Scope and Content
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The U.S. War Relocation Authority (WRA) incarcerated the roughly 9,000 Japanese American residents of the San Francisco Bay Area at its Central Utah Relocation Project, later Central Utah Relocation Center (known as Topaz), for the majority of the Second World War. Topaz was one of ten such WRA incarceration camps
The Army held the Bay Area's Japanese American community at the Tanforan and Santa Anita racetracks, which served as assembly centers, while the WRA built the Topaz camp. Topaz opened in September 1942, and by the end of the year it housed virtually all Japanese Americans from the Bay Area. The first issue of the camp's newspaper told residents that they had arrived at "Topaz--The Jewel of the Desert." Most of the residents worked in the camp's vegetable gardens and kitchens, in other low-level camp administrative positions, or in local farmers' sugar beet fields. All received very low wages.
Topaz did not experience any of the violent upheavals that occurred at other camps, but the resentment of Topaz's residents did occasionally erupt into overt resistance. Probably the largest such episode occurred after a military policeman shot and killed James Wakasa near Topaz's barbed wire fence on April 11, 1943. Residents did not accept the policeman's claim that Wakasa was trying to escape. They demanded that the WRA include community leaders on a committee to investigate the incident. They also demanded that Wakasa's funeral take place at the spot where he was killed. When the WRA resisted these demands, almost all of Topaz refused to work. Even after the WRA allowed the outdoor funeral and the Army court martialed the policeman, residents were not mollified. The work stoppage continued until Wakasa's funeral. When Wakasa's killer was found not guilty at his court martial, this information was censored from the camp newspaper for fear of further protests.
While Wakasa's death brought the community together, other Army and WRA policies divided it. In February and March of 1943 the WRA administered a questionnaire that asked all residents if they were willing to defend the U.S. by serving in its military and if they would announce their allegiance to the U.S. and foreswear any loyalty to the Japanese government. Many Topaz residents found the questions to be poorly worded; they debated over how to interpret them and how to respond. Division soon erupted between those who answered the two key questions in the affirmative and those who gave negative responses. The WRA used the questionnaire to segregate the respondents. Those who answered both questions with no were moved to the Tule Lake Relocation Center. Those who gave positive answers stayed in Topaz and were allowed to find work in the Midwest or East Coast or to volunteer for the Army.
Given the widespread and often violent racism in both the military and in the civilian workforce, many residents were not anxious to risk what little savings they had and to leave their families in Topaz while they fought or looked for work. Only 2,500 or so of the 9,000 residents had left Topaz by early 1944. When the WRA pressured residents to move out and find work in late 1944, the community was wracked with tension as to whether it should cooperate or resist what the WRA called its "resettlement efforts." The point became moot when Japan surrendered. The government then allowed Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast. The WRA announced that Topaz would close on November 1, 1945. Roughly 60% of Topaz's residents eventually returned to the Bay Area.
Scope and Content
Donor Russell A. Bankson served as the director of Topaz's historical section. He also edited and censored the camp's paper and handled its public relations. Most of this accession is composed of mimeographed copies of Bankson's reports to Topaz's Director, Charles Ernst, regarding the activities of the residents and the internal politics of the camp. The accession also contains several reports which were written by George Sugihara and other University of California sociologists. All reports are thoroughly indexed by topic. Also included are directives issued from WRA headquarters, inter-office memoranda, and photographs of Topaz along with a blueprint of the camp. Several residents of Topaz who moved out, volunteered for the Army, or were drafted wrote letters to Bankson or Director Ernst; typewritten copies of these letters are present. In addition, the accession contains a nearly complete collection of theTopaz Times, the weekly camp newspaper.
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Russell A. Bankson donated this 1.47 cubic foot accession in 1959.
|Last modified: February 27, 2009|