London, England June 25, 1940

Under the threat of imminent invasion from Nazi Germany, the British govern­ment on this date in 1940 began in­terning all sus­pect aliens living in the United King­dom. Thou­sands of Germans, Austrians, and Italians, including Jewish refugees from the Nazis, were placed behind barbed wire in England (race­tracks and unfin­ished housing pro­jects were typical loca­tions), on the Isle of Man (between Britain and Ireland), or deported to Canada or Australia (7,000 internees)

The botched Allied cam­paign to assist Nor­wegians fighting German in­vaders (April 9 to June 10, 1940) and the res­cue of some French citi­zens during the evacu­ation of the British Army from the French coast at Dunkirk (May 27 to June 4, 1940) led to an out­break of spy fever and agi­ta­tion against enemy aliens. And so all males in Britain aged 16–60 who held enemy citi­zen­ship were in­terned—women only if under actual sus­picion. Four days later Presi­dent Franklin D. Roose­velt signed the Alien Regis­tra­tion Act (Smith Act), which required noncitizen adult resi­dents living in the U.S. to regis­ter and be finger­printed. Within four months of its pas­sage, close to five million U.S. aliens had registered, including 40,000 Japanese.

Following on the Smith Act, Roose­velt’s Executive Order 9066 of Febru­ary 19, 1942, autho­rized the Sec­re­tary of War and U.S. armed forces com­man­ders to declare parts of the U.S. mili­tary areas “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” The order led to the forced relo­ca­tion, usually to back­water areas of the U.S., of many of the same peo­ple, U.S. citi­zens and aliens alike, who had registered under the Smith Act. More than 117,000 people of Japa­nese ancestry were affected by FDR’s Exec­u­tive Order 9066, two-thirds of whom were born in the U.S. These Amer­i­can-born Japa­nese would spend the next two to five years wrong­fully stripped of their birth­right and free­doms and incar­cer­ated with­out due pro­cess. Adding to the num­ber of these unfor­tu­nates were 11,000 peo­ple of German ances­try and 3,000 peo­ple of Italian ancestry, along with some Jewish refugees.

Mirroring Roosevelt’s executive order were Cana­dian Prime Minister Mac­kenzie King’s orders-in-council, the first of which was announced on Feb­ru­ary 24, 1942. The orders-in-council set in motion the evacu­ation of all per­sons of Japa­nese origin to “pro­tec­tive areas,” mainly in the inte­rior of British Colum­bia. Some 20,881 Japa­nese in Canada were uprooted, of whom 13,309 were Cana­dian citi­zens by birth. “Evac­u­ees” of Japa­nese descent in Canada, just like those in the U.S., were held for years without charge.

Of all alien internment, the most brutal was that orga­nized by the Japa­nese after their armed forces flooded into British, Dutch, and Amer­i­can colo­nies and terri­tories in the Asia Pacific region following the out­break of the Paci­fic War in Decem­ber 1941. In 1941–1942 approx­i­mately 130,000 civil­ians from Allied coun­tries were interned. The camps—176 camps in Japan, 500 in occupied terri­tories—varied in size; some were segre­gated by race or gender, but many were mixed gender.

One of the largest unsegregated camps was in the British Crown colony of Hong Kong, which held 2,800 mainly British internees. Unlike pri­soners of war, the internees were not com­pelled to work, but they were held in primi­tive con­di­tions. Brutality by camp guards was common and internee death rates were high. Japan set up more than 20 intern­ment camps in China and Hong Kong alone, holding some 14,000 peo­ple. Now an elite high school, the Shanghai intern­ment camp made famous by J.G. Ballard’s 1984 semi-auto­bio­graphi­cal novel Empire of the Sun and Steven Spiel­berg’s 1987 film of the same name, held more than 1,800 foreigners.

Wartime Internment of Enemy Aliens in Different Parts of the World

World War II internment: Huyton, England, internees carrying out bomb disposal (undated)World War II internment: Italian Australian wives and children, Queensland 1940

Left: Huyton near Liverpool, England, was the site of three war­time camps: an intern­ment camp, a German POW camp opened in 1943 (closed in 1948), and a base for U.S. service­members. The intern­ment camp, one of the biggest in Britain, was created to accom­mo­date “enemy aliens” deemed a poten­tial threat to national secu­rity. Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill’s demand to “collar the lot” meant that around 27,000 peo­ple in Britain ended up being interned. This picture shows Huyton inmates carrying out bomb disposal.

Right: When Italy declared war on Great Britain in June 1940, almost 5,000 Ital­ians living in Aus­tra­lia—a member of the British Commonwealth—were herded off to local pri­sons to be finger­printed, photo­graphed and num­bered, hustled at gun­point onto trains with barred windows, and sent to Aus­tra­lia’s intern­ment camps or forced to per­form forced labor with the Civil Alien Corps from 1943 to 1947. This photo­graph shows the families of the interned men of the Caminiti clan in the Australian state of Queensland sometime in 1940.

World War II internment: Japanese American relocation camp near Granada, ColoradoWorld War II internment: Japanese Canadian internment camp, British Columbia, June 1945

Left: The Granada War Relocation Center (also called Camp Amache) was a Japa­nese Amer­i­can intern­ment camp located in the hot, treeless, unpopu­lated south­east cor­ner of Colo­rado state (truly in the middle of nowhere) roughly 200 miles east of Denver and 15 miles west of the Kansas state border. Con­struc­tion of the camp began in mid-June 1942 with a crew of up to 1,000 hired hands and 50 internee volun­teers. The camp opened in August 1942 and had a maxi­mum popu­la­tion of 7,318 per­sons. With over 560 buildings Amache was the smallest of the ten U.S. relo­ca­tion centers. Nearly all of those held at the camp were U.S. West Coast “evacu­ees,” as internees or incar­cerees were then known, mostly from the Los Angeles area. Each inter­nee was only allowed to bring one bag or suit­case; there­fore, many people were forced to sell what they could or give away their pos­ses­sions (including pets) before their forced relo­cation. Amache was sur­rounded by four-strand barbed-wire fencing, with six machine-gun watch towers located along the perimeter. Internees were jammed into wooden bar­racks divided into 20‑by‑25‑ft “apart­ments” clustered in 29 res­i­den­tial blocks as partially seen in this photo.

Right: An unnamed internment camp for Japanese Cana­dians in the west coast pro­vince of British Colum­bia, June 1945. Over 75 per­cent of Cana­dian inter­nees were Cana­dian citi­zens. Loyal­ties of Ital­ian and German Cana­dians were ques­tioned, too. Ital­ian Cana­dians were con­sidered to be fascist sym­pathi­zers and poten­tial ter­rorists, so they were put under sur­veil­lance. Eventually 31,000 Ital­ian Cana­dians were desig­nated “enemy aliens.” Of these, about 600 were taken from their fami­lies and held in pri­sons and remote camps like the one in this photo.

U.S. Office of War Information Film Justifying the Forcible Removal and Internment of Japanese Residents in the United States