Dorothea Lange's rarely-seen photos of Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps

Originally published at: Dorothea Lange's rarely-seen photos of Japanese Americans in U.S. concentration camps | Boing Boing


I have seen what remains of the Tule Lake camp, thoroughly depressing & shameful the USA did to its own citizens.


the Manzanar site is a fantastic site to visit if you ever get the chance. super educational.


Never stopped at Manzanar, but passed it on the way to Mammoth Mountain for ski trips.


That site, along with the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, is a place I wish every American middle school student would have to visit as a condition of graduation.


I am curious about this map; it’s missing Crystal City in Texas, where my grandparents were.


I haven’t any idea of its authenticity, I got it off of a Google search.


Texas had three interment camps, but most of the people interred there weren’t US Citizens - they were deported to the U.S. from Latin America, or were sailors arrested after Pearl Harbor. The camps weren’t shut down until a few years after the war ended.

My hometown had a small army base that kept some German prisoners of war. Many were brought into the local cafe each morning for breakfast, and were hired out as day labor. Most learned English, and asked to stay rather than be sent back to Germany after the war.


Lange was responsible for bringing her friend Ansel Adams to the site as well. H wanted to stay out of “politics,” but when he saw what was going on, he agreed it needed to be better known. His photos were more palatable to the authorities than Lange’s, and got published.

Also worth seeing are Toyo Miyatake’s photos. He was interned at Manzanar, and remarkably was able to become a semi-official photographer of the camp. You can buy prints from his (grand?)kids: Manzanar - Toyo Miyatake


There are still apologists for the internment programs who insist that it wasn’t just Japanese-Americans, there were Germans and Italians who were detained too.

Obviously that claim is bullshit—no American citizens were detained just because they happened to be of German or Italian descent. We even appointed a guy named “Eisenhower” as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. But your story illustrates how deep the racism against Japanese Americans went since even actual enemy combatants were treated with more dignity than American citizens of Japanese descent… so long as those enemy combatants were white.


From what I’ve read, the Texas camps received Japanese, Germans and Italians who were deported from Latin America. The Germans and Italians were allowed to return after the war by those governments – the Japanese were not. Although there were a few detainees there who had been arrested by the FBI, most of them were interred because of their heritage (or for the property and businesses they owned) – few faced actual criminal charges.


From what I’ve read there were a relatively small number of German and Italian nationals in the United States who were detained in the name of national security but not American citizens of German and Italian ancestry, or at least no citizens who weren’t charged with crimes. Certainly not entire families.


Yep. And it’s pretty amazing that, even given the horrible way they were treated, literally zero of them ended up helping the Japanese government during the course of the war (which wasn’t true of caucasians) and many of them went on to fight bravely in the most decorated army unit of the war (442nd infantry) while their families were still locked up in camps.


I’ve read that shortly before the Civil War, nearly a third of U.S. Citizens could trace their heritage to Germany in three generations or less. In the Civil war, over 150,000 Northern soldiers had been born in Germany. (I’m a Descendant of a German from Russia, who arrived in the late 1890’s). Despite German heritage being so common, my grandparents took my mother into town to buy supplies so that no one would hear them speak with an accent, even before the war.


My father-in-law and his family were held at Gila River after being forced to leave their farms near Fresno. He is the last alive of the six children and we have made sure that their stories live on in our family. The Executive Order 9066 exhibit was at the Presidio in San Francisco a few years ago and we all went to see it - highly recommended. I am moved to tears every time I think of this shameful tragedy and just wish I felt more confident that we will never repeat it.


During WWI, however, a handful of Germans and Austrians were tried for sedition in Montana after being overheard disagreeing with the war (this probably was not the only case, but it’s the one I’ve read about).





The difference in treatment is sadly simple to explain – those of German descent… were white.


It’s not the same thing. At all. German-Americans and Italian-Americans just DID NOT FACE the same kind of treatment that Japanese-Americans faced. Full stop.

Until we acknowledge how differently people of color have been treated in this country, we will never fix our shit.


I never did (or would) claim they faced the same treatment. Being white skinned certainly helped American Germans (and Italians) get through the war, and being in position to hide saved them from many injustices.

But many people (including you, it appears) don’t seem to recognize that part of that particular advantage came from the fact that taking away the freedom and property of nearly A QUARTER of the American population was never an option – even racist assholes knew that. Yet, fear and intimidation stayed widespread here on the home front among these “white” Americans, enough so that many of them did everything they could to hide their heritage, warning their own children about it – many of those children never told their own kids either, and many of those kids may never even learn about their own past. These Americans stayed silent then, hoping it would all blow over, and even though it eventually did, the silence about it all remains.

This was an entire generation of “white” Americans who lived with fear (before and after the war), because racist asshats found some traction over identifying “Good Americans”, despite the fact that most of them were barely a few generations away from being exactly what they despised. Being “white” has never been enough for them. This was racisms ugly twin, “America First!” – where even the government was complicit out of fear of the loudest noisemakers.

I started paying attention to racism when I learned (in 1985) that my family tree grew in Russia (a small German settlement in the Ukraine, thanks to Catherine the Great) - practically a comic book version of a pop-culture racial “awakening”, but finding yourself associated with “The Russians” in the eighties wasn’t a lot fun. I got a much better understanding when, many years later, my Mother told me about the time my Grandmother gave her “The Talk.” You know the one: “If a government man stops you, you stay quiet. Be extremely polite. Smile. Do whatever they tell you and don’t upset them. If you’re lucky, they’ll treat you like anyone else, but if they believe you’re different, things could go very badly.” Learning that my German Grandmother gave this talk to my Mother when they moved from (strongly German) North Dakota to (not so foreigner-tolerant) Oklahoma back before the Depression AND the War. The very same Talk every Black person still gives their kids today. Racism isn’t always about skin color, that just makes it more likely.

Racial suffering is not a competition. Empathy is not a door prize to be won. Empathy comes from knowledge, and THE WHOLE TRUTH must be the prize.

Stop this “My outrage is more justified than yours is” bullshit. It’s all important. I’ve seen way too much dismissiveness over whose is “real” over the past decade or so, and too much of it here, lately. Before you jump to argue, LISTEN.

Learning the full breadth of the problem NEGATES NOTHING about the individual tragedies that occurred.

Signing off for a while. Having to defend myself from friendly fire wears me out.