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Historian Flies from Italy to Give Joint Presentation on Italian WWII POWs

Rowan Humphries ’19, Staff Writer

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Two scholars of Italian history shared the surprisingly positive experiences of Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) in the United States during WWII, in an emotional story told through oral histories and compelling photographs. 

The event, entitled “Italian Prisoners of War in Pennsylvania, 1944-1945,” brought together community members, Dickinson students and even several family members of some of the Italian POWs mentioned in the presentation. 

Fabio Sgarro ’21 attended the event because his Italian grandfather worked at one of the Italian POW camps located in England. He was impressed and pleased by the “oddly positive” treatment Italian POWs in America received.

The event’s two presenters were Alan R. Perry of the Italian studies department at Gettysburg College and Dr. Flavio Giovannu Conti, an independent historian who flew from Italy to be at the event. Together, the two scholars have published three books that “concern their common interest of Italian POWs in America,” according to James McMenamin, chair of the Italian & Italian studies department at Dickinson. 

Through the use of alternating dialogues, Perry and Conti told the story of the more than 1,200 Italian POWs who cooperated with the U.S. Army at the Letterkenny Army Depot during WWII.  

According to the historians, the captured Italians, who were brought to America in a three-week trans-Atlantic voyage and placed Letterkenny Army Depot, were treated extremely well, enjoying high standards of living. Upon arrival in America, many of the Italian POWs were reportedly “stunned” by the economic wealth and luxurious lifestyles of American society. 

The Italian POWs received superior health care, were allowed to correspond with family and friends back in Italy, played sports and attended social events organized by the U.S. Army which allowed the POWs to “fraternize with fellow American soldiers and citizens,” said Conti. The POWs were also able to cook their own traditional foods which, according to the historians, was so good many of the American officers found excuses to dine with the POWs.   

Perry and Conti also told the stories of several romances that occurred between American women and Italian POWs, many of whom married after the war and moved back to the U.S. 

The speakers concluded their presentation by reflecting on the positive impacts captivity left on the Italian POWs in America. After WWII ended, many of the POWs returned to Italy proclaiming their positive experience in the U.S. and encouraging their government to work with the Americans in the post-war era. 

Kate Levangie ’19 was struck by the positive treatment of the Italian soldiers, “I feel like in our education system, we don’t hear much about POW camps in America and how people were treated here,” she said. 

“It’s really interesting that even the uncooperating [Italian] soldiers were still treated fairly well, given how different prisoners of war from other countries were treated,” Levangie continued. 

The event took place Nov. 5 in Weiss Hall at 5 p.m. and was sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Consortium.

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Historian Flies from Italy to Give Joint Presentation on Italian WWII POWs