PART 4

How Does Public Education view the WW2 Internment of Italians today?

Kindergarten through 12th grade public education within the United States covers the Japanese internment in detail, but does not explore the Wartime treatment of Italian-Americans & German-Americans to date. This observation is based on a review of the lesson plans offered on the public-facing official websites of the NEA and the NCSS. There may be regional inclusion at the state level, but so far we have not been able to locate any references online.

Is there a Complete Internment Curriculum available that meets Educational Standards? 

Yes. In 2001, a collaboration among Japanese, German and Italian community groups produced a widely distributed traveling photo-exhibit called “The Enemy Alien Files: Hidden Stories of World War 2”. This exhibit traveled to dozens of cities across the United States to present for the very first time a full narrative of the World War 2 Alien Enemy Control Program.

The advisors and scholars that created this exhibit have also produced a complete curriculum guide with 17 lesson plans. This covers the full and crucial history of this historical event. The curriculum is available online from the German-American Internee Coalition with supporting material and detailed lesson plans. All of the curriculum material meets the California Department of Education’s Historical-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools, Standard 11.7.5”.  The Archive.gov version of the 11th Grade History Standards, section 11.7.50 states: “Discuss the constitutional issues and impacts of events on the U.S. home front, including the internment of Japanese Americans.”.

It is important for history to reflect the full story of all three groups.

Why were Italian-Americans Interned at a much lower percentage of their population than the Germans or the Japanese?

Evidence indicates that this was a strategic decision made by Congress in February of 1942 to balance security with the manpower needed to win the war. Recorded testimony made to Congress in February 1942 regarding the National Defense Migration and its possible effects upon the Japanese, German & Italian communities indicates that the vast size of the Italian population in America made them too large to effectively intern[1]. Additionally, lawmakers felt the need to tread carefully with regard to interning Italians, since so many of them had sons fighting for the United States in the war.

These same sentiments appear to have been applied to the over 300,000 German-Americans identified as enemy-aliens. Out of this group, over 10,000 German-Americans were interned during the war. While only half as large as the Italian population, their 300,000 affected individuals formed a large population, and was also considered too big to move or intern. Instead, both the Italians and the Germans were subjected to selective internment and exclusions.

The Japanese enemy alien population was the smallest of the three groups, and well-concentrated in certain areas on the west coast. This fact, unfortunately, made them a much easier group to detain and intern than the much larger Italian and German enemy alien population. Out of the three ethnicities, they were also the lowest risk group to intern. This may be based on the fact that the number of Japanese Americans in uniformed service was considerably smaller than either the Italian or German service populations.

There appears to be an inverse relationship between the size of the target population and the overall percentage of population that was interned. The largest of the enemy alien population, the Italians, had the lowest total number of interned individuals at up to 3,000 people. Congressional testimony supports the idea that treading carefully with a large group of people so well represented in the US military was a prudent way to manage the risk of 5th column activities without causing alienation or rebellion amongst the mass of American troops of Italian ancestry.

Key Lawmakers & Military Leaders Testify Before Congress

Testimony by key lawmakers and leaders within the official transcript refer to the possible effect on morale on the vast number of young men of Italian descent enlisting to fight for America[2]. A sampling of these statements highlight the complexity of the Italian enemy alien issue:

“A very great percent of our young men who are joining the Army are of Italian parentage, and before any action should be taken to move their parents away from their homes, I believe we should consider seriously the result that that may have upon them as soldiers.” 

    • John P. Fitzgerald, District Attorney of Santa Clara County. February 18, 1942, in a letter to Hon. Earl Warren, as entered into the National Defense Migration investigation.

“I am sorry to say that numerous instances have come to the attention of the Department of Justice of employers discharging workers because of some vague suspicion that they may be disloyal aliens, and even because they have foreign-sounding names. I should like to remind such employers that of our total noncitizen population of about 5,000,000, fewer than 3,000 — 6 out of 10,000 have been regarded as dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. Those have been taken into custody by the Federal authorities. 

I should also like to point out to these employers that many of the “foreigners” they have discharged now have sons serving in our Army and Navy. Among those who died fighting off the treacherous attacks upon Manila and Pearl Harbor were men named Wagner and Petersen and Monzo and Rossini and Mueller and Rasmussen.” 

    • Statement by Attorney General Francis Biddle Concerning the Employment of Aliens in Private Industry. December 28, 1941. As entered into National Defense Migration investigation.

In a statement to the New York Times on April 27, 1942, General Hugh A Drum stated that “Mass evacuation is not contemplated. Instead thereof, such evacuations as may be considered necessary will be by selective processes applicable to enemy aliens, or to other persons deemed dangerous to remain at large within the area or within its zones”[3]. This was in regards to the German and Italian populations.

Why are the Italians Excluded from the Internment Discussion within the FDR Archives?

The reason for this exclusion is unknown at this time. The official FDR Library posted this content on their website for the 75th Anniversary of the Japanese Internment:

 

“The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is presenting “Images of Internment” because it is critically important to examine both the successes and failures of any great leader to truly understand them. President Roosevelt led America through two of its worst crises, the Great Depression and World War II. His extraordinary leadership helped create the modern world with all of the freedoms we enjoy today. Executive Order 9066 reminds us that even our greatest leaders can make mistakes when the voice of the people drowns out the voice of reason”[4].

 

There is no mention of the internment & wartime mistreatment of Italian and German civilians. There is also no mention of the dedicated service of the 1.5 Million Italian-American men who served in World War 2, nor a memorial to those who went missing or were killed in action. Absent also is the 14 men of Italian ancestry who earned the Medal of Honor. The German-American people, and their massive contribution to the Allied victory in the war, are also not included on this page.

Current Government Affairs Regarding Internment

Have the Japanese, German or Italian Communities received an apology for the internments?

Partially. The Japanese-American internees successfully sued the United States and have received a formal apology from President Gerald Ford on February 19, 1976 through Presidential Proclamation 4417. They received reparations for their losses through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which was signed into federal law on August 10, 1988 as Pub Law 100-383[5]. This granted reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the US government during World War II.

What about the Italian & German Americans?

It is important to realize that there was no way to hide the mass relocation of the Japanese-Americans during the war, so this event was more widely known and fairly well-documented. This is not the case with Americans of Italian or German descent. The Wartime Civil Rights Violations of Italian Americans were deliberately kept classified for the remainder of the 20th century. These events were not acknowledged in any official capacity until the release of the Report to Congress of the United States in November of 2001, titled “A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry during World War 2”.

Italian-American Community

An apology to the Italian-American people has been requested, but has not been received. This has been a source of unresolved feelings within the Italian-American community since the end of the war. This issue was publicly discussed in 1997 in a New York Times article entitled “An Official Apology Is Sought from US”.

Since then, the apology has been before Congress twice in the past (HR-4147, 114th Congress, and HR-1707, 115th Congress). Both bills died in Congress without receiving a vote[6]. There is a current bill (HR-3914) before Congress for the apology to Italian-Americans for the treatment they received during World War 2.

In 2010, the State of California apologized to the Italian-American people for the State’s role in the wartime treatment of Italians, and it was covered by the Los Angeles Times[7].

German-American Community

The experience of the German-Americans during World War 2 has not been officially recognized, as the Japanese and Italian violations have. The 111th Congress approved the Wartime Treatment Studies Act (HR-1425 & S-564), which was purposely designed to examine the treatment of European-Americans (Germans, Jews, Italians, and Other affected individuals), but it was not signed into law. The wartime treatment of the German-Americans remains unresolved. It needs to be addressed.

5 NEXT STEPS:   

  1. Due to the wide discrepancy in the possible number of Italian-American internees, additional research is underway to determine a more accurate number of those held in camps.
  2. We are compiling a rich history of the stories, biographies and voices from the Italian-American community that actually lived through this period. An upcoming feature article will detail excerpts from the lives of those that lived through being labeled an enemy alien.
  3. Stories from the War – Italian-Americans sacrificing for America.
  4. Opening the Vault – Our collection of never-before-seen censored Internee mail will be online soon.
  5. Understanding the ignored German-American story, and sharing the internee experiences chronicled by the German-American Internee Coalition.

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References

[1] Select Committee to Investigate National Defense Migration (1941 to 1943, spanning the 76th to 78th Congress). Archived microfilm of this Investigation is available at the National Archives on 65 feet of Microfilm. Summary is at https://www.archives.gov/legislative/guide/house/chapter-22-select-migration-of-destitute-citizens.html, accessed on August 11, 2020.

[2] From the Complete & Original digitized version of the National Defense Migration Hearings, archived at https://archive.org/details/nationaldefensem29unit/page/n5/mode/2up. Accessed on August 12, 2020.

[3] New York Times, April 27, 1942, Page 3. General Hugh A. Drum. “Text of General Drums Statement” within the NYT archives at https://nyti.ms/3aiXLBG. Accessed August 12, 2020.

[4] The FDR Library 75th Anniversary Special Exhibit “Images of Internment” found at https://fdr.blogs.archives.gov/2017/02/17/images-of-internment/.  Accessed August 13, 2020.

[5] Civil Liberties Act / Pub Law 100-383, found at https://www.congress.gov/bill/100th-congress/house-bill/442/all-actions?overview=closed#tabs   – Accessed on September 29, 2020.

[6] GovTrack.us. (2020). H.R. 3914 — 116th Congress: To apologize for the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II. Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr3914

[7] California apologizes to the Italian-American Community for mistreatment, found at https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-aug-23-la-me-italians-20100823-story.html   – Accessed on September 29, 2020.