On Dec. 26 The Post published an Associated Press story about alleged mistreatment by American authorities of people of Italian ancestry around the time of World War II. The article said that Italian Americans refer to the episdoe as "Una Storia Segreta"--a secret story.
In fact, there is nothing secret about this story, although it was based on the recent purported disclosure of records of a California version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The "Report of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee to the Fifty-fifth California Legislature" was published in Sacramento in 1943. I have a copy, and have studied the political history of the Italian American community in California, particularly the records of the Italian-language press in the San Francisco Bay area during the traumatic years leading to World War II.
The work of that committee was no witch hunt, nor should the relocations in this case be likened to those of Japanese Americans. While a few prominent Fascists were removed from the Bay Area for the duration of the war, "evacuation" measures were taken only against individuals who had been found, in the words of the committee, to be the "spearhead of Fascist activities in California."
The investigation dealt mainly with Communist and Nazi activities. The chapter devoted to "Fascist Activities" looked at Fascist propaganda channels, called 33 persons to testify and reached a simple conclusion: "It must be stated, in all fairness, that despite the Andrianos, Patrizis, Turcos, et al., the great majority of the Italian Americans in San Francisco and California are good, loyal American citizens."
Sylvester Andriano, Ettore Patrizi and Renzo Turco were indeed Fascist propagandists. While they did nothing subversive or dangerous to the social and political order, they were the spokesmen for a large mass of Italian Americans who looked with admiration to Mussolini's Fascism. Patrizi was the publisher of the daily L'Italia, unabashedly pro-fascist. Andriano was connected to the Ex Combattenti Society, an Italian veterans' association that had been taken over by Fascist sympathizers. Turco indirectly admitted his Fascist allegiance by recalling that one tenet of the Fascist regime was "to revive the old Roman glory."
One has to understand that the real source of admiration for Mussolini among Italian Americans was national pride rather than the Fascist experiment with state socialism. In the early stages of Fascism, a large number of Italian Americans felt that the prestige of Italy was increasing and that as a consequence their prestige in the United States was increasing as well.
In a June 1932 editorial in L'Italia, titled "A dictator is needed in the U.S.," Patrizi stated: "Those Americans who desire and demand another Mussolini for their country are 100 percent patriots." In point of fact, Fascist propaganda never reached the intensity of Nazi propaganda among German Americans. This can be attributed to a deep sense of loyalty among Italian Americans to their country of adoption. After Pearl Harbor, even the most nationalistic Italian-language papers exhorted Italian Americans to be "good citizens and loyal to the new country." The Ex Combattenti Society was dissolved on Dec. 7, 1941, "for lack of oxygen," as its secretary, Renzo Turco, told the California Committee.
Carmelo Zito testified that San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi had given the Fascist salute; other witnesses agreed. Rossi himself admitted he had an autographed picture of Mussolini in his office and that he had received Italian decorations. Carmelo Zito was a courageous anti-Fascist leader. In Il Corriere del Popolo, he fought the Fascist organizational and propaganda efforts conducted not only by L'Italia but by Italian-language broadcasts from three radio stations.
The record of the legislative committee in California chronicles that battle, which ended as soon as Italy declared war on the United States. Although it had no enforcement powers, its findings influenced the decision of Gen. John L. De Witt, who on Oct. 9, 1942, expelled 12 Italians with American citizenship from California, among them Patrizi, Turco and Andriano. About 40 Ex Combattenti were also "evacuated" from the state. On Oct. 19, 1942, the 600,000 Italians living in the United States were no longer considered enemy aliens; only 228 were interned.
Commenting on the announcement by Attorney General Francis Biddle on Columbus Day, Count Carlo Sforza, the foremost personality of anti-Fascism in the United States, told Italian Americans: "On the day of victory you will discover this happy truth, of which I am so sure: that no disagreement will ever arise between a free Italy and the free United States. The same goals and the same ideals will unite us to create a more harmonious, peaceful and human world."
The writer was a correspondent in Washington for 27 years for the Italian daily Il Tempo. He wrote his master's thesis at the University of California, Berkeley, on "The Italian Language Press in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1930 to 1943."