I am certainly aware of Japanese-Americans being detained in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war on United States by the empire of Japan. About 110,000+ Japanese-American residents of the Pacific coast were forced to relocate into areas designated as "War Relocation Camps".

Why did the United States government not carry out the same policy against German-Americans?

Another add-on question might be, how were German-born newly-emigrated (naturalized) citizens treated? Were they just ignored, or was any measure taken to have a close watch over them, if not downright throw them in detainment camps?

To make my point clear that Executive Order 9066 was targeted mainly at Japanese people, here is a quote from this reference, which echoes the proclamation made by President Gerald R. Ford in regard to executive order 9066.

February 19th is the anniversary of a sad day in American history. It was on that date in 1942, in the midst of the response to the hostilities that began on December 7, 1941, that Executive Order 9066 was issued, subsequently enforced by the criminal penalties of a statute enacted March 21, 1942, resulting in the uprooting of loyal Americans. Over one hundred thousand persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes, detained in special camps, and eventually relocated.

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    You might equally ask after Italy as Germany. Italy declared war on the United States just as surely as Germany did. Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 13:25
  • @hawbsl Good observation , i can't recall why i forgot their role in the axis forces !! However the Sheridan report , posted in the answer , seems to have covered the subject regarding Italians too Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 13:39
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    Because there were 30 million people of German ancestry living in the US at that time? Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 21:58
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    Germans are one of the oldest and most integrated immigrants group in the US. Also, it might have been politically important that from the US point of view the main conflict was the Japanese-US conflict over the Pacific theater, while Germany, Italy, Hungary… declared war without being particularly active in the conflict against the US.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 13:28
  • WW One is part of the answer. German-Americans demonstrated their loyalty then. (This was a real fear. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that before the US entered the war, the US Ambassador was told by the German FO that the US would not dare oppose Germany since there were ten million German-Americans. The ambassador supposedly responded that there were enough lamp-posts to hang even ten million traitors. In the event, there were very few.) All but the most paranoid saw that German-Americans were not a significant problem.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 13:26

5 Answers 5


According to Arthur D. Jacobs, author of the autobiographic book "The Prison Called Hohenasperg: An American boy betrayed by his Government during World War II", by the end of the war, 11000 persons of German ancestry were interned, both immigrants and visitors. Also, under the pressure of US Government, Latin American countries arrested more than 4000 German Latin Americans, from which most were shipped to US for internment. At least 2000 from both groups were exchanged for Americans that were held in Germany.

If you ask why didn't they intern all Americans with German ancestry, such an attempt would be simply impossible, as there were too many of them. That's why Germans were interned as individuals, not as a whole, like Japanese.

In 1940 there were more than million of persons born in Germany, next 5 million whose both parents were born in Germany and 6 millions with at least one parent born in Germany. I've got no source for the overall amount of American citizens with German ethnicity during WWII, but that would have to have been even bigger.

It's well described with citations in the Sheridan Report, written in 1980 by the US Government analyst, in order to clarify the reasons for huge disparity in numbers between German, Italian and Japanese citizens of USA, who were interned during the war. Here are the key points from it:

In December 1941 and January 1942 three Presidential Proclamations were signed, "to regulate the conduct and movement of enemy aliens":

In February of 1942, the mentioned Executive Order 9066 was signed. A month later certain groups of enemy aliens were excluded from that order. The list of them contained such conditions as: old age, poor health or close family members of US Army soldiers. It was clearly stated that all those exclusions could apply only to aliens of German or Italian origins, not to Japanese, except for the poor health condition (deaf, blind or hospital residents).

Around the same time Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, stated that Italians are "potentially less dangerous, as a whole, than those of other enemy nationalities" and that "the size of Italian population and the number of troops and facilities which would have to be employed to deal with them, their inclusion in the general plan would greatly overtax our strength".

Similar conclusions were brought up by House Select Committee investigating the evacuation of enemy aliens. The linked material is the full text of Committee hearings with many paragraphs speaking of the German's and the Italian's situation. From the reasons mentioned above, it stated that "Indeed, this committee is prepared to say that any such proposal is out of the question if we intend to win this war".

From this reasons it was decided by General Hugh A. Drum, commanding general of the Eastern Defense Command, 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".

General John L. DeWitt, commanding general of the Western Defense Command, disagreed with that, finding the mass evacuation a "military necessity". He demanded "definite instructions to the contrary that would exempt him from all responsibility for the consequences".

On May 15, 1942, he was informed that there was to be no "collective evacuation of German and Italian aliens from the West coast or from anywhere else in the United States", but that the War Department woul authorize individual exclusion orders "against both aliens and citizens under the authority of Executive Order 9066".

As for Italians, in November 1942 it was announced that they were no longer considered "aliens of enemy nationality".

Jacobs provides the following map of interment camps for German-Americans. enter image description here

The list of documents connected with the topic is listed and linked at German American Internee Coalition website.

The full timeline of interments and personal stories of interned people can be found in the links. As there are no sources provided, it's up to you to consider whether it is valuable.

You may also want to read Wikipedia article dedicated to that matter.

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    +1 for the anwer , i certainly was not able to come across any detainment you mentioned above , Can you reference any official government order for such a detainment ? Like the Executive Order 9066 , passed by FD Roosevelt enforcing the japanese internment camps ? Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 6:05
  • Executive Order 9066 doesn't speak of any ethnicity or nationality in particular. Also even in the Wikipedia entry linked by you, there are Germans and Italians mentioned. Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 6:39
  • The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) was a group of people appointed by the U.S. Congress to conduct an official governmental study of Executive Order 9066, related wartime orders and their impact on Japanese Americans in the West and Alaska Natives in the Pribilof Islands......so it is safe to assume that the order was targeted at the japanese Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 6:50
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    -1 because the answer ignores the obvious issue of racism, as well as the specific discussion of racism in the Sheridan Report. The report quotes Stimson as saying that "'the racial characteristics' of the Japanese were 'such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanes.'"
    – user2848
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 16:21
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    Good job for pointing that out. I'd be happy to read your own answer to the question, specifying the problematic you mentioned, as I'm no expert on that matter. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 12:50

On a partly related note there were World War II prisoner-of-war camps in the U.S., some of then exclusively for German soldiers: Camp Trinidad in Colorado was a case in point.

Kurt Landsberger was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who was drafted into the U.S. army and served as interpreter at Camp Trinidad. He used a somewhat odd suffix in the title of his book about Camp Trinidad, presumably to point out that the inmates were mostly left without harm (despite, as the book tells, at least two were shot on an attempted escape):

Kurt Landsberger: Prisoners of War at Camp Trinidad, Colorado 1943 - 1946: Internment, Intimidation, Incompetence and Country Club Living

While it seems obvious that naturalized immigrants from an enemy country and prisoners of war require different attention and treatment in terms of national security, Landsberger's fate and book may still provide the key to (one aspect of an answer to the) question: if the U.S. would have interned German-Americans, how would it have made the presumably necessary distinction between Jewish refugees from Germany (many of them born there and with German passports) and the "evil" sort of Germans?

Presumably any distinction on a large scale would have been hard to administer, and the supreme court might not have had it even during times of war.

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    Interesting point comparing , the Jewish refugees and the ethnic germans , if at all there were any distinction , it must have certainly been on the grounds of ethnicity , as they have the same passports !! Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:20
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    Distinguishing between "Jews" and "Germans" based on grounds of ethnicity would have been a very dangerous road, as seems clear from WW II at least in retrospect.
    – Drux
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:45
  • Agreed..And Now i have something to search about :) Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 8:03
  1. The question was about US Citizens of German and Italian descent. Most of the answers above was about resident aliens and visitors from Germany and Italy.

  2. I suppose that the correct answer is two part: (a) there were too many US Citizens of German and Italian descent (today is ~ 1/6th of the total population) vs 100k US Citizens of Japanese descent, (b) for some reason (I suspect pure racist one) society expected that German- and Italian-Americans would be way more loyal to US than Japanese-Americans.

  • Hello. This isn't a traditional discussion forum. We strongly prefer answers to include sources and objective material to keep the quality of the site high.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 19:45
  • I supposed that number of US Citizens of German and Italian descent in 1941 is well known figure, at least two orders of magnitude above the number US Citizens of Japanese descent and I did not allude to anything else. However, thanks for your comment I will be more precise next time.
    – zzz777
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:37
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    I wonder if it were really a case of profiling. It is a sad truth that America was/is generally white european led. If a German citizen can speak English with no discernable accent, how would the average citizen know he was German. If a person is of Asian ancestry, it would have been physically apparant, and thus 'easy to separate'. Coupled with the "dishonest sneak attack by the Japs," anyone of Asian heritage in the war years would have at a minimum faced discrimination, and at worst, physical assault. (I'm not pardonning what was done, nor do I condone it, it happened)
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 12:49
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    The Sheridan Report corroborates this interpretation. It quotes Stimson as giving an explicitly racial reason for the difference in treatment, and also refers to the "hysteria" focused on Japanese-Americans.
    – user2848
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 16:23

I would like to bring up a few pertinent pieces of information which haven't been discussed yet. It shouldn't be just a Japanese / German comparison. There were three great powers in the Axis.. Japan, Germany and Italy.

(1) Japan Attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor not Germany or Italy. Most Americans took that much more personally than did the United States Government at the time. Today we think of industrialized Germany as the more existential threat and perhaps it was. As the United States government sided with the British Government and agreed to fight the War in Europe first. But most Americans in 1942 thought of Japan as the real enemy. Japan had attacked the US first in a sneak attack without a declaration of war. We were in the war because of Japan, not Germany or Italy. It was Japan's fanaticism which inspired the most fear/concern/hatred among the American public during WWII. It is a modern contrivance which benefits from 20/20 hind site, that we think of Germany as the Primary enemy, that's not how the American public felt during the war.

(2) After the Attack on Pearl Harbor it had been three Japanese American who aided a captured Japanese flyer (Shigenori Nishikaichi) to escape captivity. This was also covered widely in the press and placed into question the loyalty of all ethnic Japanese over American nationalism. The Niihau incident. When you think of most of the Pacific fleet being destroyed at Pearl harbor and many Americans fearing an invasion of Hawaii or even California, the sizable Japanese American populations seemed like a more legitimate concern given both the sneak attack and then the aid given to the Japanese flyer by previously unaquanted Japanese American citizens.

(3) When the United States entered WWI there was great fear of German 5th columnists. In 1916 the German Foreign Minister (Arthur Zimmerman) threatened the American Ambassador to Germany (James Gerald). That Germany had a half million Germans in the United States which would rise up with pro-German Irish and overthrow the US government if the US entered the war. To which the US Ambassador responded that the US had half a million lamp posts to hang those German revolutionaries from. Still this was a very serious concern during WWI. The US entered WWI in April 6th 1917 and no significant mass fifth column ever materialized. So when WWII occurred, German American patriotism was another generation embedded, had already been tested, and wasn't nearly as scary to the American public as Japanese fanaticism. There were so many Germans and Italians in the United States most Americans were much better aquatinted with them and their patriotism.


What you are missing is that not all Japanese citizens were interned, only those in Hawaii and California and the west coast, i.e., the places the Japanese could attack. If Germany had raided an American military base and done significant damage, I suspect we would have started rounding up Germans as well.

In hindsight, the Japanese threat to the American mainland was almost non-existent, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed or wounded over 3,500 men and sank 8 battleships the US Congress was in no mood to treat the threat of Japanese espionage lightly. The Japanese knew exactly the disposition of entire US Fleet and the strength of its defenses due to espionage by Japanese-American citizens in Hawaii.

Japanese men located in foreign countries often spied for the country of their origin. For example, in one notorious case there was a Japanese shopkeeper who ran a photography business in Singapore, the key British naval base in the Far East. It was found out after the war that this man had secretely and systematically made duplicates of every single roll of film brought to him for development and sent the duplicate prints back to Japan. By using these thousands of photographs the Japanese were able to construct a detailed model of the fortress of Singapore down to the last storm drain and gun emplacement, even of all the secret areas. These models and diagrams were enormously useful to them during the Battle of Singapore in which they defeated the British and took control of Indonesia and the surrounding islands, including Java, an important source of oil.

This was the kind of situation the internments were intended to prevent. Of course, it is debatable the justice of imprisoning many thousands of people to prevent the work of a few dozen spies. Though, remember that it is easy now for you to be self-righteous after we have won the war, in 1941 it was not clear that war was won yet. What if YOU had ended up in a Japanese camp, instead of the other way around, like many Americans including the entire Phillipine army did. It's easy to be generous and forgiving after you have won, but when you are fighting for your life and you or your family may be killed, things are different.

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    Sources please for "Japanese men located in foreign countries often spied for the country of their origin." Commented May 2, 2014 at 3:27
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    @PieterGeerkens Note toward the end of his post Mr Durden says "a few dozen" -- by "often" he means "dozens", not 90%. And "dozens" is surely an understatement. This page -- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Japanese_spies,_1930%E2%80%9345 -- lists numerous known Japanese spies. It would be naïve to suppose there were not many more who were never caught.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 2:08
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    Citation needed for The Japanese knew exactly the disposition of entire US Fleet and the strength of its defenses due to espionage by Japanese-American citizens in Hawaii. While the Japanese did indeed know the types and locations of the ships in Pearl Harbor, this knowledge was attained directly by Yoshikawa and Seki, members of Japan's diplomatic team who were in fact spies. Those spies did not use the Japanese-American populace of Hawaii because they thought that the local Japanese-Americans were loyal to the US rather than Japan. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 18:41

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