In the early 1940s, California was bent on rooting out friends of "Roberto," the acronym in Italian American communities for the World War II Axis powers of ROme, BERlin and TOkyo.

Even the mayor of San Francisco wasn't immune to being interrogated.

The release last month of transcripts from secret state hearings into "un-American activities" discloses the fear and suspicion that led to a little known part of American history: the World War II relocation of thousands of people because they were of Italian heritage.

The disclosures contained in the records of California's version of the House Un-American Activities Committee come at a time when Italian Americans want official recognition of what they call Una Storia Segreta, a secret story.

Legislation headed for the Senate calls on the president to acknowledge actions taken against Italians during the war years. The measure, already passed by the House, also directs the Justice Department to detail the restrictions and relocations Italians faced.

While the disruption of the lives of people of Japanese ancestry is well-known, what happened to the Italian community has been kept under wraps, even by the victims, say historians.

"Many of the families involved have never wanted to talk about it," said Lawrence DiStasi of the American Italian Historical Association. "Many were humiliated by the treatment of spouses or relatives, and are still angry about it."

Merely calling the hearings sent a chill through Italian Americans who recalled the violence that German Americans suffered during World War I, when mobs tore apart their shops and stores, he said.

Among the humiliated was San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, who appeared before the committee in May 1942, he said.

"Rossi never recovered and was brokenhearted," DiStasi said.

The records show Rossi was asked pointedly if he had any sympathy for fascism.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"Have you always been against it?" his inquisitor persisted.

"I have only one form of government, and that's the American form of government," answered Rossi, who was born in the United States.

The mayor reacted angrily when he was asked if he had ever given the outstretched arm salute favored by the black-shirted followers of Italy's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Rossi shot back that the hearing represented "government by poisoned platitudes and scandalous generalities." He said the lawmakers were "creating religious and racial bigotry in a city world-famed for its tolerance."

Still, Rossi got off easy compared with Ettore Patrizi, editor of an Italian newspaper, L'Italia, in San Francisco.

He was asked if he felt American soldiers of Italian descent would fight against Italy. "No matter how they loved their mother country, they will do their duty," Patrizi said in testimony that filled 27 transcript pages.

But the 77-year-old Patrizi, a naturalized American citizen since 1899, was forced to move and to stay out of military areas that covered about two-thirds of California.

Accusations against both men came from Carmelo Zito, publisher of the city's rival Italian language newspaper, Il Corriere del Popolo.

Zito claimed Rossi gave the fascist salute, and testified that Patrizi sponsored a radio show in the late 1930s that gave "the message of Mussolini to the Italian Americans of California."

DiStasi notes that the hearings were held at the St. Francis Hotel in the Borgia Room, the irony of which apparently escaped the lawmakers. The Borgia family in 1500s Italy was famed for treachery.

Records show the government classified 600,000 residents of Italian descent as enemy aliens from late 1941 until Italy surrendered in 1943.

In general, they fared better than people of Japanese ancestry, some 120,000 of whom were incarcerated.

However, more than 52,000 Italian Americans were subjected to strict curfew regulations and more than 10,000 were evacuated from their homes, according to Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), co-sponsor of the measure before Congress.

"Hundreds of Italian Americans were arrested as security risks and shipped off to distant internment centers without benefit of counsel or of trial," he said.

The town of Pittsburg, across the bay from San Francisco, was particularly hard hit. Nearly 2,000 of its 7,000 residents were forced to move.

A plaque unveiled in downtown Pittsburg in 1996 is dedicated to those "unjustly banned from their homes, work and communities."