White obelisk with Japanese characters and mountains in background
Manzanar Cemetery Monument, 1943. Master stonemason Ryozo Kado, a Catholic, and Buddhist minister Shinjo Nagatomi designed this iconic monument as a permanent tribute to the dead of Manzanar War Relocation Center, a Japanese American incarceration site during World War II.

Photo by Ansel Adams, 1943.

The Nazis’ persecution of Jewish people lies at the center of the story of World War II. But the history of religion and the world war stretches far beyond the Holocaust. On the home front, Americans turned to their diverse religious beliefs to make sense of the world. Many relied on their faith to guide their behavior during a time of upheaval.

Most American Christians supported the war. But some members of “peace churches” objected to military service on religious grounds. They registered as conscientious objectors with their local draft boards. Some served in the military as noncombatant medics or chaplains. Others, like the future civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, went to jail for their beliefs. Still more COs participated in a brand-new program known as Civilian Public Service. At places like Patapsco Camp near Baltimore, MD, they performed “work of national importance” for the NPS and other government agencies. The program allowed them to serve their country and stay true to their convictions.

American Jews were at the forefront of resistance to the Nazi regime. At Madison Square Garden in New York City, they opposed antisemitism with protest and public mourning. Some European Jews became Americans under dire circumstances as they fled persecution. About a thousand of them started their journey in the United States as the war’s only Jewish refugees. Housed at Fort Ontario in upstate New York, they found deliverance from death. But they also received an uneasy welcome from a nation still hostile to immigration.

Japanese American Buddhists experienced incarceration and persecution within the United States. American authorities viewed Buddhism with extra suspicion. Temple communities like Hawaii Shingon Mission in Honolulu survived harassment and even violence from non-Buddhist neighbors. Within camps like Minidoka and Topaz War Relocation Centers, Nikkei Buddhists stood up for their right to religious freedom. They created new forms of practice to address harrowing conditions.

These stories and more are part of the complex history of religion and the World War II home front. National Park Service programs recognize historic places that tell this story. Explore some of them on this page!

Religion on the WWII Home Front Map

Religion on the Home Front

Last updated: August 5, 2022


  • Site Index