US Citizens Sent to Internment Camps in World War II

In the midst of winning World War II, the United States had its far share of shameful acts. The allied civilian bombing campaigns and war time atrocities are well known. What’s less well known is the number of US citizens sent to internment camps in World War II.

One of the most shocking discoveries at the end of World War II was the existence of the Nazi concentration camps. Killing over 10 million people, this is one of the most horrific acts against humankind ever recorded.

Little known is that the United States had a similar version of concentration (or internment) camps on their own soil.

In the months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US began a campaign to round up US citizens and send them to internment camps. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed this into law via Executive Order 9066, under the intent of preventing espionage.

They targeted citizens with heritage from their enemies, Japan, Germany, and Italy under the guise that they posed a security threat to the nation.

US Citizens Sent to Internment Camps in World War II

Number of US Citizens sent to Internment Camps in World War II chart

The largest group targeted by far was Japanese Americans. Over 120,000 of them were sent to these internment camps, as opposed to much fewer German and Italian Americans. Historians attributed this more to racist policies than to actual security threat posed. For instance, if a person had 1/16 Japanese blood, they were rounded up. German and Italian Americans had much less strict guidelines.

Conditions in these camps were less than adequate with poor sanitation and medical treatment. Families that were rounded up were forced to sell everything, often times at massive discounts to market value.

After the war, the camps were disbanded and the people integrated back into society. In 1988 the US government recognized its mistake and authorized a reparation payment of $20,000 under the Civil Liberties Act to each former internee that was still alive.

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Sources: National Archives; Judgement Without Trial, Smithsonian

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