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The Incarceration of Japanese-Americans and the War Relocation Authority During World War II

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A Japanese-American project.

The War Relocation Authority was a United States government agency established to handle internment of Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans during World War II. In addition, about 2,200 Japanese living in South America (mostly in Peru) were transported to the United States and placed in internment camps.


  1. Formation
  2. Selection of camps
  3. Life in the camps
  4. End of the camps
  5. Relocation centers
  6. See also


The WRA was formed on 18 March 1942 by order of Executive Order 9102. The original director of the WRA was Milton S. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was a proponent of FDR’s New Deal and more than likely disapproved of the idea of the internment camp as a whole. The original idea for the camps was to make them similar to subsistence homesteads in the rural interior of the country. This idea was met with opposition from the governors of these interior states at a meeting in Salt Lake City in April 1942. They were worried about security issues and claimed it as "politically infeasible." Shortly before the meeting Eisenhower wrote to his former boss, Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard, and said “when the war is over and we consider calmly this unprecedented migration of 120,000 people, we as Americans are going to regret the unavoidable injustices that we may have done.” Milton S. Eisenhower continued as director of the WRA only until July 1942. His work in the WRA including pushing FDR to make a public statement in support of the loyal Nisei, raising wages that interned Japanese Americans were paid and petitioning the United States Congress to create programs for postwar rehabilitation.

Selection of camps

A total of 10 internment camps were created under direction of the WRA, mostly on Native American lands. Site selection was based upon multiple criteria including:

  • Ability to provide work in public works, agriculture, manufacturing.
  • Adequate transportation, power facilities, sufficient area of quality soil, water, and climate
  • Able to house at least 5,000 people
  • Public land

Life in the camps

A homemade planter and a doily beside a service portrait, a prayer, and a letter home. One of the few ways to earn permission to leave the camps was to enter military service.

Life in an internment camp was rather difficult. Those that were fortunate enough to find a job worked long hours, usually in agricultural jobs. Resistance to camp guards and attempting escape was a low priority for most of the Japanese Americans held in the camps. But the residents themselves were more often concerned with the problems of day-to-day living, of improving the way they lived, getting an education, and, in some cases, of preparing for eventual release. Many of those who were employed, particularly those with responsible or absorbing jobs, made these jobs the focus of their lives. Many found consolation in religion, and both Christian and Buddhist services were held regularly. Others concentrated on hobbies; still others sought self-improvement by taking adult classes, ranging from Americanization and American history and government to vocational courses in secretarial skills and bookkeeping, and cultural courses in such things as ikebana, Japanese flower arrangement. The young people spent much of their time in recreational pursuits: news of sports, theatrics, and dances fills the pages of the camp newspaper.

Living space was minimal. Families lived in barracks like structures partitioned into ‘apartments’ with walls that usually didn’t reach the ceiling. These ‘apartments’ were, at the largest, twenty by twenty-four feet and were expected to house a family of six. In April 1943, the Topaz camp averaged 114 square feet (roughly six by nineteen ft) per person. All inmates of the internment camps ate at a common mess hall. At the army camps, it was estimated that it cost 38.19 cents per day to feed each person. It is more than likely that the WRA spent more, but most people were able to supplement their diets with food grown by other inmates in camp.

End of the camps

On 13 July 1945 the director of the WRA announced that all of the camps, except for Tule Lake, were to be closed between 15 October and 15 December of that year. On 20 March 1946 Tule Lake closed. Executive Order 9742, signed by President Harry S. Truman on 26 June 1946, officially terminated the WRA’s mission.

Relocation centers

  • Colorado River War Relocation Center - Arizona
  • Gila River War Relocation Center - Arizona
  • Granada War Relocation Center - Colorado
  • Heart Mountain War Relocation Center - Wyoming
  • Jerome War Relocation Center - Arkansas
  • Manzanar War Relocation Center - California
  • Minidoka War Relocation Center - Idaho
  • Poston War Relocation Center - Colorado
  • Topaz War Relocation Center - Utah
  • Tule Lake War Relocation Center - California
  • Rohwer War Relocation Center - Arkansas

See also

Executive Order 9066

Prominent persons