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Chapter Seven An End and a Beginning
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Chapter Seven
An End and a Beginning

The closure of the relocation camps actually began when the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas shut down on June 30, 1944, and its remaining occupants were transferred to other camps. On December 17, 1944, Major General Henry C. Pratt, acting commander, Western Defense Command, issued a public proclamation restoring the right of the evacuees to return to their West Coast homes, effective January 1, 1945. Roosevelt announced the termination of relocation just before the Endo decision on December 18, 1944.

The announcement of the termination of exclusion from the West Coast included a statement that the camps would close within six months to a year. It initially brought more gloom, for the wording of the proclamation led some Nikkei to believe that the West Coast would not welcome them until after the war had ended. (The announcement in the New York Times stated that "the common sense and good citizenship of the people of the Coast is such that the inauguration of this program will not be marred by serious incidents or disorders," hardly a reassuring statement.) Many concluded that they had no choice but to stay in camp until the war was over. [1]

Yet for many other Japanese Americans, the opening of the West Coast meant the end of the most important excuse to procrastinate about resettling. Even those who were awaiting the end of the war had to reconsider their options, because time was running out for Topaz. A series of specific announcements about the impending


closure of the camp came in mid-July. All Japanese Americans who had been deemed loyal to the United States were free to return to the West Coast; only those identified as Japanese nationalists were to be excluded, on an individual basis.[2] (These exclusions were lifted on September 4.)

After Pratt's announcement, the administration of Topaz informed the remaining Nikkei that they were "now [to] be considered guests of the government . . . [and] that the centers were being kept open [just] to help the residents make a satisfactory transition to normal life." The internment camps had become nothing more than very temporary shelters for them until they resettled.[3] People were stunned by the speed of events. They next learned that Topaz was scheduled to close on November 1, 1945. Hoffman reported to Dillon Myer that the residents, who learned this date in mid-July, showed no "outward signs of bewilderment, exuberance or anger. The residents were utterly calm and showed absolute lack of interest in the entire matter." He described how the official teletype had been distributed by the block managers. The residents were "sitting in the cool of the evening breeze" at the time, gossiping, playing go or shogi , or discussing the events of the day, and they continued in those activities. He concluded that their response resulted from their prior assumption that the camp would close by December 1. Those who already had made plans to leave were unaffected, while those who had no such plans were waiting for the government to make the next move.[4]

These events set the stage for the rapid transition that followed. What Hoffman termed "bad morale" still affected the residents, but it ceased to be of much significance. Despite what anyone wanted, the remaining residents of the Central Utah Relocation Center had to find new homes. Many of the "stand-pat" Issei could not believe that the government would just "dump them out into the desert." Surely one or two camps—at least Gila or Poston—would remain open to house those who had nowhere else to go.[5] They could not imagine that the American government, which prided itself on its humaneness, would just abandon them. They still thought that passive resistance would work, and they trotted


out the old arguments in a last effort to convince others to join them. Many hoped that by holding out they could get a larger resettlement allowance, receive more assistance in finding homes and work, and perhaps even persuade the WRA to keep a few camps open for a longer period of time. But as the months passed, even the most dependent began to realize that the WRA itself was going out of existence; they would soon have to fend for themselves, either in America or in Japan.

Relocation thus took on a new urgency. Throughout the late summer and early fall of 1945 the residents made plans, considered offers, and made "scouting expeditions" to the West Coast, while the administration gave them all manner of verbal encouragement and exerted subtle pressure to get them to leave. Their continued reluctance led Oscar Hoffman to undertake a new assignment, to understand and explain to Washington why the intransigent residents moved so slowly. He then devised ways of persuading them to change their minds, whether or not their fears had been allayed. All pretense of scholarly dispassion was abandoned, for the administrators themselves had to plan for a future after the WRA (it was terminated June 30, 1946).

The functioning of the Topaz community slowly wound down. The schools, the hospital, some dining halls, and the co-op continued to function, but each had to construct a timetable for closing and devise a way to implement it. Certain services had to be provided as long as people lived at Topaz, and this meant retaining an adequate staff and filling a certain number of vacancies as residents departed. There was little incentive to labor for the community at the same time that the residents were being encouraged to leave. Jobs that were unpopular during the best of times became doubly so. Beset by uncertainties on all sides, residents who had worked in specific mess halls were angry and unwilling to shift to other locations as the administration tried to consolidate operations. The community council, dominated by "stand-patters," virtually ceased to function, and even the block managers no longer cared for their flocks with their previous efficiency. The Caucasians, too, began to depart as they found jobs elsewhere, and the sympathy some of


them had felt for the Japanese Americans' plight began to be overridden by concern for their own families. Topaz was operating under a sentence of death.

The administration's overriding concern was to persuade the residents to resettle as soon as possible. The opening of the West Coast offered an incentive for many who had previously been unwilling to leave, but everyone was cautious, especially as reports of violence against returnees reached them. Most waited to hear reports from those who had undertaken scouting expeditions, for they feared discrimination, hostility, and bodily harm. The WRA either underestimated or discounted the possibility of attacks on returning Nikkei and the difficulty of their finding housing and work. Hoffman told Washington to expect that people who had an economic base on the coast, who owned homes and businesses, would be the first to leave, while others would await the end of the war. The security of the center, with its provision of food, shelter, and safety, made them reluctant to leave. They knew housing was scarce in California. It would be hard for tradespeople to obtain equipment, and finding jobs in competition with returning soldiers might prove impossible.[6]

Those few residents who had been black- or gray-listed by the army were interviewed by officers who arrived at Topaz on December 17, 1944. Operating with speed and discretion, the army soon cleared most people. Few residents other than those involved even learned of the proceedings.[7] But residents were reminded that they still remained under surveillance. On March 27, 1945, Frank Shizuo Sasaki was ordered transported to the Santa Fe Detention Center when it was discovered that he had made a shortwave radio. Various groups called on Director Luther Hoffman in Sasaki's behalf; the council held a midnight meeting, and prominent community members who were deemed pro-administration received threats. Sasaki denied being a "troublemaker" or agitator and claimed he had been framed; he said he wanted to stay in the United States. George Ochikubo and others made speeches demanding a


reconsideration of the case, but Director Hoffman was adamant. Sasaki was not pardoned. The camp director wrote Myer that his incarceration and removal had taken place quietly and "all [was now] quiet on this western front."[8]

Nisei students preparing for college had a special interest in returning to the coast, for as California residents they could attend the University of California without paying the tuition they would be assessed elsewhere (although they would be assessed modest fees). The young people and their parents were given a presentation about attending UC or the College of the Pacific by a student team from those institutions. They learned that the two schools would welcome them, but local residents and many of their fellow students probably would not; they should expect discrimination. The Nisei were even advised that going to midwestern and eastern institutions might be wiser. Of course, if they did, they would lose their California residency.[9] This type of mixed message was hardly reassuring.

While some residents were ambivalent, making cautious plans or awaiting the proper time to leave, others actively opposed resettlement. Resistance was centered in a group called the Committee of Sixty-eight, named for its composition of two "stand-pat" residents from every block. The size of its membership was due to the community council's desire to have each block represented, but the committee was too large to be effective and was dominated by a small and very negative group. Hoffman assured Washington that this group probably did not represent a majority of the residents, but its members were certainly the most vocal and the most determined to resist. They thought if they waited long enough, they could force Washington to give them better benefits and assistance and perhaps even convince the WRA to leave some camps open. A few committee members were also considering repatriation or expatriation to Japan. It seemed prudent to them to await the end of the war at the least before making a decision. (No one expected the war to end as quickly as it did.)

Instances of outright propagandizing also occurred. In January a one-page mimeographed sheet was distributed to residents; written in Japanese, it urged them not to leave the center, reminding


them that it was their duty to Japan to stay where they were. The broadside made people even more anxious to postpone any decision.[10] Council chair Mas Narahara suspected Frank Sasaki had written it, but Sasaki denied the authorship.[11]

Most of the Issei, however, were tied to the interests of their children, and their resettlement plans depended on them. These people ultimately received help in resettling from children in the army or working outside camp. In the meantime they waited quietly and were cautious about what they said around their neighbors, fearing pressure and reprisals from the "negatives."[12] People made plans and departed without any prior announcement, leaving Hoffman and the administrators ignorant of what was really going on.[13]

The WRA was feverish with activity. Some of its actions were described by the residents as "squeeze plays," pressure tactics designed to force people out. One such device was the announcement that the schools would close permanently in June, offering an incentive to families to relocate before the new school year began. When two teachers resigned at the end of the first semester, parents thought this move was another squeeze and that classes might be suspended even earlier than June, but the system limped on to the announced closing date. Two mess halls were also shut down. Some employees were transferred to less desirable jobs when theirs were terminated, while others were just laid off. Seasonal and trial indefinite leaves were ended, and short-term leaves were cut from sixty to thirty days. Residents could no longer return to camp if their resettlement plans did not work out.[14] Director Hoffman wrote letters to WRA field offices all over the country, requesting follow-ups on dependency or welfare cases to insure they were cared for.[15] The WRA also advised state and local assistance agencies on the West Coast to look after people.[16] Once the WRA went out of business, its former charges would be on their own. The records are mute as to how much follow-up actually took place.

The final word on the closing date of Topaz came from WRA director Dillon Myer. The attitude of the Nikkei at Topaz toward


Myer was at best mixed. When he visited Utah in 1943, he was greeted with a large sign, "Welcome Dillon S. Myer, the Great White Father."[17] Myer was apparently amused rather than embarrassed, but the head of the engineering section, whose unit was responsible for the placard, was mortified and apologetic. Myer, a career bureaucrat from the Department of Agriculture whose final posting was at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, may even have taken the sign as a compliment. He visited Topaz again in February 1945 to assure residents that the camp would indeed close by January 1, 1946, which he said would be beneficial for everyone. The director reminded parents that their children needed to be "integrated" into new schools. He assured residents that welfare agencies in their new localities could care for them if necessary, and he cautioned them that keeping the camps open would play into the hands of the exclusionists. He also advised that they could get a "jump on returning servicemen" in the search for jobs by leaving before the end of the war.[18]

Most Caucasians were pleased to learn that the center would close on time, for they were ready to move on even if the Nikkei were not. Myer himself moved in August 1946 to a new position as head of the Federal Public Housing Authority, after receiving the Medal for Merit for his services with the WRA. In 1947 he became head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.[19] Although he was not greatly concerned about the future of Japanese Americans, on December 30, 1944, the WRA did open regional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle to aid the returning Nikkei.

For those still at Topaz the little "squeezes" involved in closing down hurt more people than simply the intended victims. For example, the administration began to charge people a fare to travel to Delta to go shopping. The new policy drastically reduced the number of passengers, which in turn upset local businesspeople. A compromise between their needs and the WRA's desire to cut even the smallest costs was reached through the good auspices of the block managers' organization: the merchants agreed to pay half the shoppers' fare.[20]

The Topaz administration usually preferred to entice, rather than coerce, residents to move out. It failed to move people to Nebraska or Seabrook Farms, but it touted a government facility west of Salt


Lake City. Some Nikkei did resettle at the Tooele Ordnance Depot in the western Utah desert; they hoped there would be no discrimination there.[21] Finding work and good living conditions was not easy, whether one stayed in the Intermountain West or went east.

Since many of those who hesitated to leave Topaz lacked job skills, in February 1945 the WRA instituted a program in vocational training. Instructors taught tailoring, electrical work, and tractor repair to willing adult learners. Teachers also offered English courses to prepare elderly Issei for life outside. As the date for closing neared, some residents requested even more "practical" classes, such as one in American cooking; that skill, they hoped, would qualify them as fry cooks in short-order kitchens.[22] At last the administration had begun to address some of the concerns Hoffman had identified that bound the Issei to camp. The question was whether it was too little, too late.

The WRA also helped the Nikkei regain access to their California homes. The evacuee property section reported in February that property owners were "inquiring about the procedure they must follow to oust their tenants." They were advised to "go on record with the tenants" and inform them when they wished to reoccupy their dwellings.[23] Moving back into their own homes did a lot to bolster the courage of those returning to the West Coast.

In mid-February 1945, the WRA, supported by the Japanese American Citizens' League, decided to convene an all-center conference of evacuee leaders in Salt Lake City. Every camp except Manzanar was represented. The Nikkei attending the conference voiced the most extreme demands of the "stand-pats": to keep all the centers open for the duration of the war, to raise the cash assistance grants to something "more substantial" than the $50 allotted per family, and to make sure that aid would be provided for people who wished to reestablish themselves in business or agriculture. The Nikkei leaders at the meeting recommended that the WRA operate indefinitely and be prepared to accept back into custody "those of the evacuated people who could not, for reasons of age, infirmity, or


demoralization, make some kind of successful readjustment to life outside the camps."[24] Such a wish list probably had more public relations than substantive value. Only a few residents of Topaz were optimistic about achieving the goals of the conference, but most were willing to see how the WRA would respond. Others thought there was no point in even having a conference at all. Their pessimism was quite justified. Myer called the conference "very constructive," but he told the delegates that "WRA policy determinations had been made on a sound basis and [would] not be changed."[25]

The WRA continued to concentrate on going out of business as fast as it could. When it recommended that the Nikkei be eligible only for programs of general assistance open to all citizens, the Issei were left with no recourse. Even the Spanish consul abandoned them, saying in effect that all the Japanese government had asked of him was to protect the lives of its citizens in the United States, not to intervene in resettlement, which was up to the individual.[26] Spain broke off diplomatic relations with Japan at the end of March, ceasing all efforts to intercede with the American government, which most residents felt had been futile anyway. No nation was willing to replace Spain as liaison.[27]

The mounting tension over resettlement affected people's health. Hoffman reported an increase in cases of high blood pressure and gastric ulcers. The imminent closure of camp prompted some people to take care of longstanding medical afflictions rather than pay for medical care outside, but the anxieties of daily life were also aggravating existing conditions.[28]

The WRA's exodus campaign made slow progress. During February most residents awaited the outcome of the all-center conference, but when they learned of the WRA's inflexibility they continued to delay, looking for the return of those who had left on scouting expeditions. The trips, however, never proved anything definitely; some people were welcomed back to their former homes and others were frightened or made cautious by their experiences.


Rural areas were more hostile than the cities, but in urban areas the lack of housing was most acute. There were reports from other parts of the country as well: Medford, Oregon, was hostile; New Orleans was friendly but had no lodging. The report that the American Friends Service Committee was reconditioning a large Buddhist church in San Francisco into a hostel was good news. The AFSC was looking for furniture and requested that the 250 families who had stored their possessions in the building remove them. But some Buddhists, still loyal to Japan and opposed to resettlement, protested the conversion.[29] A former Japanese-language school building was also being considered for temporary housing.[30]

Attempts to put people in the Salvation Army building were unsuccessful. The story of that building illustrates again the persistence of discrimination. It had been constructed in 1937 through the efforts of Major Masasuke Kobayashi, founder of the Japanese Salvation Army, who had raised a large amount of money from the community and from Japan. The Salvation Army refused to let the returning Nikkei use the building as a hostel, nor would it let them purchase it. Finally the building was sold to the Chinese government of Taiwan for use as a consulate. The Japanese Americans received $75,000 of the $2.5 million purchase price, and the money was used in 1952 to help construct the community center in Japantown.[31]

In the last week of February, Denver and Salt Lake City were reopened to Japanese Americans. Grace Fujimoto rejoined her parents in Salt Lake City soon afterward; they had moved there after Mr. Fujimoto was released from prison camp in Bismarck, North Dakota. Many other camp residents considered living in one of these two cities, which had been hospitable before the war. Nikkei who planned to remain in the Intermountain West tended to prefer Salt Lake City, disturbing a few of those Caucasians who still harbored prejudice against them.[32] However, the majority of Topaz residents still wanted to return to California.

Throughout the spring, signs of interest in resettlement appeared everywhere, as Oscar Hoffman noted in his weekly reports to Washington. The welfare office received an increasing number of inquiries from families with dependent members, and more


residents visited the relocation office seeking terminal leaves to California. The interest in vocational courses flourished, although the instructor was puzzled when many of those who completed the work asked to repeat or take additional classes rather than make preparations to leave. There were other indications that people were accepting departure as an eventual reality. Hoffman and the head of adult education were both pleased at a surge of interest in conversational English, so great that they considered offering it on a block basis. They interpreted this as a sign that people realized they would soon be living in primarily Caucasian communities.[33] Berkeley appeared to be the most propitious location for resettlement. A former resident who had returned from a scouting expedition reported a most cordial reception there, with the only negative factor the lack of housing, and a hospitality committee had been formed in Berkeley to help those who were returning. The good samaritans were the wealthy; the scout could not vouch for the lower-class whites.[34]

In early March the block managers began to request packing boxes for people preparing to leave. Their action was new; most managers were Issei and had not facilitated departures before. The Nikkei were still quiet about their plans, but at least they now confided in the block managers. Hoffman was pleased that some young women had obtained jobs with the Social Security Board in San Francisco. When Hood River, Oregon, reversed its decision after people around the country condemned it for erasing the names of Nisei veterans from the American Legion war honor role, Hoffman praised the residents' change of heart. He closed his report by noting the induction of the new community council, a ceremony attended by almost no one except the block managers. He recognized that people soon to leave might be expected not to have much interest; he failed to note that preoccupation with their uncertain futures—not indifference—kept the residents away.[35]

March was the beginning of the diaspora. Hoffman labeled March 22 the "biggest day for applications [for indefinite leave] in the history of the project." In part this increase was due to an improvement in the weather, but it also stemmed from the residents' growing restlessness. From the reports of people who had


already resettled, Hoffman judged that there still was considerable prejudice in rural areas like Hayward, but a minister in San Francisco said that conditions there were generally favorable. (Just the opposite seemed to be true, according to Kenji Fujii of Hayward, and the hostility to the Nikkei at the Salvation Army in San Francisco does not sound like the city was completely hospitable.) At least, the Nikkei were beginning to talk as if they had finally accepted the closing of the center by the year's end.[36]

But the unstable postwar economy was impeding the relocation of Topaz residents. There was disturbing news of increased unemployment in the Bay Area following the layoff of 3,300 shipyard workers, as well as significant reductions in the number employed in durable goods and manufacturing.[37] Reports from the state of Washington told of farmers' being forced off their land, and this seemed likely to happen in California as well. Those who had worked for Japanese American businesses were also in limbo, since few of their previous employers had been able to reopen their establishments: San Francisco laundry owners were a case in point. Grant Avenue merchants, international trading houses, and dry cleaners were in similar situations, unwilling and afraid to resume their operations.[38] And those who had worked for Japanese firms had no prospects for reemployment at their previous jobs.

Instances of violence against Japanese Americans who had returned to the coast had a powerful effect on Topaz, especially the story of the Doi family. Two of the Doi family's sons were still in military service when the parents and the other children returned to Placer County, California. A packing shed on the family property was set afire by vandals on January 8. After the eldest son discovered and extinguished the blaze, shots were fired at the home and dynamite was placed in the shed.[39] Some AWOL soldiers and their women friends were later arrested for attempting to destroy the building. Although they confessed, the jury acquitted them, to the jubilation of their neighbors. The story sent shock waves through the Topaz community, and many Issei decided that it was not yet time to return to California. After the Doi incident, some ten dwellings on the West Coast were destroyed, and more than thirty incidents of harassment occurred over the next two


years.[40] Tales of the deaths of two Issei in Chicago further scared people.

Accounts of discrimination that came from people who had left Topaz were especially frightening to the remaining residents. When a draft-deferred Nisei returned to his nursery in the East Bay, he was subjected to a "silent boycott" and no one would buy his flowers. Another couple who went back to their chicken ranch in the same area encountered such discrimination that they left and went to work as domestics in Berkeley.

There was other news, both good and bad. As early as January 1945, Director Luther T. Hoffman warned Nikkei returning to San Francisco that the "Little Tokyo" district of the city had been taken over by "Negroes" and "it would not be healthful for any evacuee to return there."[41] In contrast, a report arrived that the Pacific Coast Fair Play Committee had held a two-day conference in San Francisco in mid-January for representatives of federal, state, and private agencies. Spokespersons from African American, Filipino, and Korean organizations pledged that they would not attempt to profit from discrimination against the Japanese Americans.[42] It was hard to know whom to believe.

The residents were also influenced by rumors that concerned Topaz itself:[43] that the center would close July 31, or that the WRA was going to liberalize its departure policy to increase the relocation grants. Both were false, to people's great disappointment. The center would close December 31, they learned, and departure assistance was fixed at $25 a person, plus train fare.

In addition, the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt affected the mood of the camp population. Nikkei, like Americans everywhere, were shocked by the news. There was a memorial service at the high school and the elementary schools, and an interfaith, campwide service was held as well. All entertainment was canceled for the weekend. The Nikkei had no reason to like Roosevelt, who had, after all, paved the way for internment by issuing Executive Order 9066, but they knew even less about President Harry S Truman and were apprehensive about his attitude toward them. Many Issei were deeply moved by the president's death, especially those with sons in the military.[44]


Block managers began to take an active role in assisting resettlement, beyond just providing packing crates. They became informed about opportunities for jobs and kept their residents better advised. The community council still refused to take a stand, but it worked to get Nikkei bank accounts unfrozen and the council's welfare committee advised residents about relocation assistance. Since the residents were often hesitant to trust the information that the WRA provided, the facts they acquired from one another were very useful.[45]

By the end of April the Topaz residents had become, according to Oscar Hoffman, "relocation minded." Departure was on their minds, even if many had not yet done anything specific about it and still demanded more financial assistance. Issei with children in school planned to move when school ended. The administration planned to continue adult education throughout the summer, and there was a steady enrollment in skills-related courses. A speaker from the New Orleans field office held a "New Orleans Week" to convince the Nikkei to go south, and he even showed the film "Dixie," but despite a large attendance few were convinced. They complained that wages were too low.[46] The administration tried to encourage resettlement by trapping aid recipients into discussing the subject when they were applying for funds. The consolidation of the WRA welfare office with the relocation division confused the Nikkei. It also aroused considerable opposition from Caucasian staff members, especially those who had lost their jobs.[47] As the end of the school year approached, the WRA scheduled two special railroad coaches to leave on May 21 and June 4; within a week they were well reserved.[48] The camp population had in fact been declining steadily since the first of the year, as statistics in the director's reports to Myer indicate:

February 1, 1945


March 1, 1945


April 1, 1945



Oscar Hoffman estimated that the May 1 population would be 5,300.[49]

Despite the declining population, community leaders still resisted any attempts to consolidate services. When the WRA announced that three mess halls would close, there was strong opposition from the blocks where the residents would be sent to eat.[50] The curtailment was both a reaction to the manpower shortage and an example of the "squeeze" in operation, and people in the affected areas objected but, interestingly enough, residents in other blocks scheduled to receive them did not. Acting camp director Roscoe Bell met with representatives of the block managers, the council, and the chefs to devise a plan. It took a week to implement Washington's mandate to shut down the messes; by the time the event took place the angry residents were blaming not the WRA but their own leaders for giving in and not coming up with an alternate plan.[51] Clearly, people needed more specific information in order to make wise decisions about where they should resettle. During the first week of May, a group consisting of the chair of the community council and his brother, the chair of the block managers, the chief of the resident physicians, and a prewar businessman departed on a scouting expedition to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The residents awaited their reports with great anticipation. The chair of the block managers returned in early June and gave what Hoffman described as a "neutral" report. He described how Japanese were beginning businesses in Los Angeles, while those in Berkeley were buying houses at inflated prices. Despite his supposed neutrality, he admitted that he intended to resettle.[52] However, when one of Hoffman's research assistants returned from a scouting trip, his report convinced his boss, at any rate, that there were many problems yet to be overcome in the Bay Area. He said that a number of Caucasians had been indifferent to him, but only because they confused him with a Chinese; other whites called him a "Jap" or worse. White-collar jobs were scarce because opportunities to establish businesses in the former Japanese town were nonexistent. He could not borrow money to buy property because of an insurance clause regarding the likelihood of fire damage—insurers feared terrorism and arson against Japa-


nese. Violence plus the lack of housing, especially for large families, made the WRA's determination to force the residents out of camp both incomprehensible and inhumane. The man solved his problems only by purchasing a home at a very inflated price,[53] a solution open to few.

Nevertheless, by early June the signs of increased departures were everywhere. A group of elderly carpenters asked for a refresher course in carpentry. More Issei were taking English classes. Several Protestant ministers were resettling, establishing hostels for others. Resettled Japanese Americans reported that Berkeley was increasingly willing to accept Nikkei and its schools were far superior to those in Topaz.[54] College students were beginning to enroll in West Coast universities, many of them at the University of California, where they paid only state residents' fees.[55] Students at Cal reported no prejudice, but some had difficulty because of their poor study skills.[56] A group of former residents of Placer County decided to brave its discrimination, reputedly the worst in California, by returning in a body. Interest in the community council or the block managers' organization was almost nil, and people served on them only if compelled, and then only until they themselves could leave. Only George Ochikubo held on, planning to stay until the end as he continued to fight the ban against his return to the coast.[57] (It was lifted on September 4, and he too prepared to leave.)

By this time the camp had divided into two groups: those who were making plans to resettle and those who refused to. Even the latter were worried about their future. They included large families with young children and no resources, the aged and the sick, and the few who were still pro-Japan.[58] Hoffman described them as "sitting tight." They realized that they were being squeezed out by the consolidation of services and the closure of facilities, yet they made no plans and no longer even bothered to argue with the WRA about it. Even the former leaders of the negative faction were leaving. Despite the housing shortage, the news that the Federal Housing Authority planned to construct some five hundred units in the Bay Area did not induce these people to apply; Hoffman concluded, probably correctly, that their refusal stemmed


from the Nikkei's unwillingness to trust any government agency after their experience with the WRA. The Issei described applying for this housing with their camp slang phrase, "waste time."[59]

In early July the WRA announced that Topaz would close by November 1, 1945, rather than January 1 as had previously been announced. Hoffman reported that he saw no signs of the recalcitrants making plans to leave. The hard core appeared to be settling in for the final days, waiting to see what, if anything, the WRA would do to dislodge them. Although many believed that California's Japanophiles almost balanced the Japanophobes and they knew they would have friends nearby, the "stand-pats" were worried about two stories they had heard of Issei bachelors who had resettled in Seattle and Berkeley and had committed suicide out of loneliness. People who knew them said that both men had written that their greatest mistake was to leave camp.[60]

In mid-July the final community council was installed. The moribund institution came back to life with the reemergence of George Ochikubo. Ochikubo, deeply hostile toward the WRA and the army, had become involved in a joint legal test of the order to exclude certain Nikkei from the West Coast. The case, tried in California courts, was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union with the cooperation of the JACL. The army ultimately issued "certificates of exemption" to the other two defendants, Masaru Baba and Shizuko Shiramizu, but not to Ochikubo; the army continued to claim that his presence on the West Coast would "constitute a potential danger to military security."[61] The case was still pending when Ochikubo was elected chair of a conference held in Salt Lake City to discuss the liquidation of cooperative enterprises.[62]

In a speech at his installation ceremony, Ochikubo blasted the administration. He divided Caucasians into three groups: the "rubber stamps," who did everything Washington suggested; the "humane," who wanted better conditions for the residents; and the others, who desired only to earn an "E" from Washington for


efficiency. He blamed the WRA for creating petty annoyances to "squeeze" the residents even as they planned to move them out. Such pressures to force relocation were even more painful when people were under great stress. He urged the administrators to behave humanely at this most sensitive of times. Ochikubo obviously felt he had nothing to lose by antagonizing them, and his speech accomplished that handily, to the point where some of them even suggested he be tossed out on his ear. He was not, but instead remained until early September. The speech suggests some of the divisions within the Japanese American community that resurfaced later, during the debates over redress. The quarreling among individual residents had now spread throughout the entire population. The acting director, Roscoe Bell, merely wondered why the other council members had ever selected Ochikubo to speak.[63] Perhaps they saw that he was willing to voice sentiments that others shared but did not dare to express.

An anonymous pamphlet was distributed one night, clearly the work of another angry resident, a pro-Japan holdout. The author claimed the federal government had "promised" to hold the Japanese Americans for the duration of the war, not to throw them out prematurely, and the Geneva Convention protected them against such inhumane treatment. Obviously unwilling to believe Japan was losing the war, the writer charged that those who resettled were breaking faith with the mother country. The faithful who remained when the camps closed should continue to be cared for by the WRA, and schools should be provided for their children. The residents were mostly embarrassed by the anonymous pamphleteer's pathetic appeal, but Hoffman reported it to Washington, fearing that some of the timid might postpone resettling as a result. Bell assured Myer that the pamphlet had only aroused indifference.[64]

The effects of Ochikubo's speech and the pamphlet quickly dissipated. Most who could resettle were now busily planning to leave, causing further frustrations. Community leader Mas Narahara left to become an assistant relocation officer in Los Angeles, and Bell recorded that his own secretary was taking a job in the San Francisco office. The Buddhist hostel was to open in San Francisco in mid-August, and Bishop Socho Matsukagi departed on a special


train to the coast. The impending surrender of Japan spurred the departure of many who had been holding out.[65] The news came as a great shock to those who had refused to believe their mother country could possibly lose the war. But many who left failed to find new homes and jobs, and the departure rate was slower than Hoffman had expected.[66] They complained that the resettlement grants were inadequate to meet their living expenses while they located work. Some who had property in the Bay Area needed assistance in evicting tenants so they could return to their own homes. Others encountered trouble arranging to have their goods shipped from Topaz to a location near the WRA warehouse in San Francisco. Nikkei remaining in Utah complained that the state had refused to provide education for their children. Such irritants made it harder for the willing to depart and caused the holdouts to become more resistant.[67]

Oscar Hoffman himself began to caution the WRA to expect a residue to remain in the camps when they were officially closed, "unless some unusual factors were injected into the situation." It was not a question of whether, but rather of "what should be done [about] it." His staff members assumed that all families with children would have departed by September 1, but they found their projections were incorrect. Only 471 people left in July, instead of the thousand that had been anticipated. Hoffman's concerns were shared by others in the administration, who made plans to open the schools in September despite Washington's orders. By the middle of August they realized that Washington would close the center regardless of how many residents were left.[68] Dillon Myer was not to be budged. On August 29 the population was 3,400.[69]

Oscar Hoffman completed his final report in early September and departed for Oregon State University to take the academic position he had trained for. When his series of reports ended, information about the weekly or daily activities of Topaz became less readily available. The facilities in camp gradually closed down. Community activities continued throughout the summer to sustain the residents' morale, but their mood worsened as the population dwindled to the desperate and dependent few. The adult education and vocational training programs were terminated in midsummer;


the special housing for the aged closed on September 1. The San Francisco office of the WRA was informed that the hospital and dependency cases would be sent there regardless of their wishes. Seven or eight patients at the state mental hospital in Provo were transferred to California institutions. Another resident suffered a mental breakdown shortly thereafter, and Director Luther Hoffman warned Myer that several other residents seemed to be on the verge of breaking down as well. But the exodus continued. On October 1, with fewer than 2,000 people in Topaz, the dining halls began to close. The community council held a final meeting and a farewell banquet in Delta, an ironic note that underlined the end of the barbed wire fences. The Nikkei seemed to accept the closure of the camp, and Topaz experienced none of the die-hard resistance seen in other centers. The community had never been violent, and its ending was in keeping with its previous history. October 31 was the official closing day. On November 5 the remaining administrators and residents had a "combination Halloween and closing party." The director was gratified to note that the administration had received many letters of appreciation from the resettled Nikkei, thanking them for all that had been done for them and for the fine community they believed Topaz had been.[70]

The difficulties of moving the large population, shutting down the camp's facilities, and relocating the white personnel were enormous, and for residents and administrators alike personal concerns overshadowed the external events that were reshaping their world: the defeat of Germany, the dropping of the atomic bombs, and the surrender of Japan. To parents of the servicemen in the all-Nisei battalion and combat team, these events meant that their sons would soon come home. The few residents who were still hoping for a Japanese victory probably did not believe reports of the atomic bombs, since they did not accept any news that did not accord with their preconceptions. Some Issei refused to believe the news of Japan's defeat, convinced that their native land was invincible and would fight to the bitter end. Tamotsu Shibutani described how the


interned population in many camps believed rumors that the emperor's peace rescript was forged, that General Tojo's suicide attempt was faked, and that the war was not over.[71] The effect on the Issei of Topaz was probably similar; at least, the news dismayed and confused residents who were considering repatriating to Japan. For many others, it only reemphasized the need to leave camp and find their places in the postwar world.

Beginning in May, the administration had begun to charter special trains to take the Japanese Americans back to the coast, and by early September the population began to move in earnest. The trains rolled steadily west through the end of October. Temporary housing was made available in San Francisco for veterans' families, and administrators hoped this action would lead to the opening of government housing for everyone dislocated by the war. In early October lodging became available at Camp Funston, Hunters Point, and Marin City, all former army facilities in the Bay Area. The block managers left on October 18. The penultimate train left on October 26 with 325 aboard; only 200 dependency cases still remained. After the WRA announced that those with no resettlement destinations would be returned to the places they had left in 1942, Director Hoffman sent letters to the twelve families who had not stated their intentions, calling them in for counseling; all remaining family heads quickly set departure dates and destinations.. The eleven hospital cases were perhaps the most difficult for the director to resolve, but he assured them that they would be transferred to hospitals in San Francisco and told the WRA field office in San Francisco to expect them. The last to leave were 32 persons, mostly evacuees from Hawaii who had to await a boat. The center closed October 31, on schedule. Local residents were hired to help the remaining Caucasian staff members close the facility. In December the last dining hall and staff dorms were shuttered, and plans were made to turn the center over to the federal government liquidating agency. All property was declared surplus and the barracks were sold. The barracks became chicken coops, residences, and businesses, and their former incarnations were soon apparent only to old timers. The auditorium was moved to Southern Utah State College (now University), where it served another forty years.


Delta residents complained to Jane Beckwith that typewriters, refrigerators, and other useful and very usable appliances were simply buried in the desert. The visible reminders of the town soon disappeared; the site rapidly returned to wasteland and has remained barren to this day. Only a few pottery shards and bricks are left for the sharp-eyed collector.

In his closing report Luther Hoffman, the director who presided over the camp's last year, congratulated himself: "We were a conservative community but steady and sound. People left with renewed confidence in themselves and faith in the outside community."[72] Maybe.

The administrative staff members of Topaz did not complete their assignments until they filed their final reports. Luther Hoffman summarized the history of the project and the importance of resettlement. Tight housing on the coast, he concluded, was the main impediment to the latter, but as temporary residences were made available the situation eased. He prided himself on closing the center on time, and he made no effort to count the human cost. The position of director was beset by problems on every side when he stepped in, but he had taken command, shown who was in charge, and improved relations with the council and the community. Hoffman considered that he had improved communication with the people of Delta, Salt Lake City, and Washington as well. He held open houses every Sunday afternoon to improve relations with the residents, and they had learned, through his stern yet wise counsel, to help themselves instead of relying on the administration for everything.[73] The residents, had he talked to them, might have disagreed, and the other staff members would have been amazed as well.

Statistics seem to bear out his favorable assessment. The town, now abandoned, had held 8,316 residents at its height, including zoo Caucasians, half of them from the surrounding communities. The grand total admitted to the center was 11,212.[74] In all, 451 people joined the U.S. Army; 80 of them were volunteers. Fifteen


were killed in action. Despite fears of gangs and juvenile delinquency, there was very little crime, less than in comparable communities outside. There were 131 deaths,[75] but the level of health was above average. Some of those who died were infants, but mainly they were people over sixty who succumbed to the diseases of old age (with the exception of one gunshot victim, James Wakasa).

The welfare section reported in a tone almost as smug as Luther Hoffman's. Social services were in great demand when George LaFabreque arrived in 1943 to set up the division. Soon eighty-seven case workers were at work, providing unemployment assistance, personal counseling, and clothing. They helped families and individuals cope with the stresses brought on by the registration and segregation crises, especially those who made decisions that divided their families. Resettlement counseling subsequently became their primary function. The division merged with the relocation division in November 1944.[76]

The division of evacuee property was in charge of transporting and storing the residents' possessions. Its employees handled fraud, past due accounts, rents, taxes, and the like. Their biggest concern, not surprisingly, was encouraging people to trust them, a difficult task after the Nikkei's experiences on the coast. They, too, considered their efforts largely successful.[77] The many evacuees who lost everything might have disputed that evaluation. The division went out of business before a final accounting could be made of what had been lost in storage; such a final reckoning was in fact never made.

The same self-congratulation was evident in the project reports. Director Russell Bankston oversaw all public relations: he reviewed the newspaper, issued press releases, and documented the history of the center. The newspaper published until August 1945, despite increasing staffing problems. Although according to Bankston the paper was not censored, it was "checked carefully for accuracy" by the administration on all stories concerning policy. Because of the wind storms, the paper had to be hand-delivered. The reporters strove to be strictly neutral. As people began to depart, Bankston's office published resettlement news, first as a weekly, and then as a


semiweekly when the Times ceased publication. The division also took and publicized camp photographs, which it copied for the National Archives. It showed informational films, attempted to dispel rumors, and covered visits of outside dignitaries.[78] Bankston, who remained at Topaz from the beginning to the end of its existence, considered the efforts of his office successful.

The education division also provided a history of its concerns. The report acknowledged that the perpetually inadequate school staff caused unrest and discouragement among the pupils. The director explained the high staff turnover on the grounds that the WRA could not grant teachers tenure. The author of the report claimed that the resident teachers were more effective than the Caucasians anyway because of language and cultural problems. He concluded that the high school program was as effective as any outside camp, given wartime conditions, and noted proudly that the Dies Committee had announced that Topaz had the best library system in the camps. The schools closed June 1, 1945, and the reports were shipped to Washington.[79] (Eleanor Gerard and Emil Sekerak moved there too, and married. Eleanor continued to collect educational records so the Nisei could pursue their higher education.) Clearly, the director of the education division never read the reports of Oscar Hoffman.

The recreation division catalogued its many activities: supervising the golf course, playgrounds, and picnic grounds, as well as sports competitions and festivals and parties. The author listed all the other amusements and diversions of the Nikkei, from religion and photography to go and shogi .[80] From this glowing report one would hardly suspect the author was describing a concentration camp.

Oscar Hoffman's closing report on the community analysis section also emphasized his positive role. He discussed his attempts to improve the educational system, he reviewed the administrators and staff, and he extensively analyzed the resettlement program. An outside observer might conclude from this report that Hoffman enjoyed his job too much, for it provided him with a "laboratory under glass" to study, but his pain and frustration over the anguish of the residents was visible as well. Hoffman was extremely eager


for resettlement to succeed, not only because it was the WRA's policy but also because he thought it best that the residents return to society as soon as possible. He concluded that his work had been both necessary and a success, but questions could be raised on both scores.

The picture of Topaz in the records of the WRA and the separate records of the community analysis division was created by Caucasians. Few of the records of Topaz were written by Nisei, for those working for the JERS project were among the first to resettle. The administrators in the camp could be divided, as George Ochikubo suggested, into people who were "humane," those who wished only to be efficient, and the "rubber stamps" who did exactly what Washington wanted. Probably Paul Bell's characterization of them as covering the spectrum from excellent to disastrous was more apt. The few who were humane seem to have made a real difference in the lives of those they helped: Roscoe Bell, Eleanor Gerard Sekerak, Emil Sekerak, George LaFabreque, Claud Pratt, Joe Goodman, and others whose names I did not learn. Fumi Hayashi recalled Barbara Loomis, a victim of polio who taught music, Emily Light, Mary McMillan, and Muriel Matzkin with great fondness and mentioned men named Carlson, Johnson, and Victor Goertzel as good teachers. She, Dave Tatsuno, and Tad Fujita all remembered the dedication of the Reverend Carl Nugent, who moved to Delta in February 1944 to help with the Protestant church ministry.[81]

Although Charles Ernst seemed more to fit Ochikubo's "efficiency" category, Chiyoko Yano, who worked directly for Ernst compiling statistics on the camp, had nothing unfavorable to say about him. Oscar Hoffman must have been a model of efficiency and his position made him seem a company spy, yet Michiko Okamoto, who worked for him, remembered him with great respect and fondness. Many administrators came to Topaz with little knowledge of Japanese Americans as people. They had not known any Nikkei before the war, and Topaz, especially under Charles


Ernst, gave them little opportunity to become close. There was, as Hoffman noted, a caste system among administrators, with divisions based on rank, housing, and the like. Even when Caucasians and Nikkei worked together, the Caucasian was the superior and close fraternization was not encouraged. Yet at times friendships and mutual bonds were forged. Caucasian and Japanese Americans not only worked together; they attended the same church, went to the same entertainments, and endured some of the same physical hardships. Certainly, no one interned at Topaz was unaware that the whites were free to leave while they were not, except under certain conditions, but they realized that not all who administered Topaz agreed with government policy. It was a concentration camp with a human face. When Topaz closed, little was left behind— some concrete slabs where buildings had stood, some broken dishes, old pot-bellied stoves, artifacts for later generations to collect as the Topaz residents had collected arrowheads. There were no graves, for the ashes of the dead went back to California with the descendants, no buildings, no trees, no survivors on site. All that remained were the dust storms.


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