CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Main banner

'Secret' of WWII: Italian-Americans forced to move

picture strip

Were branded 'enemy aliens'

September 21, 1997
Web posted at: 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- More than 50 years after World War II, there is one incident from that era that remains in the shadows -- the forced relocation of some U.S. residents of Italian ancestry from their homes.

Now, some Italian-Americans believe the federal government needs to own up to that history. A bill introduced in Congress would force the government to disclose all that it knows about the episode.

"We're not asking for monetary compensation," says Rose Scudero, who was 12 when she and her mother, who was an Italian citizen, were forced to leave their home. "We want it documented. We want the government to acknowledge it happened."

In the hysteria that accompanied the outbreak of World War II, many Japanese citizens on the West Coast were forced into internment camps, an episode for which the government has apologized and paid compensation to survivors.

But the United States was also at war with Mussolini's Italy, and Italian-Americans also were branded "enemy aliens" and told to move out of certain areas. Even the fisherman father of baseball great Joe DiMaggio, who had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, was told he could not fish San Francisco Bay or visit the city.

vxtreme Italians relocation

In Pittsburg, California, 2,000 Italians were told to leave. Many were fishermen, and their boats were confiscated.

"Some of them lost their homes. They had no way of making a living, and so a lot of the things they had, they lost," says Pat Firpo of the Pittsburg Historical Society.

"They didn't fully explain to these people why they did this," says Scudero. "They felt they had done something wrong. They felt so guilty."


Because housing was scare in wartime, many of those who were dislocated had difficulty finding somewhere to live. One woman even took up residence in a chicken coop.

At the same time, the sons of these so-called "enemy aliens" went off to fight for the United States.

Bringing attention to what happened during this episode is an exhibit of photographs and artifacts, called "The Secret Story." It has been traveling around the country since 1994 and is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., next week.

Also, two books have been written, compiling oral tales of the plight of the dislocated Italian-Americans. But five decades after the fact, there are still no official historical accounts of the episode.

Most of those forced to leave are no longer alive. Now, their sons and daughters are trying to make sure that what their parents endured is not forgotten.

Correspondent Rusty Dornin contributed to this report.


Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Infoseek search  

Message Boards Sound off on our
message boards

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.