American Internment

 
 

Ever since I realized there was a child’s seat in the outhouse at the Japanese Camp I began to wonder about the lives of the people who were staying here. There was someone out there in the world that possibly grew up here or at least spent some during their childhood. That child is now most likely to be 70 years old, give or take a few years. I would image they would have an interesting perspective on life here at the camp. Did they see this place as a camp or a home? What stories would they have to tell?


The process of trying to figure out who they are and where they may have come from invariably led me to the social climate at the time. It proved to be harsh times for the Japanese, German and Italian Americans in this country. I knew very little about internment in the United States when I started this project. Early in my research, I have to admit, I found myself becoming very cautious of our individual rights to freedom in this country. The power of mass hysteria has notoriously trampled the freedoms of smaller groups in this country over and over again. Additionally, our leaders do not always provide the most intellectual of judgement at times of crisis.


The executive order from President Roosevelt that created the internment camps did not limit itself to those of Japanese heritage. The Germans and Italians also received attention. One of the reasons this is important to this project was an article I came across while looking through archived newspapers for local stories about Japanese Americans. It was published on July 31, 1942 about a German man who was killed while being questioned by the local Sheriff. During the late 1930s and early 1940s Frank Critzer was living at a remote location called Giant Rock, located only 10 miles east of the Japanese Camp.


It was rumored Frank was a German spy and after the start of the war he came under the scrutiny of the San Bernardino County Sheriff. In July of 1942 Frank Critzer was blown up at his home at Giant Rock shortly after the arrival of the three Sheriffs who were there to question him about thefts in the area. I don’t know if they would have eventually taken Frank Critzer to an internment camp, though I am sure they would have had the authority, but generally speaking, this tragic incident must have struck fear into the hearts of any Japanese, German or Italian American who lived in the area.


When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 it became a common belief that the west coast of the United States was vulnerable to attack. Within days of the bombing American detainment began in California and continued until Feb. 19, 1942 when Executive Order 9066 was authorized. It was then that the reality of mass internment camps became forefront in the mind of every American.


There was a voluntary evacuation period before the Japanese Americans were ordered to report to relocation centers. During this time there were thousands of Japanese heading east, away from the “forbidden zone” of the pacific coastline. Many traveled to inland states, some only went as far as the eastern portions of the state, to the mountains and deserts where most of them were detained and removed to internment camps. There are accounts of families moving into the desert only to find they were deemed suspicious and possible saboteurs because they happen to be in the vicinity of a dam or power lines.


I believe that most likely it was during these first 6 to 8 months after Pearl Harbor that the Japanese American families began their refuge at the Japanese Camp in the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

 

Temporary Shelter

Construction techniques and materials tend to become homogeneous during a given time and economic environment. The construction similarities of the Manzanar Interment Camp and the Japanese camp has intrigued me for many years. The tar paper walls and slat trim appears to be a common method of enclosing a temporary shelter during the war years. Materials were rationed at both camps, producing similar results.

Japanese, German and Italian Americans

Manzanar Housing - Photo Credit: Ansel Adams, National Archives

Rear wall, main cabin bedroom, 1982

San Bernardino Daily Sun, Jan. 3, 1942

Norman Feldheym Central Library, Microfilm

Banning Herald, March 30, 1942

Banning LIbrary, Microfilm Collection

Frank Crytzer, Giant Rock

Banning Herald, July 27, 1942

Banning LIbrary, Microfilm Collection

There are a number of sites on the internet with information about internment camps in the U.S. Go to the Links and Credits page for more information.