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July 2, 2010 11:28 AM   Subscribe

70 years ago today, the Arandora Star was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland by Commander Günther Prien, famous for sinking the HMS Royal Oak at Scapa Flow. Prien had taken its grey livery to mean the Arandora Star was an armed merchant ship. Instead, it was carrying Italian and German internees to be held in Canada for the duration of the war.

At the start of the war, the Home Office decided to keep tabs on Italians and Germans living in Britain, and only a few suspected of collaboration were arrested. But after Mussolini brought Italy into the war on Germany's side, Churchill issued an order to 'collar the lot'. It was this that led to the arrest and detention of hundreds of foreign nationals living in Britain, some of whom were Nazi or Fascist sympathisers, but most of whom were 'restaurateurs, chefs and waiters who had been living in Britain for most of their adult lives.'

The Star carried lifeboats enough only for its original complement of 400. Between the prisoners, crew and military guard there were over 1700 on board when the ship was torpedoed. Bodies, wreckage and lifeboats washed up in Donegal, on Colonsay and on Mull. 446 Italians, 243 Germans and 97 British guards lost their lives, along with 55 of the Star's crew including her captain.

Although the lack of acknowledgement of the sinking has caused some ill feeling in the past, memorials to the tragedy are being constructed in Glasgow and in Cardiff. Some of the survivors and their relatives reminisce here and here.

Later in the war, the policy of the Home Office changed. German and Italian nationals were no longer sent to the dominions to be interned, but instead to the Isle of Man, in Douglas and in a camp called Knockaloe.

I have quite a personal connection to these events, because I'm from a Scots Italian family. One of my bisnonni was interned in Knockaloe, and released only when he was dying of pneumonia - he only lasted a couple of days after getting out, and never saw his family. Ironically, he was largely apolitical and didna care about the fascist party; my other bisnonno, however, was a paid-up member of the Partita Fascista Nazionale di Stirling, but nonetheless avoided internment because he was a naturalised British citizen with children serving in the Army. Looking through the list of Italian casualties, I also found a fellow I share a surname with and who comes from the same town as the Italian side of my family, so it looks like I have even more connections to it than I realised!
posted by Dim Siawns (25 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by kmz at 11:47 AM on July 2, 2010


This incident reminds us of a number of things, that WW II was conceived as a race war, not just by the Nazis but by everybody, and that it brought out the worst in people. People were interned just in case they might be disloyal (although they weren't) and then killed just in case they might be involved in merchant shipping (although they weren't). Pretty crazy. Now we have new wars and new craziness.
posted by grizzled at 11:50 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now we have new wars and new craziness.

Humans have always found and will always find a way to rationalise the killing of "The Other", whether it's race, religion, land or for kicks.

Excellent post, thank you.
posted by WalterMitty at 12:01 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This incident reminds us of a number of things, that WW II was conceived as a race war, not just by the Nazis but by everybody
I think in this case the issue was citizenship, not race. People were interned for being citizens of enemy nations, not for being of Italian or German descent. That differentiates this from, for instance, Japanese internment in the US, which really was about race.

Lots of Jewish refugees who made their way to the UK were interned as enemy aliens, my great-aunt among them. My great-grandfather was similarly interned in France. I guess it's sort of understandable, but it always seemed to me like a remarkably cruel thing to do. I hadn't realized they'd rounded up longstanding residents, too, though.
posted by craichead at 12:07 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This incident reminds us of a number of things, that WW II was conceived as a race war, not just by the Nazis but by everybody, and that it brought out the worst in people. People were interned just in case they might be disloyal (although they weren't) and then killed just in case they might be involved in merchant shipping (although they weren't). Pretty crazy. Now we have new wars and new craziness.

In a word - rubbish. The Chamberlain government did not declare war on Germany in 1939 for racial reasons.
posted by A189Nut at 12:27 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, A189Nut, I did not say that the Chamberlain government declared war on Germany in 1939 for racial reasons, nor did I say that all political, military, or economic decisions or strategies of WW II were directed by race. I just said that WW II was conceived as a race war. Most people did think that their race was at war with other races. War propaganda of the period is drenched in racism, and not just the propaganda of Himmler. The various internment camps in various countries were based on race - or on nationality, as another comment points out, but even then, race was considered more fundamental than nationality. People were generally expected to be loyal to their race even when the race differed from the nationality. That is why, for example, many loyal Japanese-Americans were falsely assumed to be loyal to Japan. That was the reality of the war.
posted by grizzled at 12:43 PM on July 2, 2010


.

(but thanks to the Scots Italians who made my childhood a happier, sweeter place: Crolla, Colpi, Nardini, Boni, Zavaroni, ...)
posted by scruss at 12:54 PM on July 2, 2010


War propaganda of the period is drenched in racism, and not just the propaganda of Himmler.

Are you sure you don't mean nationalism?
posted by djgh at 1:04 PM on July 2, 2010


In reply to djgh, WW II was certainly characterized by nationalism as well as racism. Most nations have both a racial and a national identity. Even the US, the great "melting pot" of races and nations, as it has been called, still has a dominant racial identity, that of the famous WASP, although demographics are currently shifting toward a more dominant role for the Hispanic race (la raza). So there is no clear dividing line between race and nationality; the two are often connected. In WW II we saw racism, nationalism, militarism, class, gender, and so forth. All the categories that we invent for ourselves. When I mention racism I do not thereby discount every other form of prejudice or self-identification.
posted by grizzled at 1:14 PM on July 2, 2010


Grizzled: how do you account for the fact that the USA didn't round up Germans and Italians?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:59 PM on July 2, 2010


I second that rubbish. Just because the Nazis fancied themselves the master race doesn't mean that everyone else up and decided to prove them wrong.
posted by bicyclefish at 2:01 PM on July 2, 2010


Grizzled: how do you account for the fact that the USA didn't round up Germans and Italians?
They did.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:16 PM on July 2, 2010


That is why, for example, many loyal Japanese-Americans were falsely assumed to be loyal to Japan.
This has nothing to do with how the war was understood and everything to do with how Japanese-Americans were understood. Japanese people were seen to be racially unfit for American citizenship before the war: indeed, Japanese immigrants were officially "aliens ineligible for citizenship." That's why they were treated as racially disloyal during the war, whether they were American citizens or not. As other people have pointed out, German and Italian-Americans were not treated the same way.
posted by craichead at 2:16 PM on July 2, 2010


Americans of Japanese Ancestry were interned because they "looked" Japanese. The majority were US citizens and just as "American" as any other citizen. It was a despicable act of racism to treat them any different than any other citizen.
posted by shnarg at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2010


To expand on shnarg's comment: they interned Germans and Italians who were in the USA and were not naturalised. This was at least theoretically reasonable - these people were "enemy aliens", although of course many of them were loyal Americans who had never gotten around to being naturalised. In contrast, nearly all people of Japanese descent were interned, even those who had been born in the USA and those who were citizens of the USA.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2010


Thanks for the great post.

About the internment of Japanese in the U.S. it began just shortly after and in response to Pearl Harbor. Sadly the round up was for all persons of Japanese ancestry, including many families who had many generations of U.S. citizenship and didn't even speak Japanese. Very sad stuff.

Japanese people were seen to be racially unfit for American citizenship before the war:

I don't understand this. Do you mean just prior to the start of the war? IIRC, the U.S. Army had quite a few Japanese American Officers and troops in its ranks.

Actually, here's a good quick read for ya. 442nd Infantry. It looks like many of their families were interned while they fought in Europe.
posted by snsranch at 4:14 PM on July 2, 2010


I just want to say that my grandfather was almost on the Andora Star. After waiting all day in a long and dreary line, and just before he stepped aboard, he was told that the ship was full and that he would be sent back to an internment camp to await the next transport. The next ship was no picnic, but he made it to a camp in Canada without having to swim for his life.

That's all I have to say about that.
posted by Dreadnought at 5:32 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lots of Jewish refugees who made their way to the UK were interned as enemy aliens, my great-aunt among them.

My great-grandfather's cousin was a Romanian-born Jew with German nationality who made it out of Germany in 1939 by walking at night and sleeping during the day, then hitching a ride on a fishing boat to Britain, where he landed juuuust before September 1, 1939. At which point he was thrown into one of the camps on the Isle of Man for his nationality, where he lived shoulder to shoulder with other Germans in Britain, some of whom were Jews and some of whom were Nazi's.

There's probably a good film or sitcom to be made from that situation..."Stalag 17" meets "Hogan's Heroes"?

Anyway, it's darkly odd to me that the only relative of mine who I can document as actually having been in a concentration camp during WWII was a guy in a British camp.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:26 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, craichead, if you write an e-mail to the Manx National Library on the Isle of Man, you may be able to get some information about your great-aunt's internment there, although many records were destroyed by the Home Office after the war. I got information about my relative showing up in one of the daily mail calls, including his birthdate, which helped me with my genealogy research.
posted by Asparagirl at 7:33 PM on July 2, 2010


I don't understand this. Do you mean just prior to the start of the war?
No, I mean going back to the first American naturalization law, which was passed in 1790. That law said that the only people who could be naturalized were "free white persons." After the Civil War, it was amended so that people of African descent could also become naturalized citizens. But Asian immigrants weren't eligible for citizenship until after World War II. There were Japanese-American citizens of the US before then, but they were all people who were born in America and who had birthright citizenship. Even though there were Japanese-Americans who were citizens, the law excluding Asian immigrants from citizenship reflected the perception that Asians were racially unfit for American citizenship. And that played out during World War II, when Japanese-Americans were treated as racially disloyal in a way that German, Austrian and Italian-Americans just weren't.
To expand on shnarg's comment: they interned Germans and Italians who were in the USA and were not naturalised.
I don't think the US ever interned unnaturalized Germans and Italians just for being German or Italian citizens. They interned Germans and Italians whom they suspected for some reason of being potential threats. I'm not saying that's acceptable from a civil liberties standpoint, but it wasn't like in Britain or France, where they threw every enemy alien into an internment camp.
posted by craichead at 9:07 PM on July 2, 2010


they interned Germans and Italians who were in the USA and were not naturalised.
Indeed, they did. In addition, American-born, native citizens who happened to be of German and Italian descent were interned during WWII.

Does this need to be stated more clearly? German-Americans and Italian-Americans were interned, and many more were relocated from coastal areas, even those who had been born in the USA and those who were citizens of the USA.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:12 PM on July 2, 2010


To step away from the derail and return to the original post - several members of my family died on the Arandora Star - quite a few men of Italian descent were grabbed from their homes in Middlesbrough, in some cases in the dead of night, and interned.

Three of my maternal grandmother's brothers were aboard the Star when she was torpedoed, one was pulled out of the Atlantic by the HMCS St Laurent - my father, born a few years later, was named Lawrence - after the ship.

Last year, the local council in Middlesbrough unveiled a plaque in memory of the men who died.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 12:19 PM on July 3, 2010


craichead, thanks man. I wasn't thinking back far enough.
posted by snsranch at 2:00 PM on July 3, 2010


Nobody seems to have acknowledged the fact that these people were rounded up because of the difficulty of distinguishing loyal members of the country of their nationality from loyal members of the country they were then living in. The administrative solution was to round up almost all foreign nationals and filter them afterwards. So many people were detained relatively briefly. And those detained had noticed there was a serious war on, and understood the reasons for detention, however much they may have believed they were ridiculous in relation to themselves. Obviously it was to be expected that there would be spies amongst both the new arrivals and among the longer-standing residents.

Do you assume that Americans who have lived abroad for years are still patriotic to America? If yes, you can see the problems relating to "enemy aliens" faced by administrations during time of war.
posted by Idcoytco at 9:27 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asparagirl: a lot of Germans that had been interned by the British were sent to Australia on the SS Dunera. Their experiences were doocumented in a book and a semi-fictionalised movie. The book was called The Dunera Boys; I think the movie was too. And yes, the internees included many Nazi sympathisers as well as the mostly-Jewish refugees.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:39 AM on July 4, 2010


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