|US Gov Name||Topaz Relocation Center|
|Facility Type||Concentration Camp|
|Administrative Agency||War Relocation Authority|
|Location||Delta, Utah (39.3833 lat, -112.7167 lng)|
|Date Opened||September 11, 1942|
|Date Closed||October 31, 1945|
|Population Description||Most of those held in Topaz were from the San Francisco Bay area: Alameda, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties in California.|
|General Description||Located at 4,600 feet of elevation in west-central Utah, Topaz was set in Millard County 16 miles from the town of Delta, 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Topaz Mountain was 9 miles northwest. The 19,800 acres of extremely flat terrain were within the Sevier Desert. Dust was a major problem. Temperatures range from 106 degrees in summer to below zero in winter. Vegetation is mainly high desert brush.|
|Peak Population||8,130 (1943-03-17)|
|National Park Service Info|
The euphemistically named "Central Utah Relocation Center," or Topaz, in Utah was one of ten concentration camps administered by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from the West Coast during World War II. One of the smaller camps, Topaz also had a relatively homogeneous and urbanized population that came almost entirely from the San Francisco Bay Area.
- 1 Geography and Prewar History
- 2 Camp Organization and Population
- 3 "Loyalty" and Dissidence
- 4 Life in Camp
- 5 Prominent Inmates
- 6 After the War
- 7 For More Information
- 8 Footnotes
Geography and Prewar History
This camp near Abraham in Millard County, Utah, is known by three names. Since the original name, Central Utah Relocation Authority, and the subsequent name, Abraham Relocation Authority, were too long for postal forms, the name changed to Topaz, after Topaz Mountain, nine miles away. The camp lies sixteen miles northwest of the Union Pacific railhead town of Delta (population 1,500 in the 1940s), and 125 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.
Located within the Sevier Desert, the terrain is a flat, desolate place with temperatures ranging from 106°F to below zero. Whenever it rained (between seven and eight inches annually), the non-absorbent clay soil created sticky mud that was ideal for breeding mosquitoes. Dust storms and biting winds were not uncommon. In these conditions, plant life was minimal, limited to tufts of hardy saltgrass and greasewood bushes interspersed along the valley floor.  However, in the early 1900s the Carey Land Act and dams on the Sevier River promoted irrigation crops of alfalfa and sugar beets.  In the 1920s farming took a turn for the worse and people abandoned their fields, creating an economic depression in the area before the Great Depression overtook the rest of the United States.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed and the war began, Delta farmers knew that a labor shortage would result with all the young men going to war, so someone proposed bringing Japanese men to work the fields, re-farming the fields that had been abandoned. After negotiations took place during the first months of 1942, officials came to Delta to inspect the possibility of an concentration camp there. When the officials understood they could acquire 9,560 acres from one individual and 8,840 acres from Millard County, the deal was sealed, with the government paying $1 per acre for the county land. The remaining 1,400 acres, consisting of farms scattered throughout the larger tracts, were subject to eminent domain and although those farmers were paid fair market value, they lost their land by decree of the government.  The 19,800 acres of land, or 31 sq. miles, was the amount of land estimated to ensure the camp would be self-sufficient, but that concept was never fully realized.
Camp Organization and Population
Construction of Topaz began in June 1942, just five months before prisoners started arriving by train but, the camp was only about two-thirds completed by September. In fact, the first prisoners to come were 214 Nisei who had volunteered to help complete the camp. Topaz was designed to house 9,000 prisoners in forty-two blocks laid out in checkerboard fashion, with six of the blocks open for recreation, and two for apartments for the administrators. Each residential block had twelve barracks for housing the inmates, a dining hall, a bathroom and laundry facility, a recreation hall, and an office for the block manager. A fence consisting of four strands of barbed wire enclosed the entire 19,000 acres of the camp and "city," which covered just one-square mile (640 acres). In the center of the residential section, Topaz eventually had a community gymnasium. Within the residential area were schools, libraries, a canteen, churches, a post office, a fire station, and a fifteen-acre garden plot. The camp had a total of 623 buildings, mostly barracks constructed of pine planks covered with tar paper on the outside.  The administration and hospital buildings were built of clapboard painted white
Inside the barracks, the walls were covered with sheetrock, but many of the apartments were not finished when inmates arrived. The prisoners had to endure especially cold conditions until gypsum board was installed on the walls and ceilings. The pine floors soon dried out, leaving cracks that let in wind gusts, a situation worsened because the primitive buildings were raised off the ground. Later Masonite was placed on all the floors covering the cracks. The apartments were heated with small coal-burning stoves. Buildings were hardly ever sufficiently heated, cooled, or insulated, however, and ill health was common at Topaz. 
The WRA brought the first Japanese American prisoners to Topaz on September 11, 1942. In its three years of operation, a total of 11,212 people were incarcerated at Topaz. Nearly all of the prisoners came from communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose climate was markedly different from the Sevier Desert's. Of those confined in Topaz, 7,676 came from Tanforan Assembly Center, and 577 from the Santa Anita Center. In addition, 1,731 Japanese Americans were transferred from other WRA camps; 384 were born in the camp; 228 were brought from Hawai'i; and 43 were voluntary residents. During the three years of the camp's existence, the prisoner population at Topaz represented the fifth largest city in Utah. 
Charles F. Ernst acted as director of Topaz for most of its existence. Besides attending to the everyday operation of the camp and its adverse conditions, he also was able to maintain order when James Wakasa was shot and killed by a guard and when the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" caused anger and work stoppages.
"Loyalty" and Dissidence
Tule Lake and Manzanar have long been seen as the major locations of dissent in the WRA camps, but recent scholarship suggests that the resistance at Topaz might have been almost as serious. With the issuing of the "loyalty questionnaire" in early 1943, inmates pressed to have the questions re-worded, yet even the milder versions of the questions did not compensate for the offense that was felt by the first versions. Many refused to answer as a result. Others responded with acts of violence and threats directed at prominent pro-administration prisoners.  Nearly one-fifth of all male registrants in Topaz answered negatively to the original wording of the two loyalty questions. 1,447 prisoners considered "disloyal" were transferred to the Tule Lake Segregation Camp in exchange for a similar number of prisoners from that camp deemed more "loyal."  Thirty-six inmates requested to leave for Japan.  Some camp observers considered the reaction to the questionnaire to be one of the most strident of all the camps, noting that it drew upon broad support, was well articulated, and was well organized.  Whether prisoners felt satisfied that their demands had been heard when the questions were modified or felt forced to enlist to save their future citizenship, the resistance was palpable, but widespread violence was prevented. 
The already uneasy atmosphere faced even more serious strain when James Hatsuki Wakasa, 63, was shot and killed by a guard for walking too close to the fence on April 11, 1943. Information in the prisoner-run newspaper, the Topaz Times , was highly censored, and the story from military officials changed over time. On the night of the shooting, Wakasa's body was quickly removed from the scene by camp officials who feared retaliatory action. Military officials placed guards on general alert, which only alarmed prisoners further. Fortunately this order was removed two days later. A large funeral held for Wakasa drew some 1,700 prisoner attendants. 
The episode contributed to the undercurrent of resentment toward authority in camp. Discontent over the shooting manifested itself in the form of massive work stoppages among prisoners. In response, regulations were changed regarding the number of guards and use of weapons at Topaz, bringing relative order. Even so, several prisoners reported later how this episode traumatized them and prevented them from ever feeling fully secure in camp. 
Recruiting for military volunteers continued after the questionnaire, although only 58 Nisei had stepped forward. Camp officials took over the task of recruitment, setting up the Volunteers for Victory organization for a public campaign and encouraging men to consider service a matter of duty. The famous Sergeant Ben Kuroki was brought to camp to recruit. By the end of this campaign, 112 young men had volunteered, but only 80 passed the physical and other tests necessary for service. Even so, the group of 112 who initially volunteered represented 7% of those eligible for service in Topaz—the third highest percentage among the ten WRA camps. Those who served received full soldier's pay and full dependency pay for their families.  Ultimately, 451 residents from Topaz served in the U.S. military and 15 were killed in action. 
Life in Camp
The best way to see a slice of Topaz life is to thumb through copies of the camp newspaper, the Topaz Times . From January 22 to February 6, 1943 the activities mentioned in these issues included matters of official business, such as the organization of a JACL chapter, a lecture about the Yasui Supreme Court case that would be held in a mess hall, another lecture on raising poultry to be given by a Utah State Agriculture Extension employee, and block assignments for nurses. In the February 4 issue, it was announced that a recruiting team would be in the camp. Fifty-seven Nisei registered with the draft board. Reports on religious activities were also common, including an article about a Protestant Commission lecture and publicity for the weekly services of Catholics, Buddhists, Protestants and Seventh-day Adventists.
Reading through the paper also reveals aspects of entertainment, recreation, and daily life. A notice was given for a beauty shop soon to open, and another column described the fashions worn by women who attended a party for Utah Governor and Mrs. Maw. In the same issue was a report about 2,000 books in Japanese having been gathered for a library for Issei and Kibei . The New York Times was also available at the library, and every Wednesday there would be a library concert from 8:00 to 9:00. Two movie showings were advertised, Top Hat with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and The Joy of Living with Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The art and literature group would be meeting soon, and a cast for a talent show performed at Hinckley High School and Oak City presenting a program to 300 people at each venue. The Topaz High School basketball players were taken to Delta High to practice every day for two hours. An article encouraged people to eat breakfast the next day as sausage from the hog farm would be served to the entire camp, 3,000 pounds of meat from 11 hogs. Meanwhile the weather hovered between 48 and 7 degrees, so a column gave advice on how to knit mittens to ward off chilblains.  Every issue of the newspaper was packed with information about upcoming programs, sports, human interest stories, and job opportunities outside of camp.
People at Topaz could work, but wages were substandard for work inside the camp. Doctors of Japanese ancestry were paid $19 a month. Teachers made $16 per month and clerical, cooks, and farm hands made $14 to $12 per month. All workers received a clothing allowance and ration cards. Unemployment compensation went to families of those unable to find employment. 
Inmates could work outside the camp as seasonal laborers or full-time employees. Many college students applied to colleges and universities in the eastern part of the country hoping to escape life at camp. (See National Japanese American Student Relocation Council .)
Swing bands that began in Tanforan continued in Topaz. Tom Tsuji established a dance band and others were teaching violin, piano, and voice. Tsuji's band played for the Delta High senior prom, and then traveled to Salt Lake City to play there. 
After Mr. Wakasa was killed, the administration loosened the military guards' duties, which allowed people to go outside of the camp almost at will. Entire blocks went on picnics out in the desert and used Antelope Springs as a camping spot, complete with tents and a swimming hole. In December 1944, Akio Ujihara and Yoshio Nishimoto located a 1,164 pound meteorite in the western mountains. At the time it was the ninth largest meteorite found in the U.S. and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution. 
Literature and Art
Possibly the most distinctive aspect of Topaz was its active community of writers and large collection of artists, led by Chiura Obata , an instructor of art at the University of California at Berkeley. He began an art school in Tanforan because he believed that art had the power to heal the human spirit. Obata joined with fellow prisoners Miné Okubo , Hisako and George Matsusaburo Hibi , and others to reorganize the Tanforan Art School at Topaz which burgeoned to over 600 students and classes in subjects as varied as graphic arts, anatomy, oil painting, and drafting. Obata emphasized the importance of art, saying, "We will survive if we forget the sands at our feet and look to the mountains for inspiration."  Okubo served as the staff illustrator for the literary magazine Trek , a venture started by prisoners, and the Topaz Times. While she was working for the camp, she also drew and painted or drew hundreds of scenes of interest to her and published a book on her experiences, Citizen 13660 , shortly after the war. 
The Bay Area was home to many Japanese American physicians before the war, with nine in or near San Francisco's Japanese community. All lost their practices when the executive order came, and five went to Topaz.  Some of the doctors at Topaz included Benjamin Kondo, Paul Yamauchi, and John Teshima who were all mentioned in the January 22, 1943 issue of the Topaz Times . Dr. James Goto, the head surgeon of LA County Hospital who had been at Manzanar, and his wife, also a doctor, were transferred to Topaz.
Health care at Topaz managed fairly well considering persistent understaffing issues and often limited resources. As the hospital was not finished when inmates began arriving at camp, some were hired to complete the construction, and earned fair market wages for their work. The infirmary had been completed for just 11 days when the first baby, Eugenia Takaki, was born there. By September 26, 1942, patients moved to a new 28-bed hospital facility with a handful of doctors, two registered nurses, and a few other specialists. Hospital personnel managed smaller surgeries as the center waited for an actual surgeon, Masa A. Harada, who transferred from Tule Lake with his family in October 1942. As needs continued to grow, a series of outbuildings were connected to this main building by a catwalk. The hospital complex eventually had several wards, central heating, and grass out in front, which can all be seen as accomplishments under the circumstances. 
Outside help presented itself as the camp hospital struggled to keep up with demand for medical care. Latter-day Saints Hospital in Salt Lake City agreed to see inmate patients when Topaz's hospital exceeded its capacity, and the Public Health Service transferred some of its personnel to help in camp.
Prisoners also established a consumers' cooperative with a board of directors in 1942. Soon, co-op members had invested almost $5,000 of capital to subsidize various profitable businesses, including a barber shop, radio repair shop, shoe shop, and a dry goods store that grossed almost $2,700 on its opening day. 
Schools and Libraries
Topaz's schools were part of the camp administration oversight, but many Japanese Americans were hired as teachers. Two elementary schools and one high school, grades 7-12, constantly struggled to maintain adequate resources and teachers. Without sufficient desks and chairs and few books, some teachers had a difficult time maintaining discipline. However, the schools provided sports, student clubs and committees, a school newspaper and yearbook, dances, and fund raising and service opportunities, all of which contributed to a sense of community. The two elementary schools enrolled 675 students and the high school enrolled 1,037, staffed by Caucasian and Japanese American teachers.  Adult education classes on tailoring, citizenship, English, and first aid also attracted inmates.
Topaz High School formed a central part of the camp community. Teachers were generally well liked, with Eleanor Gerard Sekerak, Joe Goodman, Mary MacMillian, and Henry Tani among the most popular. The students' social involvement included student council, social committees, boys and girls associations, newspaper and yearbook staffs, choir, band and orchestra, a Future Farmers of America chapter, an Academy of Science club, and thespian and language clubs. Topaz also featured an active "Hi-Y" club with Dave Tatsuno among its leaders.  High school students in Topaz formed a special bond through their experiences, evidenced by class reunions that continued seventy years after the camp closed.
Both boys and girls fielded teams for various sports , including basketball and track, with both intramural and extramural competition. Generally teams composed of inmates excelled in competition against outside schools, including Topaz High School's football team, which lost only once during its first season. Other members of the community also used the recreation facilities, playing everything from tennis, badminton, and softball, to boxing, sumō wrestling, and board games. 
The two Topaz libraries embodied another vibrant part of camp life. One in Block 16 housed reading material in English, while the other housed Japanese literature. The libraries started in December 1942 with 5,000 books sent to Utah as gifts from personal friends of prisoners. Eventually, the collection increased to almost 7,000 books, phonograph records, and popular periodicals. Attendance swelled to 450 visitors a day. When the Topaz Library prepared to close in 1945, the prisoner-funded rental books were sold to support the Topaz Scholarship Fund. 
The most famous opponent of Japanese American incarceration at Topaz was Fred Korematsu , whose case went to the United States Supreme Court which upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion order in its decision.  Mitsuye Endo's case substantiated her claim that it was unjust for her to be incarcerated in a camp based on her race. After a succession of governmental maneuvers, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor in December 1944. Just a day prior to the ruling, President Franklin Roosevelt announced that the camps would close in 1945.  According to the Central Utah Final Accountability Report, Endo and her family lived on Block 39-9-B. She left Topaz on May 24, 1945, bound for Chicago. 
Other individuals who figured prominently in Topaz history were authors Yoshiko Uchida and Toshio Mori , and poet Toyo Suyemoto Kawakami; actor Goro Suzuki , whose stage name was Jack Soo, the first Japanese American to sing on Broadway; Frank Takeuchi, judo master; Toshio Asaeda, botanist, adventurer, and photographer; and other photographers including Kenji Utsumi, Kaneo Kido, and Dave Tatsuno, whose color home movies of Topaz were included in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress in 1997.
After the War
In the years following the war, Topaz was gradually dismantled. The land and most of its buildings were sold and moved to various parts of Utah. The water pipes were salvaged as were the utility poles. 
In 1976 chapters of the Japanese American Citizens League in Salt Lake City purchased an acre of land at the site and erected a monument. In 1982, Delta High School teacher Jane Beckwith began studying Topaz with her journalism classes. People in Delta who had worked at Topaz or who had made friends there brought the class artifacts that they had saved since the war. Several years later Beckwith began a nonprofit group, the Topaz Museum Board, to preserve the Topaz site and create a museum. 
By 2012, the Topaz Museum Board had purchased 634 acres of the original 640 acre site, which became a National Historic Landmark in 2007. The group plans to construct a new museum wholly dedicated to the camp as a way of educating the public and housing the collection of artwork and artifacts. The Board received a substantial grant from the National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program toward the museum. It is scheduled to open in 2014. The Board has also restored an original tarpaper recreation hall that effectively recreates the physical environment of camp life. Visitors can walk in and see a typical building from camp, feeling authentic heat or cold, depending on the season.
For More Information
Arrington, Leonard J. "The Price of Prejudice: The Japanese-American Relocation Center in Utah during World War II." Logan: The Faculty Association, Utah State University, 1962. Republished in 1978 as part of Three Short Works on Japanese Americans , edited by Roger Daniels. New York: Arno Press, 1978. Delta, UT: The Topaz Museum, 1997. A digitized version of the 1997 republication can be accessed from http://topazmuseum.org or at http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Topaz/id/8175 .
Burton, Jeffery F., Mary Farrell, Florence Lord, and Richard Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002. An earlier version of this publication can be accessed at www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/anthropology74/index.htm. [The maps are an excellent resource, but the copy regarding Topaz has factual errors.]
Fiset, Louis. "Health Care at the Central Utah (Topaz) Relocation Center." Journal of the West 38, no. 2 (April 1999): 34–44.
Hill, Kimi Kodani. Topaz Moon: Art of the Internment . Berkeley: Heyday Press, 2000.
Lillquist, Karl. Imprisoned in the Desert: The Geography of World War II-Era, Japanese American Relocation Centers in the Western United States . Ellensburg: Central Washington University, 2007. Accessible online at http://www.cwu.edu/geography/geography-japanese-american-relocation-centers .
Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.
Murray, Alice Yang. Historical Memories of the Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008.
Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
Excerpts from color video footage shot by inmate Dave Tatsuno at Topaz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr_fckAJ2_8 . [Tatsuno's original footage is in the Library of Congress.]
Topaz Japanese-American Relocation Center Digital Collection at the Utah State University Library. http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/search/collection/Topaz . [Though much of the material here is not specific to Topaz, there are some items that are. Of specific interest is the WRA's Central Utah Final Accountability Report ( http://digital.lib.usu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/Topaz/id/7913 ), which lists when and how the inmates of Topaz left the camp as well as digitized copies of the Trek/All Aboard literary magazine.]
Topaz Museum website. http://topazmuseum.org/ . [Contains a wealth of information and links to digitized resources on Topaz, including the new CyArk interactive website.]
The Topaz Times . http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/search/collection/topaz!topaz2/ .
Personal and Fictional Accounts
Kawakami, Toyo Suyemoto. "Camp Memories: Rough and Broken Shards." In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress . Edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986. Revised edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991. 27–30.
Kiyota, Minoru. Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei . Translated from Japanese by Linda Klepinger Keenan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.
Okubo, Mine. Citizen 13660 . New York: Columbia University Press, 1946. New York: Arno Press 1978. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983.
Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine: A Novel . New York: Knopf, 2002.
Sekerak, Eleanor Gerard. "A Teacher at Topaz." In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress . Edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H. L. Kitano. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986. Revised edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991. 38–43.
Suyemoto, Toyo, and Susan B. Richardson. I Call to Remembrance: Toyo Suyemoto's Years of Internment . New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007.
Uchida, Yoshiko. "Topaz, City of Dust." Utah Historical Quarterly 48.3 (Summer 1980): 234-43.
__________. Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982.
__________. The Invisible Thread . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Julian Messner–Silver Burdett Press, 1991.
- Leonard J. Arrington, The Price of Prejudice , reprinted ed. (Logan, UT: The Faculty Association, Utah State University, 1962; Delta, UT: The Topaz Museum, 1997), 22. Citations refer to the 1997 edition.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice , 21.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice , 20.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice , 23–25.
- Sandra C. Taylor, Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 93–95.
- "Summary of Central Utah Relocation Center Final Accountability Report – October 31, 1945." Of those who transferred from other camps, 2,046 came from other WRA incarceration camps (mostly Tule Lake) and 76 came from the Department of Justice system of camps. To round out the total number of prisoners at Topaz, 39 came from specialized institutions (mental, penal, and other) and 138 came from seasonal work and seasonal leave programs, making a total of 11, 212 Japanese Americans incarcerated at Topaz.
- Taylor, Jewel of the Desert , 147–54.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice , 33.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice , 31.
- Cherstin Lyon, Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), 82.
- Lyon, Prisons and Patriots , 86, 90–100.
- Taylor, Jewel of the Desert , 136-47.
- Taylor, Jewel of the Desert , 145–7.
- Arrington, Price of Prejudice' ', 32.