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Category: Day of Remembrance

February 19 – A Day to Remember

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On February 19, 1942, then President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This legislation set the stage for approximately 120,000 ethnic Japanese to be incarcerated; the majority were American citizens. Many were initially housed in animal quarters at racetracks. Eventually, most were sent to live in “Internment Camps”  located in remote areas of the United States. There were also camps in Canada and Australia, as well as Hawai‘i. Eventually, Germans, Italians, Japanese Peruvians and others were also held without due process, primarily in Department of Justice Camps. Some were intended to be used in a prisoner-of-war exchange.

Throughout the month of February, community events, special church services and film festivals will be held in honor of those unjustly imprisoned. In Los Angeles, the Skirball Cultural Center has on display camp photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake, which runs through February 21. The Nichi Bei Foundation will host an all-day Films of Remembrance on February 20. And on Sunday February 21, the National Japanese American Historical Society  will hold an event in San Francisco. Commemorations will also be held across the country, including an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Densho has developed a “Teach-In” consisting of five free digital lessons about the internment experience.

If you aren’t familiar with Densho, be prepared to be impressed. The website states that “Densho’s mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. We offer these irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy, and promote equal justice for all.”  

Seventy six years have passed. Let’s not forget.

Bittersweet Memories

Hiroko Iida, Harold Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

Hiroko Iida, Eizo Kobayashi, Maru Hiratzka

On 19 February 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 which set the stage for tens of thousands of Nikkei to be incarcerated without due process. Smaller numbers of Italians, Germans and Japanese South Americans were also held. Canada followed suit with a similar scenario.

This past Sunday, I attended a “Day of Remembrance”  service at the Berkeley Methodist United Church. Eizo Kobayashi spoke of his memories as a young boy from West Oakland, detained with his mother and brothers, first at Tanforan Assembly Center and then in Topaz, Utah. His Issei father remained in a California hospital while suffering from tuberculosis. Eizo’s stories were vivid and poignant. He spoke of the stench of horse manure in their dwelling, a refurbished horse stall at the Tanforan race track. He described the three day train ride to Utah, told of the regular dust storms and how he and his brothers stuffed gunny sacks with hay to serve as mattresses atop their cots. His family lost their home, their business, their possessions, and in some ways, their father. For a young boy, it was also an adventure. For his mother, it was a tragedy.

Following the service, the congregation shared displays of their own memorabilia. Maru Hiratzka brought a small  wooden chest, hand crafted during the camp years by her uncle, Jimmy Osuga. Harold Hiyashi proudly displayed his mementos from before, during and after the war. Other Nissei shared their stories, too, so that we would not forget.

Harold Hiyashi

Harold Hiyashi