SIMILAR INJUSTICE, 10 UNIQUE CHARACTERS.
The United States government built Tule Lake on a dried lake bed. Winters were cold and summers were hot, but the climate was relatively mild when compared with other concentration camps. In 1943, Tule Lake became a segregation camp, in which only internees who answered "no; no" to the Loyalty Oath were interned. Since Tule Lake housed the most "dangerous" and "disloyal" internees, it quickly became a maximum security prison. In one year, the government installed 24 more guard towers, brought in 1000 armored cars, and increased the height of the man-proof barbed wire surrounding the camp. Despite being a segregation camp, a sizable proportion of internees were American citizens. Out of anger, thousands of internees renounced their citizenship in camp.
Peak population: 18,789
*Frances, Kazuko, and Nuiko Shimozaki were interned at Tule Lake. Sherian Hamamoto was born in Tule Lake in 1946.
COLORADO RIVER "POSTON"
Before Tule Lake became a segregation facility, Poston was the largest concentration camp. Interestingly enough, the camp was located on an Indian reservation. As a result, the Office of Indian Affairs played a large role in running and maintaining the camp. Most notably, Poston experienced the greatest strike (known as the "Poston Strike") in any concentration camp. Internees protested quality of labor, amount of labor, and delays in pay. Eventually, war relocation authorities extended greater autonomy to the Issei population in the camp. Poston also had the largest population of draft resisters of any camp, with 107. It's unclear why Poston fostered such a rebellious culture. Nevertheless, it's most likely that small forms of resistance helped enable others to act in more visible ways.
Peak Population: 17,814
Like Poston, the United States government built Gila River on an Indian reservation. Barracks weren't insulated and temperatures often flew far over 100 degrees. Consequently, internees often dug deep into the ground beneath their floor in order to cool their homes. Gila River was especially notable for its agriculture. In 1944, internees grew over four million pounds of produce to be distributed to eight other concentration camps. Internees at Gila River also came under fire from local populations for living "better lives" than white Americans outside of camp. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Gila River and famously remarked, "This milk is sour" after drinking milk in the camp cafeteria. Her visit helped show the commitment of internees to the war cause and the poor conditions they faced.
Peak population: 13,348
*Frances Shimozaki was interned at Gila River.
Survivors of Heart Mountain would later describe the camp as "barren" and "pretty spooky." Out of all camps, Heart Mountain had the harshest climate, where temperatures often dipped below -30 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Like Poston, Heart Mountain was known for its resistance to American authorities. In September 1942, an internee stabbed a white American supervisor after a dispute. Just a month later, war relocation authorities detained 32 Japanese-American children for sledding outside of camp grounds. In return, internees mounted resistance to what they saw as an abuse of Japanese-American children. Worker strikes in construction and in medical facilities would come to define life at Heart Mountain.
Peak population: 10,767
*Kazuko Shimozaki was interned at Heart Mountain.
Manzanar may be the most famous concentration camp of the war. The camp was starkly inadequate for family living, with tight living quarters and communal outhouses. Moreover, medical facilities were lackluster and had more materials fit for the military than for the average civilian. Although Manzanar housed over 90% of Japanese-Americans from the Los Angeles area, it also became the only home of all Japanese-American orphans on the West Coast during the war. Orphans often came from established orphanages, but sometimes were recently orphaned after their parents were detained by the American government. Even in a population of fellow Japanese Americans, these orphans were ostracized and considered to be "dangerous" by the mainstream Japanese-American population.
Peak population: 10,046
The climate at Minidoka was quite extreme, with temperatures dropping below 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, and shooting above 100 degrees in the summer. Minidoka was built on a reclaimed sagebrush desert, but construction on the site loosened the soil and removed sagebrush from the environment. Therefore, loose dust often turned into huge, dangerous dust storms. Unlike other concentration camps, Minidoka is still preserved and visible to the public. President Clinton and Bush helped Minidoka become a National Historic Site. The Nidoto Nai Yoni (Let it never happen again) monument now stands, along with the original barracks from the war.
Peak population: 9,397
JEROME AND ROHWER
Denson, Arkansas (Jerome), McGehee, Arkansas (Rohwer):
The Jerome and Rohwer concentration camps were the only camps located in the Jim Crow South. As the only two camps in Arkansas, Jerome and Rohwer shared many characteristics that we can analyze in the same context.
Jerome and Rohwer were built in heavily forested and swampy areas in Arkansas. Mosquitoes and snakes were everywhere. Because of the climate, Jerome reported 888 cases of influenza, accounting for more than a third of influenza cases in any American internment camp. Internees also struggled with typhoid and malaria. Worker inequalities also were particularly stark, with Japanese internees being paid artificially low wages compared to Caucasians performing the same work.
Predictably, there was an added layer of racial strife in these camps. Initially, Arkansas Governor Homer Adkins (previously a member of the Ku Klux Klan) protested moving Japanese Americans to his state. He also tried unsuccessfully to ban Asian citizens from owning land or attending school in Arkansas. Adkins relented only when the government promised to station additional guards in these camps. In Rohwer, racial tensions were clear in one incident with three internees and a deer hunter. Ostensibly, the deer hunter thought that the internees were trying to escape camp and shot and wounded two of them. The hunter received no jail time and incurred only a small fine. Navigating the world of Jim Crow South as neither white nor African-American added complex social undertones to camp life.
Peak population (Jerome): 8,497
Peak population (Rohwer): 8,475
CENTRAL UTAH "TOPAZ"
Topaz housed a relatively homogeneous group of internees from the San Francisco Bay Area. During its operation, Topaz was the fifth-largest city in Utah. The climate was harsh, with temperatures ranging from below zero to over 100 degrees. The hard, non-absorbent clay soil also created mud fields that became breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Throughout Topaz's operation, ill health was a distinctive feature of camp life. In April of 1943, a white officer shot and killed a 63-year-old internee after the internee walked too close to the border fence. In retaliation, thousands of workers in the camp went on strike after the military tried to suppress news of the internee's death. Although the population of Topaz was small, the resistance found within camp borders nearly matched that of Heart Mountain, Poston, and Manzanar.
Peak population: 8,130
During its operation, white Amache residents were deeply resentful of the Japanese internees in camp. The Dust Bowl hit Amache fairly hard, and the region hadn't seen economic or infrastructure development since the early 1900s. As a result, a new compound seemed like Japanese-Americans were receiving preferential treatment. Generally, Amache internees were the most patriotic of any group. 953 Japanese-American men and women served in the war effort, and the percentage of internees who responded "no" to question 28 of the Loyalty Oath was the lowest of any camp. Amache was the only concentration camp to have a silkscreening shop. The colors, designs, and prints produced by internees served as a colorful distraction from the dreariness of war.
Peak population: 7,318