Ex-internment camp receives historic designation

Sunday, July 15, 2007

TOPAZ, Utah -- Hundreds gathered at the former Topaz internment camp recently to honor its recent designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Some 8,000 Japanese-Americans were held here during World War II, part of the 120,000 who were removed from their homes and placed in detention centers by the U.S. federal government after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Naomi Yamamoto, of Turlock, Calif., was in her early teens when her family was sent to Topaz in 1943.

"We were citizens, but that didn't cut any ice -- it didn't matter. They just picked up all of us and said, 'You go on that bus,' " Yamamoto said.

She said her family had previously been interned in camp in San Bruno, Calif., where some families stayed in horse stables.

But she said that camp was better than the one at Topaz, where she lived for three years.

"We weren't used to the heat, we weren't used to the cold and we weren't used to the living conditions. Sand would come through the walls of the barracks and around the windows and it was really hard to take," she said. "It was hardship for all of us."

The Topaz site was designated a national historic landmark in March by Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne because of its artifacts, including the original barbed wire, guard tower footings, foundations of mess halls and latrines.

"We came here to remember how fragile our freedoms are and are here to remind ourselves how quickly those freedoms can be lost due to prejudice and fear," said Mike Snyder, intermountain regional director of the National Park Service.

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