By Lilith Benjamin, Collections Manager, National Japanese American Historical Society

“The ‘American Alien’…is neither a refugee, nor, at any time, an enemy alien. He is, in reality, an immigrant – a product of American history.”
— Earl G. Harrison, Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, September 1941, “Axis Aliens in an Emergency,” Survey Graphic

During the Second World War over 125,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated at over 75 known sites of incarceration. Some Japanese Americans were incarcerated in Idaho at Minidoka, one of the ten major confinement sites run by the War Relocation Authority. A more hidden program existed in parallel. Enemy Alien Files: Hidden Stories of World War II presents the history of wartime internment of “Enemy Aliens:” Japanese, German, and Italian residents in the U.S., Jewish refugees, and Japanese Latin Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes under the “Enemy Alien Control Program.” Over 31,000 people were subject to  internment at camps run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Army.

Less known than Minidoka are places such as: Kooskia, Idaho where an Enemy Alien work camp was set up where more than 250 men, mostly Japanese who had lived in the U.S. for decades, constructed the Lewis and Clark Highway, and so-called, “Forest Camp on Cougar Creek” in the remote wilderness near the Idaho-Montana border where Italians, mostly merchant mariners, worked to fell lumber.

During the 2023 AASLH Annual Conference in Boise, the Enemy Alien Files: Hidden Stories of World War II will be on display, a short walk from the Grove Hotel at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library in Room 105.  The exhibit shares a less-known history of America at war.

The exhibit will be at:

Albertsons Library on the Boise State University Campus
1865 W Cesar Chavez Ln, Boise, ID 83725
September 1-29, 2023

Boise Public Library! Hillcrest Branch
5246 W Overland Rd, Boise, ID 83705
October 2-6, 2023

The Enemy Alien Files: Hidden Stories of World War II is funded by the Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant, a project of the National Parks Service, and is produced by the National Japanese American Historical Society in partnership with the German American Internee Coalition, the Italian American Studies Association: Western Regional Chapter, and the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.

Editor’s Note: The National Japanese American Historical Society is chairing “The Enemy Alien Files of WWII: Reckoning and Recovering our Shared Pasts.” This session at the Annual Conference is on Saturday, September 9 from 9 – 10:15 a.m. You can visit the Minidoka National Historic Site by registering for the “Removal and Remembrance: Japanese American Incarceration in the Idaho Desert” tour. A few spots remain for this tour on Saturday, September 9. The tour is sold out on Wednesday, September 6. You can still add this tour even if you have already registered for the conference by following these instructions. The pre-registration deadline for the conference is Friday, August 18. AASLH members receive the greatest discount. After this date, registration rates increase to full prices and registration will only be available in Boise.