One of the things I did while researching my local history book Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past was talking to as many Greenpoint seniors as I could. They have repeatedly told me a story I cannot document, but must be true—Greenpoint hosted an Italian prisoner of war camp during the second World War.
Other Greenpoint amateur historians doubt the existence of the camp and say simply, “Prove it.” I can’t, although I have searched extensively. If, on the one hand I cannot document the existence of the camp, then, on the other hand we cannot dismiss the memories of a dozen older Greenpointers either.
The camp was at Dupont Street and Franklin where the Greenpoint Playground is today. Old timers recall guards, a wire fence and barges where the hundreds of Italians lived. One of the seniors commented to me, “They may have been prisoners, but they had a million dollar view of the New York skyline.”
Greenpoint in the 1940’s had many Italian speaking residents who felt sorry for the bored Italian boys cooped up in the camp. Many had no intention of fighting for the dictator Mussolini and willingly surrendered to American forces in North Africa. They were shipped to Greenpoint far away from their friends, family and culture.
Italian-American Greenpointers used to come to the wire fence and give them small gifts newspapers, smokes and food. Edith, who lived just down from the camp on Dupont Street and at ninety-three has a strong memory, not only confirmed the existence of the camp, but told me a much more romantic version of the story. One of her friends was a young Italian-American woman who could not help but notice that there were several handsome Italians languishing behind the wire. She struck up a conversation with one good looking soldier and began to visit him bringing him presents each day. Soon love blossomed, even though he was an enemy soldier. She not only fell in love with him, but ended up marrying him and eventually securing his release. In 1945 the camp was closed and the Italians, save at least one, were sent back to their homeland.