On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor; instantly Japan -- and all Japanese, even Japanese American citizens born in this country -- became our enemy. In February of 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order that resulted in the removal from the western states of anyone who "might threaten the war effort." Ten camps were quickly developed, and within no time at all, everyone in the western states with Japanese ancestry was forced to relocate to these camps. They had mere days to decide what to do with their belongings, their homes, farms, businesses. They were allowed to bring only what they could carry.
Over 11,000 Japanese Americans were processed through Manzanar, one of the ten camps.
|Two sentry stations "protected" the internees, who were in effect prisoners surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire.|
|War Relocation Center? Prison, hot in summer, bitter cold in winter.|
We had come to Manzanar once before, several years ago, before there was a visitor center, before a lot of digging and recovery and reconstruction, so it was good to come again. The visitor center is located in an auditorium building that had been built by the internees in 1944.
Once inside we saw this miniature of the camp: divided into 36 blocks, separated by fire breaks. Each block held 14 military-style barracks, a mess hall, laundry room, ironing room, and men's and women's latrines. Within each block lived about 300 people, side by side, crammed into the four apartments of each barracks building.
|The mockup of the camp.|
|A reconstructed barracks building.|
|Each 20X25 foot "apartment" held up to 8 cots, each cot had 2 thin blankets and a pillow. Each apartment had its own entry door.|
One of the hardest things to endure for most internees was the communal latrines, with no partitions; and showers with no stalls. This poster was mounted in each of the modern restrooms in the visitor center.
The Japanese internees tried to make the best of a bad situation. They established churches, boys and girls clubs, developed sports programs, built gardens and ponds. A few of the old gardens and ponds have been uncovered (60 years of neglect and blowing sand have taken a toll), and more archaeological work is on-going.
|One of the internees had smuggled in a camera lens, and was eventually allowed to become the camp photographer.|
|This was probably the most ornate of the garden ponds, although others were very beautiful as well.|
|This pond and waterway decorated the area by the camp hospital.|
|To help the war effort, more than 500 young internees worked in these sheds weaving camouflage netting for the U.S. military. They were paid $16 a month!|
We could go on and on, but it's time to close with these few pictures.
|Fifteen of the 150 people who died at the relocation center were buried in this cemetery. Most of the rest were cremated. Today only six burials remain, as relatives removed the other nine after the war.|
|The Japanese inscription on the obelisk reads "Soul Consoling Tower."|
|This is one of two tiny origami cranes I found on the ground by the obelisk. Of course, I left it there.|
|These colorful garlands of origami cranes were left at the monument.|
|In the visitors center hangs this banner, inscribed with the names of all of the internees of Manzanar.|