Italian Internment in the Early 1940s

During World War 2 (1939-1945), it was nation against nation. With Japan attaching the American Pearl Harbor in 1941, anyone who was Japanese in America was looked at as a threat to the nation. So many Japanese-American (even those born in the USA) were placed in special internment camps across the US.

That was also done to many of Italian heritage because America was also at war with Italy due to its ties with Nazi Germany. Just like there was a great deal of anti-Japanese, there were anti-German and anti-Italian attitudes in the 1940s.

Many who were born in Italy and then came to America, were looked at as an “enemy alien” causing Federal government agencies to justify freezing their assets, interrogating the family, and interning an individual for months.

About 600,000 Italians and Italian Americans—many of them naturalized citizens—were swept up in a wave of racism and persecution during World War II. More than 10,000 were forced from their homes, and hundreds of thousands suffered curfews, confiscations and mass surveillance during the war.

Yet the treatment of immigrant Italians had been going on since the 1890s. As the number of Italian immigrants grew, so did anti-Italian sentiment. Italians were painted as subhuman and undesirable, and employers often refused to hire people of Italian extraction.

In 1939, the FBI had information of what was termed suspicious individuals, known as the “ABC List”. By 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt declared citizens of Japan, Germany and Italy as alien enemies of US. Soon there were 147 Italian males in custody and placed in internment camps, located in Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. By June 1942 there were 1,521 in camps. Those not in custody had curfews, turned in their radios transmitters, short-wave radios, and cameras and could not travel further than 5 miles from their house without permission. This included even naturalized US citizens born in Italy. Many Italians were moved from their homes along the California coast if they lived near off-limit power plants or military bases.

Yet, many Italian and Italian-Americas did serve in the US military, some 750,000 to 1 million (had Italian heritage).

It was realized by the Federal government that the support of the Italian-Americans was needed, so on October 12, 1942 Italians were no longer ‘enemies of the country’. Even with that statement, many Italians taken to internment camps remained for another year.

Not much was written or spoken of this piece of American history from the early 1940s especially by those who lived it. If you have Italian heritage, check if any living relatives or your ancestors suffered under this type of treatment in the early 1940s. Most have been silent for decades about the treatment.

As sometimes explained, the treatment of Italians was based on wartime hysteria.

Famed ‘Rosie the Riveter’ was Rose Bonavita an Italian American woman who worked as an aircraft riveter.

Another was a San Francisco Bay fisherman named Giuseppe DiMaggio, who happened to be the father of baseball hero Joe DiMaggio. He suffered travel restrictions and his boat was seized.

Photos: Internment camps for Italians and flier focused on those who spoke German, Japanese or Italian.

Related Blogs:


Italian Surnames Database

Italian Club

< Return To Blog This was very informative. I was only vaguely aware of this.
Sara N Martin 25/10/20

Now you have some details.
alice 25/10/20

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