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60 Powerful Photos Of Japanese American Incarceration Camps That Will Change Your View Of History

Between 1942 and 1946, approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into incarceration camps in the US.

There has been much debate over how to describe the forced relocation of Japanese Americans from their homes to camps during World War II (specifically 1942-1946).

In the captions of these images, we use the word "incarceration." We use "Japanese Americans" to refer to
Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), Issei (Japanese immigrants, parents to Nisei, who were barred from becoming naturalized citizens due to discriminatory laws), and Sansei (third-generation Japanese Americans).

1. Japanese Americans behind barbed wire at the Santa Anita incarceration camp in California:

Library Of Congress / Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

2. A guard tower at the Manzanar incarceration camp:

Mark Edward Harris / Getty Images

3. A soldier guards Japanese Americans at the Manzanar incarceration camp in California:

Hulton Deutsch / Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

4. A police officer searches the luggage of Japanese Americans as they arrive at the Santa Anita incarceration camp in Los Angeles County, CA:

The luggage is scattered on the ground by the car
Historical / © CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

5. Japanese Americans in Los Angeles, CA watching a train take their friends and relatives to the Owens Valley incarceration camp:

Historical / Corbis via Getty Images

6. A Japanese American WWI veteran proudly wears his uniform as he is accounted for at the Santa Anita incarceration camp:

Dorothea Lange / WRA / National Archives / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

7. Young children wear identification tags at the incarceration camp in Hayward, CA:

Apic / Getty Images

8. Japanese Americans wave goodbye to friends and relatives being sent to separate incarceration camps in Pomona, CA:

Library Of Congress / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

9. After the internment of Japanese Americans from the Seattle region, barber G.S. Hante points proudly to his bigoted sign:

The sign rests above the cash register and reads, "We Don't Want Any Japs Back Here ... EVER!"
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

10. Japanese American girls show their patriotism as they parade with a Liberty Bell float while being held in an incarceration camp:

Historical / CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

11. Japanese Americans farming at the Manzanar incarceration camp:

Japanese Americans farm with a mountain vista in the background
Historical / © CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

12. Newly incarcerated Japanese Americans line up outside for food at the Tanforan incarceration camp in San Bruno, CA:

Dorothea Lange / Interim Archives / Getty Images

13. Japanese Americans line up outside a train after arriving at Santa Anita incarceration camp as a row of US soldiers face them:

Dorothea Lange / WRA / National Archives / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

14. A sign hanging in the window of a shop owned by a Japanese Americans in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA thanks customers for their patronage as the shop is closed and the family is sent to an incarceration camp:

The sign reads, "Many thanks for your patronage. Hope to serve you in the near future. God be with you till we meet again. Mr. and Mrs. Kilseri"
Historical / Corbis via Getty Images

15. An elderly Japanese American man awaits incarceration, wearing a tag with his name and camp destination, in Centerville, CA:

Dorothea Lange / Apic / Getty Images

16. Japanese American men in barracks at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

17. Japanese American men held in incarceration camps in Colorado help relieve the farm labor shortage there; Colorado farmers W.W. Tomlinson (l) and C.A. Wilcox (r) say the Japanese are excellent farmworkers:

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

18. Phil Hara is in charge of work-offer signs in an incarceration camp:

The work-offer signs are designated as "Domestic," "Unskilled," and "Professional"
Buyenlarge / Getty Images

19. A sign put up by the Matsuda family, owners of the Wanto Co grocery store, after the attack on Pearl Harbor; the store was later closed and the family was sent to an incarceration camp:

A sign reading: 'I AM AN AMERICAN', on the Wanto Co grocery store in Oakland, California
Dorothea Lange / Getty Images

20. Japanese Americans are inoculated as they are registered for incarceration in San Francisco, CA:

Universal History Archive / Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

21. Japanese American men work at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

22. A Japanese American woman identifies her baggage at the incarceration camp before being transferred to another camp in Salinas, CA:

Dorothea Lange / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

23. Japanese American shopkeepers are forced to close their businesses when the American government forcibly moves them into incarceration camps:

A sign on the store says "Closing Out Evacuation Sale"
Hulton Deutsch / Corbis via Getty Images

24. A school in an incarceration camp in Minidoka, ID, with a white teacher in a barrack-type building with seating and equipment made in the camp:

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

25. The Tule Lake incarceration camp, the largest camp where Japanese Americans were incarcerated:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The Japanese internment camp at Tule Lake, California.

26. Names of Japanese Americans held at the internment camp in Tule Lake are painted on rock:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

27. Japanese American men work on camouflage nets at the incarceration camp in Santa Anita, CA:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

28. Dinner is served at the Heart Mountain incarceration camp in California:

A little boy holding onto the skirt of a woman as she is served a plate of food
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

29. A Japanese American family in Los Angeles, CA tries to sell their belongings before they are incarcerated:

A sign reading "Evacuation sale, furniture all must be sold" nailed to a mail box
Historical / Corbis via Getty Images

30. In the Guyaule Laboratory at the Manzanar incarceration camp, Frank Hirosama and his assistant work near large trash cans:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

31. The incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

32. Japanese Americans register for mandatory incarceration in California:

Dorothea Lange / National Archives / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

33. The morning after their arrival, Japanese American men prepare to clear the land near the Manzanar incarceration camp for spring planting:

The man stand in a line while holding farming tools over their shoulders
Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

34. Children in the Tule Lake incarceration camp in California:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

35. A young Japanese American girl waits alone with her family's baggage for a bus to an incarceration camp:

Dorothea Lange / WRA / National Archives The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

36. A family unit that was converted from horse stalls at the Tanforan incarceration camp, which was originally a racetrack, in San Bruno, CA:

The unit's open door shows a woman sitting next to a bed
Dorothea Lange / Interim Archives / Getty Images

37. Two Japanese Americans run through the barracks during a dust storm at an incarceration camp:

Dorothea Lange / WRA / National Archives / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

38. Japanese Americans in the Tule Lake incarceration camp in California:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

39. Japanese Americans arrive at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

40. Children stand underneath a notice for "Civilian Restrictive Order No. 1" outside the Pinedale incarceration camp in Pinedale, CA:

U.S. Army Signal Corps / Library of Congress / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

41. School at the Tule Lake internment camp:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

42. Japanese Americans wait in line for food at the Santa Anita incarceration camp that had been converted from a racetrack in Arcadia, CA:

Historical / © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

43. Japanese Americans walk through the incarceration camp in the snow, past a hand-made wood fence:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

44. Japanese Americans wait for registration at the Santa Anita incarceration camp in Los Angeles County, CA:

Historical / CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

45. A group of children at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

46. A baby being held by a nurse at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

47. Japanese Americans at work in a cooperative shoe shop at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

48. A dining hall at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

49. A Japanese American woman and child at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

50. Kiyo Yoshida, Lillian Watkatsuki, and Yoshiko Yamasaki attend high school biology class in the Manzanar incarceration camp:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

51. Three Japanese American men stand outside an office of reports in an incarceration camp while reading the newspaper:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

52. Japanese American men gather around a fire engine at the fire station in the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

53. Japanese American men play a game of volleyball at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

54. Japanese American men clean up around the incarceration camp in Manzanar, CA:

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

55. Japanese American women sew clothes at the cooperative dress and coat shop at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

56. A game of basketball at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

57. Japanese Americans register on arrival at the Santa Anita incarceration camp:

Historical / © CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

58. Japanese American linemen work on a pole at the Manzanar incarceration camp:

Historical / Getty Images

59. Storage room at the incarceration camp in Tule Lake, CA:

A man stands on bags as he surveys the storage room
Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Via Getty Images

60. A Japanese American family seated at a table in an incarceration camp:

Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US classified all Japanese Americans as "IV-C" or "enemy aliens," and they were therefore not allowed to enlist in the armed forces.

Despite being forced into incarceration camps, many Japanese Americans fought to convince the Roosevelt administration to allow them to enlist. As a result, the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was formed.

The 442nd RCT comprised entirely of Nisei — two-thirds from Hawaii and one-third from the mainland US. Their motto was, "Go for broke." The 442nd RCT went on to become the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive / Via Getty Images

After inspecting the 442nd RCT during ceremonies, President Harry S. Truman pinned the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation banner to the colors of the unit.

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