Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Topaz Japanese Internment Center, Utah

During World War II, Japanese people, including American citizens, were taken from their homes and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war.  Generally, these camps were inland, in desolate areas, and the living conditions were primitive to say the least.

I have been to the sites of four of these camps at Manzanar, California; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Minidoka, Idaho; and now Topaz, Utah on my annual fall camping trip.

Internees were kept under guard behind a barbed wire fence, although many worked outside the fence at a chicken farm, turkey farm, cattle ranch, and other facilities that supported the camp.
There are a few ghostly buildings left at the chicken ranch, but the rest of the camp has been almost completely eradicated.  After the war, buildings were torn down, except for a few that were sold and moved away from Topaz.  The buildings were basic barracks with tar-paper insulation and minimal coal stove heat in a climate that had temperatures below zero in winter and over 100° F in summer.  The area was plagued by high wind and dust storms.

Residents tried their best to make the area livable by creating gardens and planting trees, but the terrible soil and bad weather made it nearly hopeless.  This tree is one of the few left, and the photo shows how all the buildings have disappeared.  If you wander across the desert, you will find foundations, concrete slabs, and an occasional artifact like this toy gun.  But there are no buildings left at the barren site of the camp.

Just imagine – there were about 9000 people living here at one time.  Most of those people lost nearly everything when they were removed from their homes and sent to Topaz or the other camps.  They were forced to sell their homes and belongings on short notice at a great loss because they were not allowed to take much with them to the camps.  Despite all this, 105 men from Topaz volunteered for service in the US military during the war.  One of their units, the famed 442nd, became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service of any unit in US military history!

Now there are several monuments and this flag on one corner of the desolate town site.

The nearby city of Delta has a Topaz museum with a barracks (photo below), recreation hall, artifacts, and best of all, wonderful art work created by internees.  While the actual site of Topaz emphasizes the desolation of living at the camp, the art and artifacts at the museum helped us understand more about what the people were like and how they lived.
I hope the leaders of this country have learned something from the imprisonment of these people.  It is hard to believe that so many people (110,000) were taken from their homes and jobs and placed in camps against their will because of their race.  They were never charged with a crime, and many of them stayed for four years.

I want to thank my camping / photography buddies, Stephen Johnson and Bruce Gregory for all the opportunities to explore unusual, little known, and historic places like this over the last 34 years and 44 camping trips.  It has been great!

All photos are copyrighted and must not be used for any purpose without permission.