Japanese Internment in Utah

Today marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II. To recognize this anniversary here is a past blog post highlighting records held at the Utah State Archives that correspond to this history. Researchers should also visit the digital archives for the Topaz Internment Camp, hosted by the  Topaz Museum in Delta, Utah.

AFTERSHOCKS OF PEARL HARBOR

When Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, a chain of events was set in motion that would permanently alter the directions of each country and its citizenry. Pearl Harbor led to direct U.S. involvement in World War II, drawing millions of U.S. soldiers and citizens into the war effort. Involvement on the war front had the dramatic effect of reorienting the American economy, which in turn set the stage for the industrial and commercial development that would help the United States achieve the level of global superpower in ensuing post-war decades. U.S. involvement in World War II would fuel the atomic fires of the Manhattan Project and result in the first (and only) use of nuclear weapons against Japanese citizens at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And for many Americans, the bombing of Pearl Harbor served as the catalyst for a cascade of executive actions that would pit the federal government in unfortunate opposition with a segment of its citizenry.

22990001005_KatoForm
Alien Enemy Registration Form (series 22990).

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527, which created the legal apparatus that U.S. government officials would utilize to forcibly register suspected alien enemies and eventually displace and intern 120,000 human beings by war’s end. Between 1942 and 1945, individuals of Japanese, German, and Italian descent faced the prospect of sitting before local alien resident hearing boards, forcible registration as alien enemies, and potential internment in far flung camps across the western landscape.

THE TOPAZ WAR RELOCATION CENTER

On the heels of his December, 1941, Presidential Proclamations on Alien Enemies, Franklin Roosevelt took a decisive step, when on February 19, 1942, he issued Executive Order 9066. This order called for the immediate evacuation from the West Coast of individuals who had been deemed an immediate threat to national security. Over the following six months over 100,000 individuals of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes in Washington, Oregon, and California and relocated to hastily constructed internment camps scattered throughout California, Idaho, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

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Correspondence on Suspected Japanese Alien Activity (series 22990).

The Topaz War Relocation was formally closed on October 31, 1945, and its inhabitants allowed to return to their homes. In the ensuing post-war decades, the treatment suffered by camp detainees became an increasingly difficult matter for the federal government to reconcile. This would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act that was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on August 10, 1988. In addition to issuing a formal apology to innocent individuals who had faced detainment, the bill also provided a means for those who had suffered the indignities of internment to apply for monetary compensation from the federal government.

ALIEN ENEMY REGISTRATION IN DAVIS COUNTY

Often internment in a relocation camp was based on contentious hearings before local alien registration boards, where local prejudices and weak (often unsubstantiated) evidence and accusations might be leveled at the accused. A common occurrence often entailed an older, non-U.S. citizen alien being relocated and voluntarily joined in their internment by family members who did hold valid U.S. citizenship. This dark moment also put the onus squarely on Japanese-Americans to demonstrate their citizenship and loyalty to a country that had become deeply suspicious of them. Evidence of this exists in the form of records held by the Utah State Archives that were created by the Davis County Sheriff.

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Correspondence from Registered Aliens Living in Davis County (series 22990).

In order to obtain this second registration, Justice Department officials often relied on local law enforcement officers to obtain registration data on suspected aliens, as well as forward along suspicions to members of the federal intelligence community. The records found in series 22990 contain the registration data collected by the Davis County Sheriff, as well as periodic correspondence from the sheriff to federal authorities. Most often the data captured in these registration forms includes the name of the individual being registered, information on family members living within one residence, and an inventory of all guns and ammunition owned by the registrant.

The Alien Enemy Registration Forms from Davis County reveal one level of the war effort that has gone largely forgotten. In addition to providing valuable genealogical information on residents of Davis County during the World War II era, these records help illuminate the pervasive contours of one of the darker moments in U.S. history, serving as a powerful reminder that blind fear and paranoia are antithetical to quality governance.


SOURCES

Beckwith, J. (n.d.). Topaz Relocation Center. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/from_war_to_war/topazrelocationcenter.html

Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens-overview.html

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Davis County Sheriff. Alien Enemy Registration Forms. Series 22990.