View item information

Japanese American women arrive at the Tanforan Race Track in California, an assembly center, 1942. Many of the Japanese Americans at Tanforan would be relocated to Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society via the Mountain West Digital Library. 

After leaving their homes, many Japanese Americans were initially sent to temporary assembly centers that were hastily organized and poorly arranged. These living quarters were primitive and resembled military barracks. Many had previously served as racetracks and fairgrounds and retained the smells and physical evidence of animal life.

A former prisoner recalls the temporary quarters as sheds, with partitions dividing the sections that did not reach the ceiling. If anyone made noise during the night, as often happened with young children, it disturbed everyone. The toilet facilities were described as a pit with boards, the stench was overwhelming and sanitation was poor. Preparations were not made to properly accommodate the prisoners. These centers were a radical transition from the comfortable homes internees had left days before.

Through the summer of 1942, evacuees were sent by train from assembly centers to ten War Relocation Centers in undesirable areas in the interior: Minidoka (Idaho), Heart Mountain (Wyoming), Manzanar (California), Tule Lake (California), Granada (Colorado), Topaz (Utah), Gila River (Arizona), Poston (Arizona), Rohwer (Arkansas), and Jerome (Arkansas). As they traveled by train, they saw their familiar landscapes give way to the harsh climates of desolate mountains, deserts, and swamps. Approaching the camps, they saw that their new homes were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards in towers. As the train pulled in, internees were confronted with the full extent of their new isolation.