Shocking Photographs from Inside the Japanese Internment Camps

The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was the forced relocation and incarceration of between 110,000-120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. 62 percent of the internees were United States citizens.

The Niihau Incident in December 1941, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when three Japanese Americans on the Hawaiian island of Niihau assisted a Japanese pilot who had crashed there. Magic, the allied cryptanalysis project to decipher enemy codes, intercepts discussed the development of a potential spy network among Japanese Americans. These revelations were used as a factor in the rationale for the controversial executive order.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which created ‘military areas’ from which ‘any or all persons may be excluded.’ This authority was used to declare that all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the West Coast, including all of California and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, except for those in government camps. Approximately 5,000 Japanese Americans voluntarily relocated outside the exclusion zone but the majority of nearly 130,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their West Coast homes during the spring of 1942.

In June of 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded and occupied the Aleutian Islands on the Alaskan panhandle.  They occupied the land for over a year.

On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that the removal of Japanese citizens from the West Coast was constitutional and that eviction of U.S. citizens in the name of military necessity is legal, but that the citizens could not be detained on suspicion alone. Nine of ten camps were closed by the end of 1945. The Tule Lake camp, which held those scheduled for deportation, was not closed until March 20, 1946.

Many internees lost irreplaceable personal property. Seven Japanese Americans were shot and killed by guards. To compensate former internees for their property losses, the US Congress passed the American Japanese Claims Act in 1948. The Japanese American families filed for $148 million in claims request; about $37 million was approved and distributed.

On February 24, 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians published a report entitled Personal Justice Denied, condemning the internment as unjust and motivated by racism and xenophobia rather than factual military necessity The Commission recommended that $20,000 in reparations be paid to Japanese Americans who suffered internment, totaling in $1.6 billion.

A sign posted notifying people of Japanese descent to report for incarceration. Wikipedia
This Feb. 18, 1944, image provided by the Tanaka family shows the World War II alien registration card for Shonosuke Tanaka, who was among scores of people of Japanese ancestry held in captivity during the war. AP
The first group of 82 Japanese-Americans arrive at the Manzanar internment camp carrying their belongings in suitcases and bags. March 21, 1942. Eliot Elisofon: The LIFE Picture Collection: Getty Images
The Mochida family wait for a bus that will eventually take them to an internment camp in Hayward, California, on May 8, 1942. Buzzfeed
Shigeko Kitamoto and her children are evacuated, along with others of Japanese descent, from Bainbridge Island in Washington state, on Mar. 30, 1942. Cpl. George Bushy, member of the military guard that supervised the departure of 237 Japanese-Americans for California, gives her a hand with the youngest. Buzzfeed
A large sign reading “I am an American” is placed in the window of a store in Oakland, California, in March 1942. The store was closed following orders to persons of Japanese descent to evacuate from certain West Coast areas. The owner, a University of California graduate, was to be housed with hundreds of evacuees in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration of the war. Buzzfeed
A US flag flies at a Japanese-American internment camp, surrounded by mountains in Manzanar, California, during World War II in July 1942. Getty Images
The outskirts of the relocation center. Wikimedia Commons
Internees at the relocation center. Library of Congress
Japanese-Americans removed from their Los Angeles homes line up at the government’s alien camp in Manzanar on March 23, 1942, for their first meal after arrival at the camp. AP
A girl detained in Arkansas walks to school in 1943. Wikipedia
An American soldier guards a crowd of Japanese-American internees at the internment camp in Manzanar. Getty Images
Guards at the Japanese internment camp in Tule Lake. Getty Images
Japanese-American photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was detained in Manzanar. Daily Mail
Manzanar internee Tom Kobayashi. 1943. Ansel Adams: Library of Congress
A camp dining hall. Wikimedia Commons
Pre-school children on the way to their barrack homes from morning class. Dorothea Lange: National Archives
A group of schoolchildren attends class at the Japanese internment camp in Tule Lake. Getty Images
School children inside Manzanar. 1943. Ansel Adams: Library of Congress
An internee of Japanese descent watches the Memorial Day Services. Internee Boy Scouts took a leading part in the ceremony held at Manzanar. 1942. Francis Stewart: National Archives
The sleeping quarters at the Japanese internment camp in Tule Lake is reminiscent of an army barrack for American GIs. Getty Images