The Amache internment camp, as told by Japanese American survivors and descendants

Between 1942 and 1945, the Amache internment camp in desolate, far southeast Colorado held enough people to be the state’s 10th biggest city. Thousands of Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals were imprisoned there. A few survivors and descendants shared their stories and experiences with The Denver Post.

“The government says, ‘Y’all got to leave on a certain date’ and the military comes to your door with rifles and bayonets attached and they haul you out into the street and gather you at the assembly area, then send you off to the relocation center.” — Mike Honda, 79, former Amache prisoner and ex-U.S. representative

“My grandparents had to sell their store, they had to sell their house, for pennies on the dollar. They were moved from their house to Santa Anita Racetrack where their home was a horse stall. They were there for about three or four months, then they were put on a train and rode all the way to Granada.” — Derek Okubo, 61, Amache descendent

“All of the camps were built on desolate land. They were freezing cold in the wintertime and very hot in the summertime. No air conditioning, no central heating – you might have a potbelly stove.” — Karen Korematsu, 70, descendant of a different camp

“There were no partitions between the toilets, no enclosures around the showers. So, in the middle of the night, there were blackout conditions, you could barely see anything, and you were more likely to sit on another person on the toilet than to sit on the toilet itself.” — Marcia Yonemoto, 56, Amache descendant

“The walls and windows were so poorly constructed that they left a gap, allowing dust and snow to blow in. Temperatures ranged from below zero in winter to well above 100 degrees in summer. Dust storms were frequent. Mess halls, toilets, showers were communal. No privacy. … The camp was surrounded by barbed-wire fence and had guard towers manned by military police 24 hours a day. They had orders to shoot us if we tried to escape.” — Fuchigami

“As a descendant, it’s hard for me to really understand what it was like for them, to be forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated for no reason, really. What I’ve heard from survivors is that their greatest sense was one of bewilderment.” — Calvin Hada, 67, Amache descendant

“It was the only camp where the governor (Ralph Carr) welcomed people. He didn’t think it was the right thing to do but he said, if this is what our government is doing, we’ll step up and do our part but we’re also going to make people feel like they’re welcome, as much as possible.” — Kirsten Leong, 50, Amache descendant

“There is nothing like standing on that ground. You can read a book, you can watch a movie, but until you’re there and you see the vastness of the land and you can close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like – it is so powerful.” — Stacey Sagara Shigaya, 58, descendant of a different camp

“Every person was given $25 and a bus ticket. That’s what they had to start over with. My dad’s family could not afford to go back to L.A., so they came to Denver and they started to rebuild their life in Denver after that.” — Okubo

“When you have a group of people who are conspicuously different in appearance and are trying to assimilate into the American fabric and they’re all of a sudden plucked from their homes and put into concentration camps because of the acts of a country they have long given up on – they’re American citizens, they left Japan freely – then they feel ashamed.” — Hada

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