Charles Ernst

Name Charles Ernst
Born September 8 1886
Died July 29 1968

Charles E. Ernst was the first director of Topaz , serving from June 1942 until he resigned in June 1944. He was succeeded by Luther T. Hoffman.

Charles Ernst graduated from Harvard in 1909. He started his career working South End House (a settlement house) in Boston. He moved twice to Seattle, working the second time for the city's Unemployment Relief Organization. It was while he was in Seattle that he further developed important political connections, earning an appointment from the governor as head of the Department of Social Security from 1937 to 1940. When a new administration took over he lost his appointment and moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the American Public Welfare Association, and became vice-chariman of the American Red Cross in San Francisco in 1941. Ernst was hired as director of Topaz by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in June 1942. [1]

Ernst was known by some for his compassion and kindness, and by others for his status consciousness and arrogance. Ernst prided himself on keeping order in Topaz by fostering effective self-government. He was a central figure in facilitating Issei demands that the loyalty questionnaire be revised in February 1943 (see Committee of Nine (Topaz) ). Ernst was in Washington, D.C. when a guard, Gerald B. Philpott, shot and killed Issei inmate James Hatsuaki Wakasa on April 11, 1943. When he returned, Topaz was in turmoil. He attempted to reduce tensions by removing day guards from inside Topaz and securing an agreement that henceforth the remaining guards would be less heavily armed and would not enter Topaz without first receiving clearance from War Relocation Authority staff. However when inmates built a monument marking the spot where Wakasa had been killed, Ernst had it removed. Ernst resigned in June 1944 to take a position with the United Nations Relief and Administration. [2]

Authored by Cherstin M. Lyon , California State University, San Bernardino

For More Information

" Alice Tatsuno with Topaz administrators and staff ." Video taken by Dave Tatsuno, from the Dave Tatsuno Collection. Discover Nikkei .

Arrington, Leonard. The Price of Prejudice . Faculty Honor Lecture No. 25. Utah State University, Logan, Utah, 1962.

Hayashi, Brian Masaru. Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Sekerak, Eleanor Gerard. "A Teacher at Topaz," In Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress, Revised Edition. Edited by Roger Daniels, Sandra C. Taylor, and Harry H.L. Kitano, 38-43. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

Taylor, Sandra C. Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.


  1. Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 26-27.
  2. Sandra Taylor, Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 99-100, 141.

Last updated Aug. 24, 2020, 2:50 p.m..