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Miyeko Kiriayama, remembers the train stuffed with Japanese Americans passing her car stopped on its drive to her high school at Murray in 1942. The train was headed to the Topaz Internment Camp, a hastily built camp set in a desolate desert infl icted with extreme temperatures.

“It was so sad. I thought it was terrible they had to be put in a concentration camp (that’s what we called them back then), but I was glad I didn’t have to go,” said Kiriayama, now 94.

Kiriayama was part of a large group of Japanese Americans gathered for Remembrance Day at the Topaz Museum and Topaz camp site on Feb. 21. The group gathered to remember the injustices infl icted upon themselves, their families, and their culture by fearful people during World War II.

Gathered together by Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, over 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced out of their homes and interned at camps throughout the western United States for nearly four years.

During its peak, Topaz Internment Camp was Utah’s fifth largest city, housing over 8,300 Americans. The camp gained a repu- tation for its artists, leading to the eventual compilation of some of their works at the recently-opened Topaz Museum.

“When you realize what it would do to you personally to have neither your freedom, nor the beauty around you, nor anything you had created with your life to that point and be considered by people around you to be the enemy when you had done nothing wrong. But the attitude they came through the experience as a culture with was remarkable,” said Paulette Stevens, founder and president of the Life Story Foundation. “They made beauty come out of desolate places.”

Three and a half years after being forced into the camp, the internees at Topaz were released in October 1935. Each resident was given $25 to return home. Many only made it as far as Salt Lake City, far from their original homes in California.

Former Third District Judge Raymond Uno, 84, was interned at Heart Mountain Camp, WY, a camp similar to Topaz.

His visit to the Topaz museum and site brings back memories of his experience at the camp. The overwhelming memory for Uno was the loss of his father during the internment.

“This brings back memories of the hardship our family had during the wartime,” said Uno. “That was a real big blow, and I’ve never forgotten that.”

Uno’s family was originally from Ogden, but they had moved to California in 1938. His father was the secretary of the Japanese As- sociation, a self-help group for the Japanese community, before the internment. During their time in California, President Franklin issued the order for West Coast Japanese Americans to be placed in camps.

Uno was 11 at the time.

Following their release from the camp, Uno’s mother, a college graduate and school teacher in Japan, was forced to take a domestic job in Utah to support her family.

“I always think of what could have been if she had not been put in the camp, and if she could have done the things she was capable of doing,” said Uno.

Jane

Mary Kawakami, a 102-year-old Highland resident, was not part of the internment. However, Kawakami experienced a great deal of prejudice during the war.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she and her husband were forced out of a mining camp in Spring Canyon to American Fork. There she and her husband set- tled into a routine.

The day after the birth of her child, FBI agents burst into her home and demanded to inspect Kawakami’s home.

“I was shaking inside,” said Kawakami.

During the inspection, the agents questioned Kawakami in detail about her store of canned produce in cellar. Refusing to accept Kawakami’s ex- planations of simply storing vegeta- bles for the future, one of the agents accused Kawakami of preparing for an alleged invasion of the Japanese forces.

“They were just being mean. It didn’t make any sense, but they didn’t care,” said Kawakami. “Afterwards, when I think about it, I think it was quite exciting.”

Although she was never interned, Kawakami has supported efforts to remember those placed in the camps.

“I read so much about it. I felt so sorry about the people,” said Kawakami. “My heart went out to them, and I wanted to do all I could to help these people.”

Kiriayama said seeing the paintings at the Topaz museum has made her appreciate her culture and its rich history.

“I’m just thankful for the people who had the insight to preserve the beauty created during that hard time. It makes me appreciate my heritage,” said Kiriayama.

Stevens is compiling a documentary based on the experiences of internees that will be shown in fall 2015.

“The reason I’m so impressed with these people is how they handled the experience of being interned. They figured out an attitude to have about it. They said, ‘It can’t be helped. Make the best of it.’ And so they did,” said Stevens. “The response of many of the people afterward was to be silent. And because they didn’t tell much to their children, who they were just hoping would turn into good American citizens who could lift their heads up, the generations who followed didn’t know the story.

“That’s one of the reasons why this museum and this effort to hold onto the stories is so important. These people did so well coming through these experiences that we have a lot to learn from them,” Stevens said. “Something of worth has happened here, and we need to do all we can to honor them.

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