While in Delta, Utah, Elijah and I saw a couple of small museums in town. One was named “Topaz Museum” and I thought it was about gems and artifacts of the area. I decided to google it to see if it was worth a visit. Wow, was I glad (and sad) that I did! I found the website at www.topazmuseum.org and here is the first paragraph that I read about this unique little museum:
The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII was one of the worst violations of civil rights against citizens in the history of the United States. The government and the US Army, falsely citing “military necessity,” locked up over 110,000 men, women and children in ten remote camps controlled by the War Relocation Administration and four male-only camps controlled by the Justice Department. These Americans were never convicted or even charged with any crime, yet were incarcerated for up to four years in prison camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.
This intrigued me. My dad fought in World War II thus the topic has always been very close to my heart. Elijah is very into the Japanese culture lately, he even wants to learn Japanese beginning next year as his high school foreign language. Due to both these things I knew this was a must do field trip for us. Elijah and I went and we were both blown away. Honestly, I had read and heard about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, but I had no idea the extent of it, nor the horrible conditions they were forced to live in. It was appalling to say the least. This is true history of what our government did to it’s very own citizens during the war. Yes, 2/3 of the Japanese-Americans locked up in these camps were actually American citizens! I thought I knew this aspect of history, but I didn’t know the truth. Now I do and as sad as it is, I want every single American citizen to learn this part of our country’s history. We are not exempt from mistreatment from our very own government. Only if we know the truth about history can we be better equipped to guard against history repeating itself. The internment camp in Delta was opened on September 11, 1942. It consisted of shoddy and only partially finished barracks barely fit for animals, certainly not humane for families, many of which included small children. Japanese-Americans families were forced to leave their homes, jobs, and most of their possessions, with the exception of only what they could carry in a suitcase. Each person was tagged (like animals) and sent in mass by train like cattle to various internment camps throughout the United States. As stated in the quote above, over 110,000 were locked up in these camps. Just over 11,000 in total were sent here to Topaz in Delta, Utah from it’s opening in 1942 to it’s closing on October 31, 1945, with the peak at one time being over 8,100. The ones sent to Topaz were all taken from the San Francisco Bay area. Just imagine, they left behind homes, businesses, jobs, friends and practically perfect California climate to be forced to to a desolate prison-like camp of partially unfinished and barely furnished barracks surrounded by barbed wire fencing and under the rule of armed guards. The climate in Delta made it even worse which exceeded 100 degrees in the summer and dipped below zero in winter. They had no air conditioning and only a coal stove per barrack room for heating. And they weren’t even completely finished so air came directly into the barracks with no insulation. The only furniture they were provided with were army cots, mattresses, and blankets. They were not allowed to cook in their barracks (had to line up at specific times for meals at the mess hall) and they had to go outside to communal latrines for the bathroom duties. Did I mention the majority of these Japanese Americans were U.S. citizens?!?!
After visiting the museum Elijah and I drove the 16 miles to the location of the actual camp itself. It was eerily desolate, yet haunting. By visiting the website I learned why it was so barren. “After Topaz closed in 1945, the U.S. government dismantled the camp. The wood from the buildings was either stripped for recycling or the buildings were sold. Half of a barrack was sold for $250 and half of a hospital wing for $500. Utility poles were removed as were the water pipes, leaving ditches where they once were. The original barbed wire fence remains, although the four strands of wire sag in places. Still, the area reminds visitors of what was once the fifth largest city in Utah. The camp still has the outlines of where the barracks stood, rock gardens, and pathways. The Topaz Museum Board owns 634 acres of the site which will be preserved for historic and educational purposes.” Here is what it looks like today.
After I returned home in a state of shock and sadness I took Greg back up to the museum so he could experience it as well. And an experience is what it is. He was equally moved. All this to say, please share this post. Show your kids, show your spouses, show your friends. Research where the other internment camps were and learn the stories behind each. This needs to be a topic of conversation and an event for us to all learn from. We must learn from history so as never to repeat it.
My next blog post will be about our visit to Bryce Canyon, so stay tuned for that. Our travels are to many beautiful places, many unique places, and many historical places. This museum and the camp itself was one of the most memorable of all the places we’ve visited. I want to dedicate this entire post to the plight of Japanese Americans. As I said above, please feel free to share this post. My heart is heavy to spread the word.
Happy Trails and Sunny Sails
P.S. One last fact, I kept wondering why it was named Topaz if it is located in Delta. I researched it more and learned that the original name of the camp was Central Utah Relocation Center. The name had to be changed to Topaz to accommodate the U.S. Post Office because the original name was too long to fit on their required forms. Since post office names could not be duplicates, the camp couldn’t be named after Delta.