The Student Yearbooks of a Japanese-American Detention Camp

Students signing 1945 edition of <em&gtRamblings</em?.
Students signing 1945 edition of RamblingsCourtesy of the Collection of the Topaz Museum, Delta, Utah

As a historical tool, high-school yearbooks provide a great deal of insight into youth in all its awkwardness and heightened emotions.

For the alumni of Topaz High School in Delta, Utah, those feelings are more than complicated.

On February 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which created a “military exclusion area” on the west coast of the United States, forcing about 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry into incarceration camps for the rest of World War II.

One of these sites was located in rural Delta, Utah. Opened in September 1942, it was called the Topaz Internment Camp, or Topaz for short.

A view of Topaz, by FSA photographer Francis Stewart.
A view of Topaz, by FSA photographer Francis Stewart.

Topaz held so many prisoners that it became Utah’s fifth-largest city during World War II, nearly four times larger than the better-known Manazar camp in California. The population swelled so much (around 8,300 people at its height) that the Buddhist Churches of America, or the B.C.A., relocated their headquarters to Topaz. The camp boasted a sizable number of school-aged children. Two elementary schools, a junior high, and a high school all served as major parts of the community.

Between 1942 and 1945, several Japanese-American high-school students attended Topaz High School, an institution created specifically for them. Taken from their homes, imprisoned by the U.S. government, and placed in a completely unfamiliar environment, they recorded in their yearbooks a unique version of the typical American high-school experience.

Students of Topaz High School. Courtesy of the Collection of the Topaz Museum, Delta, Utah

Utah State University has archived the 1943 and 1944 editions of the Topaz High School Ramblings…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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