Children tidy their classroom. School furniture was often made by internees from scrap pieces of wood and crates. Photo courtesy of Topaz Museum.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Topaz, and the ground breaking for a museum, an educational effort that comes after a decade of endeavor by residents, Japanese-American internees and their descendants.
Locals led by former school teacher Jane Beckwith never want Topaz and the violation of civil rights the camp represents to be forgotten or repeated. More than 110,000 Americans were imprisoned simply for being of Japanese descent—Nisei in Japanese. The U.S. government didn’t formally apologize until 1988 when Congress acknowledged that “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership” following the attack on Pearl Harbor led to the imprisonment of innocent Japanese-Americans.
Despite the museum board’s hard work to memorialize the injustice of Topaz, many of the former internees doubt the lesson has been learned. “It’s going to happen over and over again. It’s the nature of man to find someone weaker and push them down. Look at Guantanamo,” Saito says.