Italian Detainees at Fort Missoula Bathe In a Creek, 1943
June 01, 2021
On December 11 of 1941, Nazi Germany and the Italian fascicts led by Mussolini declared war on the United States of America. By late December, all Italian nationals currently within the U.S. were ordered to turn over short wave radios and cameras, and then to submit to a curfew. Finally, some 1,881 Italians were rounded up and sent to internment camps, including Fort Missoula in Montana. In comparison, 112,000 Japanese were interned during World War II.
As there were millions of Americans of Italian descent, it was mostly citizens of Italy who happened to be in America at the time that hostilities broke out. In the case of Fort Missoula, 1100 Italians stayed at the camp, including the entire crew of luxury liner the Biancamano. There were also around 1000 Japanese people, and 23 resident aliens from Germany.
The town of Missoula accepted the Italians with open arms, remembering them as cheerful and full of life. Some of the Italians put on raucous shows for their neighbors in Missoula. Many acquired local girlfriends, and witnesses reported that in 1944, as they were released from the camp and allowed to leave, the train station was crowded with weeping women. Some, of course, decided to stay, including Alfredo Cipolato, who would stay in Missoula and open an Italian deli until his death.
In this photo, the men are enjoying a day splashing in a shallow creek. One is laughing and even among these prisoners, there's a palpable sense of joy in the warmth of a summer afternoon in Montana.
It might be noted that the Italians called the camp Bella Vista or beautiful view.