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1942-1945: Topaz Internment Camp

In short:

man, woman, child

A family stands in front of their tar-paper barracks "home" at Topaz.

During World War II, the United States forced U.S. citizens and legal residents to leave their homes and live in concentration camps. The reason? These citizens were of Japanese descent, and the government thought they might assist Japan during the war. One of these camps—known as Topaz—was in a windy, dusty location near Delta, Utah.

More of the story:

Following the bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii by Japanese planes, the US government began moving Japanese-Americans living on the West Coasts inland to internment camps in several states.  None of the people being moved were charged with any crime, nor did the government accuse them of being involved with Pearl Harbor. 

Most were U.S. citizens or legal resident aliens in the country (at the time, first-generation Japanese immigrants were not allowed to become citizens).  The government thought that, because of their ties to Japan, these Americans might become spies for the Japanese, or even help carry out attacks against the U.S.

Utah’s own camp.


An aerial shot of the Topaz internment camp.

The Topaz Internment Camp near Delta, Utah, housed mainly Japanese-Americans from the San Francisco area. The government forced these individuals to abandon businesses, houses, and most of their possessions with very little notice. The camps weren’t even ready for them, so the government collected them together at a racetrack in California.

In the meantime, crews at Topaz were throwing up flimsy barracks for houses and other buildings.

children writing

High first-graders studying at their school at Topaz.

Not a pleasant place.

When the prisoners arrived, they found a dry, windy landscape. Dust blew through the cracks in the barracks walls and covered everything. But many got to work making the place more beautiful with gardens.

At the most, the camp held 8,000 people, with two families living in each barracks building.

The camp had two elementary schools, a high school, and a hospital.  The internees could work for wages in the camp and, for some, in Delta. 

A sad day.

The guards occasionally fired warning shots when people got too close to the barbed-wire fence around the camp. One day a 63-year-old man, Mr. Wakasa, was walking toward the barbed-wire fence. A guard yelled at him to stop, but he did not hear or understand. The guard shot and killed him.  

Japanese Americans fight in the war—while their families are imprisoned.

As the war grew, President Roosevelt created a volunteer Japanese-American army unit.  105 young men from the camp volunteered to serve. 

In 1943 the government began encouraging internees who had friends or family in the interior United States to go live with them, and the camp finally closed in October 1945.

In 1988, President Reagan formally apologized to the Japanese-Americans interned in the camps during the war and asked Congress to compensate them.