History

What life was like in an American concentration camp

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese navy, killing more than 2,400 service members spearheading President Roosevelt's decision to enter into World War II.


After the bombing, Japanese-Americans lived under extreme scrutiny.

Two months after the deadly air raid, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which called for the relocation of more than 110,000 Japanese men, women, and children (many of whom were American citizens) into internment camps for fear of terrorism.

Japanese-Americans loading onto a train to relocate to the internment camps. (Source: History/Screenshot)

Related: This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

With 10 internment camps set up across the country, many Japanese-Americans who served in the military had to visit their detained families through barbed wired fences while under the constant supervision of armed sentries.

"It's kind of a strange feeling that here I was fighting for a country and my parents and brother and sisters were in a friendly country behind barbed wires," Jimmie Kanaya remembers. "I think that gave us more reason to fight for our country; we had reason to go back and prove that we are loyal."

Many detained Japanese men volunteered to join the military to prove their patriotism to America.

A high angle of Puyallup fairgrounds in western Washington that was converted into an internment camp. (Source: Densho/YouTube/Screenshot)

At the camps, large families were forced to live in filthy hovels that just a few weeks prior housed pigs, cows, and other livestock.

In 1944, Roosevelt rescinded his executive order, and the camp's residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Also Read: This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

More than 40 years later, Congress attempted to award any surviving intern $20,000 as a way to apologize for the two and a half years of confinement.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel video below to see for yourself what life was like in the internment camps.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)