What? Is there really some prison camps in America too? The first place we visited during our trip to Nevada and Utah was Manzanar in California which is an old internment camp. Manzanar was not like the concentration camps in Europe, but I have also seen that word used when talking about it. It has also been called a “war relocation center”. What ever the name is, the history of this place really humbled us right from the beginning of our road trip.
Manzanar is located in California, between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Death Valley. We didn’t really know what to expect from this visit since Manzanar is not so well known, and I hadn’t read much about it either before we went. I did know that it was used during the war between 1942 and 45, and it was where Japanese Americans were incarcerated. A total of 10 camps were opened around the country. All the Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced to leave behind their homes and lives, and register to one of these sites, as they were now considered as a threat to the United States. A total of 110.000 people lived in these camps.
Life in Manzanar was not easy. The camp was self-sufficient, which meant that internees had to farm the land and work hard to get some food. People lived in barracks which were not made for the extreme weather conditions of the dessert. Summers were brutally hot and during the winter it sometimes snowed them in. Manzanar was like a small town in the middle of no where, and people there were isolated from the rest of the world. When the camp was finally closed, people were given $25 and a one way ticket to wherever they wished to go to. But many of them didn’t have a place to return to anymore, since they had given up everything, and some even refused to leave. Just like they were forced to move to the camp, now they were all now forced to leave as well.
Today Manzanar is a museum and part of the National Parks System. Almost all of the original buildings of the Manzanar Internment Camp were destroyed after the people left the camp, but they have reconstructed some of them so that the visitor can get an idea of what the life at the camp was like. While visiting one can tour around the area with a car and stop at different spots like a barracks or cemetery, and the Visitor Center has a comprehensive exhibit of the camp. They show a touching movie about the people living in Manzanar, and show case some artifacts found from the area.
Our visit to Manzanar National Historic Site was very interesting and we were quite surprised about the place. We thought it would be a place that we could quickly visit, but it turned out to be a big museum with quite a few other visitors in it. We would have been happy to spend more time there to learn about it more, but we still had a long drive ahead. We are still remembering many sad stories about the people who were living their normal lives one day, and the next they were imprisoned in the middle of the desert.