War Relocation Authority WRA and Internment Camps

by | Oct 9, 2020 | Colorado, Destinations, Travel and Education, Uncategorized

The War Relocation Authority WRA was created to “Take all people of Japanese descent into custody. Additionally, they were surrounded by troops and prevented from buying land. Also, they were not allowed to return to their former homes at the close of the war.”

Americans were angry with and feared Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This attitude started in Hawaii. Subsequently, everyone of Japanese ancestry, old and young, prosperous and poor, was suspected of being a spy. As a result, this suspicion quickly broke out on the mainland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that German, Italian, and Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans be barred from certain areas considered militarily sensitive.

Amache War Relocation Authority Center in Granada, Colorado

Amache Site of War Relocation Authority internment camp for Japanese Americans during WWII
The site of Camp Amache, internment camp of Japanese-American citizens during World War II
Camp Amache internment camp in Colorado during World War 2
Camp Amache in Colorado a Japanese Internment camp during World War 2
WRA or War Relocation Authority Sites

Amache Preservation Society

The Amache Preservation Society (APS) maintains the Amache WRA camp’s physical site. Moreover, It is instrumental in the site’s preservation. The society was initially established by Mr. John Hopper, a social studies teacher and Principal of Granada High School. Now, the APS Society consists of volunteer students from that school. Also, they receive help from many other organizations and support from individuals. Please visit Amache.org.

Overall, upon visiting Amache, you will find renovations of the cemetery, The Amache Museum and Research Center, the water tower, a guard tower, and a barrack instead of an empty field. These restorations are important for us to understand better what life was like in a WRA, war relocation authority camp. In fact, these renovations were possible through help and sponsorship byThe Amache Preservation Society.

Also, APS volunteer students travel throughout Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma to speak about the World War II internment camps and specifically about Amache. Additionally, for almost a decade, members of the Amache Preservation Society have traveled to Japan to live with host families to learn Japanese culture. Moreover, during their visits to Japan, APS student members give presentations to local high schools.

It is important to understand that the story of Amache is an American story. Amache is our story. Above all, It’s a story of failure by the U.S. government to protect its own citizens. Secondly, It is a story about difficult and often misunderstood anti-immigration sentiment. Finally, internment camps, the WRA, and the people sent to these places is a largely forgotten story. However, thanks to the work and dedication of volunteers and descendants of survivors of the Amache detention camp, there is now an opportunity for us to change this.

https://www.npca.org/articles/2468-amache-an-american-story-that-must-be-told

https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation

https://njahs.org/confinementsites/history

German and Italian Detainees including U.S. citizens sent to WRA War Relocation Authority centers

In addition to the forced removal of Japanese Americans and placing them in war relocation authority camps, the U.S. Justice Department oversaw the internment of more than thirty-one thousand civilians during the Second World War.

As a result, there were approximately 11,500 people of German ancestry and three thousand people of Italian ancestry, many of whom were United States citizens. These people were housed in Justice Department and army camps scattered across the country. Not only that, the camps spread from Utah, Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, New York, Hawaii, and other locations.

Playing a large role in supervision and wartime confinement of ethnic Germans and Italians were the FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the (INS), Immigration and Naturalization Services and a newly created Special Defense Unit (SDU) under the Justice Department.’

Germans in the US

By 1940, Germans made up a large percentage of the “non-American” population in the United States. There were approximately 1.2 million German nationals and another 11 million US citizens who had at least one German-born parent.

As the war in Europe continued, America was laying the groundwork. The 1940 census introduced a new question. It now required that all respondents included their ethnicity. This would make them easier to identify after America entered the war.

Also in 1940, a new law was passed so that all aliens over the age of 14 had to be registered with the Government.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, but before America had declared war on Germany, Roosevelt announced that Germans, Italians, and Japanese were now considered enemy aliens under the DOJ Alien Enemy Control Unit Program. This resulted in the suspicion of anyone described as an ethnic German, Italian or Japanese. In principle, cases were supposed to be looked at on an individual basis. In theory, people were only to be detained if there was some evidence to suggest that they posed a threat to the United States.

Concerning the German population numbers, 11,000 people were taken to DOJ camps. The majority of these were German Nationals, but the number also included US citizens of German descent.

Locations of German/American War Location Authority Internment in the US

War Relocation Authority Internment Camps for German Detainees

The internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War is widely known and well documented. However, less is known about the thousands of “ethnic Germans” who were also detained and smaller numbers of Italians and Italian Americans.

The criteria were set during the First World War when laws dating back to the 18th Century were used to authorize anyone’s detention considered to be an “enemy alien” and a possible threat to security and the war effort.

The Government set up four camps. The main ones were located in Hot Springs, CA, and at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. These camps were referred to as DOJ (Department of Justice) Camps. Those interned included not only German nationals but also those of recent German descent as they were now considered to be enemy aliens. Additionally, many had their homes and property seized by the Government.

A New York City Police officer fingerprinting a German in 1917
Germans building barracks in an internment camp during World War I.

Challenges of Italian Americans during the Second World War

Italian women and men

https://www.history.com/news/italian-american-internment-persecution-wwii

Comparison to the Japanese American Experience

While civilians of Japanese ancestry were subject to a three-tiered exclusion, removal, and internment process, most of America’s ethnic Germans and Italians were spared from one important component: they were not forced to endure removal from their homes followed by incarceration in WRA, War Relocation Authority camps. 

The sheer enormity of these two ethnic communities would have presented a huge obstacle: Clearly, Germans and Italians constituted the two largest foreign-born populations in the United States at that time. First, more than 1.2 million people of German birth lived in the United States in 1940, and five million residents with two German-born parents. Secondly, America’s ethnic Italian population was even more extensive. More than 2.4 million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1901 and 1920 alone. Also, German and Italian immigrants retained their national identities to a certain extent, as evidenced by the existence of 178 German-language newspapers and 129 Italian-language newspapers as late as 1942. 

In conclusion, from our study of past mistakes, we can make sure that we don’t repeat them. It is important for us to know and understand the complexities of situations, not react in fear or ignorance. Finally, we can and should become better people through learning from the mistakes of others.

DeStasi, Lawrence, ed. Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Internment and Evacuation During World War II. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2001.

Fox, Stephen. America’s Invisible Gulag: A Biography of German American Internment and Exclusion in World War II. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

———. Uncivil Liberties: Italian Americans Under Siege During World War II. Parkland, FL: Universal Publishers, 2000.

Krammer, Arnold. Undue Process: The Untold Story of America’s German Alien Internees.Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.

https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/internment/reporta3.h

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