A reader of my recent column THE MYTH OF ANTI-WHITENESS: WHEN TELLING THE TRUTH IS MISCHARACTERIZED AS ATTACKING WHITES questioned my assertion about Germans and Italians not being placed in interment camps.
They pointed out to me that anyone can Google about internment and discover that “some 600,000 Italians who were undocumented were detained, relocated, stripped of property, placed under curfew” among other things.
I appreciate any critiques and decided to investigate claims of Italians and Germans being placed in internment camps in the United States. They were, but the numbers were very small and there is no real evidence that the number of Germans interned is 11,000 – as is asserted in several books as well as in multiple online articles.
It is not my assertion that there were none, I will accept that as fact. However, the evidence paints quite a different picture. I will list my sources for anyone who chooses to fact-check this.
Let’s address Italian internment first.[Source] Report to the Congress of the United States: A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II, November 2001
Appendix D lists the names of all 418 Italians placed in internment camps.
Travel Restrictions Appendix K
“Restrictions imposed on enemy aliens of Italian ancestry limited the distances they were allowed to travel. During the day, aliens were required to be at their place of residence or employment, or in transit between those two places, or within five miles from their place of residence.”
Curfew Restrictions Appendix K
“Restrictions imposed on enemy aliens of Italian ancestry limited the evening hours they were allowed to be away from their residences. Resident aliens were forbidden from being outdoors between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.”
Forced Evacuation from Homes Appendix K
“Persons of Italian ancestry were forced to temporarily evacuate their homes if they came within certain designated military zones, particularly along the West Coast. If a mother or father was an alien and the rest of the family had United States citizenship, either the individual alien left the family behind or the family, as a whole, relocated outside the exclusion area.”
The names of persons of Italian ancestry ordered to move from designated areas, Appendix E.1 (59 names on list)
The names of persons of Italian ancestry not subject to individual exclusion orders who were ordered to temporarily move from designated areas, Appendix E.2 (56 names on list)
A 1999 Proclamation by Honorable Matt Salmon of Arizona was designed to have the federal government look into the treatment of Italians and Germans during WWII. The proclamation stated:
A 1980 Congressional Research Service Report, The Internment of German and Italian Aliens Compared With the Internment of Japanese Aliens in the United States During World War II: A Brief History and Analysis, revealed that the War Department would not support the “collective evacuation of German and Italian aliens from the West Coast or from anywhere else in the United States” but would authorize individual exclusion orders “against both aliens and citizens under the authority of Executive Order 9066.”
In other words, German and Italian Americans and aliens could still be denied basic civil liberties because of their heritage… As we reach the end of the century, I urge my colleagues to pursue a full historical accounting of the experiences of all Americans who suffered discrimination during the Second World War as expeditiously as possible. They cite a 1980s report that I will mention later.
The proclamation can be viewed in this Congressional Record
As I looked into the facts about the number of Germans interned multiple articles and books claimed 11,000 Germans were interned in the US. I wanted to find out where this 11,000 number which had been cited so widely without a reference to its original source came from.
The most commonly cited source of the 11,000 figure cited in so many articles online is Arnold Krammer’s Undue Process The Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees 1997 book. It is the primary source listed in a very long Wikipedia article.
Krammer asserts in his book that 10,905 German aliens were placed in internment camps. 4,508 of these were Germans who were expelled from 15 Latin American countries and deported to United States according to the German American Internee Coalition, a group seeking reparations for German and Italian families like the ones Japanese families received in the 1980s.
If you accept these figures as accurate, which multiple people have, it means that a total of 6,397 Germans living in America when the war began were placed in internment camps. Many of these were family members who voluntarily went to the camps according to government reports and Congressional testimony. Some were American citizens but there is no definitive source that clarifies how many.
Of the 4,508 Germans said to have been brought to the United States, most were repatriated to Germany during or after the war ended. Another issue with the numbers from the German American Internee Committee is that they conflict with numbers from the Commission on Wartime Relocations and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC).
A 1981 report from the CWIRC based on wartime records, states that just over 3,000 individuals were deported from Latin America and 2,300 of them were Japanese nationals and their families with about half being family members who were classified as “voluntary internees” who had been asked to join their husbands and fathers pending deportation.
Krammer gets his number of 10,905 internees from a 1995 book The World War Two Experience: The Internment of German-Americans by Don Heinrich Tolzmann. Tolzmann in turn got his figure from W.F. Kelly, Assistant Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service, in a letter he wrote to A. Vulliet August 9, 1948 in the form of a photocopy with no further documentation of its accuracy.
There is no accounting for where Kelly got this number from. In the same letter Kelly asserted that 16,849 Japanese were interned, far lower than the official count of over 120,000. If the basis for the assertion that 11,000 Germans were interned comes from a dubious source it is hard to believe it’s a credible number despite how many people have used it.
Based on the evidence I found, a very small number of Italians were actually placed in internment camps and an untold number of Germans living in the United States prior to the war were placed in camps also. The fact that over 6.2 million people of German ancestry were in the country in 1940 shows that the impact on them was quite small compared to Japanese in the country.
It is not reasonable to compare what happened to the Germans and Italians to what transpired with Japanese during the war. The Italians were released in September 1943 when Italy surrendered to Allied forces. Surely some of them suffered but it was in no way the same as the Japanese experienced. The one big difference between the groups based on the vitriolic words said at the time was skin color. Four days after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor both Italy and Germany declared war on the United States as well.
So when the orders were issued to detain and relocate enemies of the state, the United States was at war with all of the Axis Powers. The large numbers of Germans and Italians in the electorate played some role in how they were treated to be sure. No one wanted to risk losing their votes.
It was not my intention to downplay the pain and suffering of these Italians and Germans, but it is clear that their white skin led to them being treated differently than the Japanese.
Mansfield Library – University Of Montana and Heritage Frederick – The Historical Society of Frederick County