Collections spotlight: Japanese internment experience

With the addition of several new collections in April from Utah State Archives and Oregon Digital, we thought it would be interesting to highlight materials in MWDL pertaining to the World War II-era Japanese internment camps. In the following collections you can find comprehensive materials illustrating the memory of people interned in these camps along with details concerning the administrative operation of the camps. Oral histories, photographs, government records, student theses and special collections detail the experience of Japanese-Americans in Utah, California, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona. 

Huge thanks to the numerous partners who have shared this content with Mountain West!

Topaz Japanese-American Relocation Center Digital Collection (Utah State University- Merrill-Cazier Library)

In 1942 shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from California, Oregon, and Washington and confined to relocation centers. One of these relocation centers was the Topaz Relocation Center located on 17,500 acres in the middle of the Sevier Desert just outside of Delta, Utah. Until the camp closed in Oct. 1945, over 8,000 men, women and children lived, worked, and went to school there; over 100 of its residents volunteered for and served in the U.S. armed forces.

What was it like to be a resident of one of these relocation centers? School yearbooks and literary magazines written and illustrated by Topaz residents offer insight into the life, activities, and feelings of the Japanese Americans held there from 1942-1945. These and other items owned by Utah State University Library are being digitized as part of its Topaz Japanese-American Relocation Center Digital Collection.

The Relocation Program: A Guidebook for the Residents of Relocation Centers | May 1943 | War Relocation Authority | Washington D.C.

Our Daily Diary, Topaz War Relocation Center (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

This collection contains a record of the diary entries of a third grade class in Topaz Relocation in the Summer of 1943. Many of the entries contain crayon images and accounts of daily life like the one pictured below.

Our Daily Diary, a diary kept by third graders at Mountain View School at the Topaz Relocation Center from March 8 – August 12, 1943.

National Japanese American Student Relocation Council records, 1942-1946 (Oregon Digital – Added to MWDL in April)

In this collection you’ll find an assortment of items detailing the operation and records of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council. Included are meeting minutes, newsletters, faculty correspondences, and more. The NJASRC was created by university administrators as a way of moving Japanese-American students to other universities farther from the West Coast, rather than sending them to internment camps.

Davis County (UT) Sheriff Alien Enemy Registration Forms (Utah State Archives – Added to MWDL in April)

This series contains alien enemy registration forms assembled by the Davis County Sheriff during World War II. The forms document individuals and families of Japanese descent living in Davis County from 1940-1945. The forms include the following types of information: household head’s name and address, landlord or employer’s name and address, family members’ names, birth dates, birth places and registration numbers, as well as the number and types of firearms and ammunition belonging to each individual or family. A number of composite listings are also included in the series, detailing many of the same individuals and types of information as the registration forms.

Further description and information can be found in the series inventory online.

Topaz Oral Histories (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

The Topaz Oral Histories collection contains 33 records, many of which are transcripted interviews or contain numerous research materials. Each interview explores in depth the life of a former resident of the Japanese internment camp in Topaz, Utah. 

Peoples of Utah (Utah Department of Heritage & Arts)

The Peoples of Utah collection displays a series of photographs documenting the various peoples and cultures present in Utah. It contains several pictures which capture Japanese-American presence in Utah including the image below depicting the Topaz internment camp.

Japanese Internment Camp at Topaz, Utah.



Barre Toelken Fieldwork Image Collection (Utah State University Merrill-Cazier Library) 

Created by professor emeritus Barre Toelken, this collection spans 1954-2002, covers a variety of folklore topics, and also includes photos of Heart Mountain (WY) Relocation Center as well as Topaz (UT)  Relocation Camp. 

Utah Government Digital Library (Utah State Library) 

Several items including a short history of Topaz Internment Camp, and a published study related to the creation of monuments to the Japanese-American internment experience.  

Everett L. Cooley Oral History Project (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

A collection of oral histories from a wide variety of subjects, including interviews with Wanda Robertson, Raymond Songi Uno, and Joy Hashimoto directly related to the Japanese internment.

University of Utah Photograph Archives (University of Utah J. Willard Marriot Library)

Includes photos of Tule Lake (CA) and Waukon (WA) camps.


Women’s Walk: Honoring the Women of Utah  (Utah Valley University)

Jeanette Misaka describes the circumstances of her family’s forced evacuation from their home in California following the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Executive Order 9066 from President Roosevelt that followed. She includes the details of living first at the Santa Anita Racetrack and then being moved by train to the Heart Mountain Wyoming internment camp.

Interviews with Jews in Utah (University of Utah J Willard Marriott Library)

Includes a 1983 interview with Norman Nathan (1897-1985) about his experience of growing up Jewish in Utah and later working in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. 


Weber State Student Oral History Projects – Al Aoki interview, 1971 (Weber State University Stewart Library)

An oral history interview with Mr. Al Aoki and Mrs. Al Aoki. The interview was conducted on March 10, 1971, by Janet Anderson, in Ogden, Utah. Mr. and Mrs. Aoki discuss World War II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and their lives after the war.

Loyal, No Matter What: Jim and Kimiko Tazoi (Brigham Young University Finding Aids)

The booklet describes Jim’s experiences serving as a Japanese American in Europe during WWII and Kimiko’s experiences in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona. Dated 2006. 

LaVelle Sorensen Johnson Papers  (Utah Department of Heritage and Arts Finding Aids)

Correspondence, published and unpublished materials including biographies of early Millard County residents. The collection emphasizes the importance of water in the social and economic development of Delta, McCormick, and other towns born of the boosterism of the early 1900s.

Children’s Play and Book Review (Brigham Young University)

Contains reviews of “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and “So Far From The Sea” by Eve Bunting.


Utah Division of State Archives Series Inventories – Millard County (Utah). Justice of the Peace: Delta Precinct Docket books, 1922-1969 (Utah State Archives)

These fifteen volumes record individual cases heard by the justice court in Delta (both Delta Town and Delta Precinct). They contain the names of the parties involved, the date, the name of the justice of the peace, the complaint, the action taken, the names of the attorneys, the type of papers filed, and the judgment rendered. A ledger column is also available to enable the judge to keep track of the costs involved in each case.; These fifteen volumes record individual cases heard by the justice court in Delta (both Delta Town and Delta Precinct).


University of Utah Theses and Dissertations (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

2 masters theses about the internment experience: “Doing family: communicating memories of the Japanese American incarceration” by Laura Kasiwashe (2013) and “Enemies at home”: race, citizenship, and the roots of Japanese American internment policy” by Barbara Jones Brown, 2012

Frank Beckwith Collection (Delta (UT) City Library)

Photographs and scrapbooks by Frank Asahel Beckwith, editor and publisher of the Millard County Chronicle from 1919-1951. Mr. Beckwith was an amateur geologist and anthropologist and his photographs depict Utah landscapes and Native Americans, as well as photos of the Topaz Internment Camp.

Salt Lake Tribune Negative Collection (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

Numerous photos of Topaz (Utah) Internment Camp.

KUED Topaz Residents Collection (Utah Department of Heritage & Arts)

This collection consists of images of Japanese Americans before and during internment at the Topaz Internment Camp in Delta, Utah.

Interviews with Japanese Americans in Utah (University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library)

The interviews with Japanese Americans in Utah (1984-1988) consists of transcripts of a series of interviews conducted with members of the Japanese community between 1984 and 1988. Common themes within the interviews are family life, work, religion, immigration experiences, discrimination, and relations with the Mormon establishment in Utah.

Topaz City – Topaz Museum (Topaz Museum)

Finally, this collection contains the photos of the from the Topaz Internment Camp Museum. 8,000 individuals lived at this camp from 1942-1945, and this collection includes over 200 photos documenting their life.

If you would like to do more research on your own, commonly-used subjects from these collections include:

Japanese Americans– Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1954
Internment of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945
Relocation / Internment Camps
Names of camps/cities, ex: Tule Lake, Delta City, Topaz, Heart Mountain, Manzanar, Minidoka, Waukon, etc.

No Comments

Post A Comment