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Japanese American internment camp museum breaks ground in Utah

August 07, 2012|By Chris Barton
  • The Topaz internment camp in Topaz, Utah, in 1943.
The Topaz internment camp in Topaz, Utah, in 1943. (Associated Press )

The story of the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II hasn't always gotten widespread attention in the United States. But with construction beginning on the new Topaz Museum and Education Center in Utah, another step is being taken to keep the memory alive.

In a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday that featured Taiko drumming and a book signing by former Japanese internment camp resident turned Disney animator Willie Ito, the museum began work on a location some 16 miles away from the original Topaz camp.

Located in the Sevier Desert, the camp at one time housed more than 8,000 American citizens and legal residents (most from the San Francisco Bay area) after the U.S. government cited a "military necessity" to relocate Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ten sites were used.

When construction is completed, the more than 8,000-square-foot facility will house the museum's collection of artifacts and photographs from the Topaz camp, a library and an art gallery, which will feature work from an ad hoc art school founded by UC Berkeley art professor Chiura Obata during his internment.

Public awareness of the camps increased as a result of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations to Japanese American internees as a result of government actions that were described in the legislation as based in "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." President George H.W. Bush followed the legislation with a formal apology in 1991. 

The opening date for the museum has not yet been set, but the Topaz camp site is open year-round.

Another former camp in Central California, Manzanar, has long been open to the public as a National Historic Site. It too features photos and artifacts from the 1942-45 internment. The site is in the Owens Valley, about 230 miles northeast of Los Angeles on U.S. Hwy 395.


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