WWII Alien Internment
�Stephan Fox “The Unknown Internment: A Oral History
of Relocation During WWII”
�Pat Gallo ” Ethnic Alienation: The Italian
�Also, there are many videos on the Italian American

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s