Located in California near the Sierra, the Manzanar War Relocation Center opened for the first time in March of 1942 for the purpose of resettlement of Japanese Americans during World War II. Complete with barbed wire, barracks, gaurds, towers, machine guns, and search lights, this place was truly more of a concentration camp than a "relocation center".
Manzanar came about because of the fear that Americans had of Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was rage and hysteria in the nation after this event. The Japanese had made attacks on other countries, and false alarms of more attacks on America were made. At this point, Americans saw all people of Japanese decent as a threat. People were out of control.
Americans thought they had to protect themselves, and they took extreme measures to do this. The whole operation for the relocation was simply thrown together and an unorganized affair.
President Roosevelt passed a recommendation to relocate Japanese Americans. The army was authorized to carry out the operation. There were last minute decisions as to the guide lines to be followed for relocation.
There were many injustices done to the Japanese Americans because of the nation's ignorance, stupidity, fear, and hysteria. Most Japanese Americans were given, at most, two weeks to lease or liquidate their belongings, businesses, and properties. The Japanese Americans that chose to their homes came back to find that their homes had been sold, burned, or mortgaged. The ones that had boxed their things and put them in storage found that the things were stolen, vandalized, or had been seized by the government. The Japanese Americans that decided to sell their belongings received minimal amounts for their things. Most were lucky if they received ten cents on the dollar. People who had farms which were prosperous now had to sell for close to nothing. Their crops were wasted because they were not able to harvest.
Japanese Americans were allowed to bring what ever they could carry, which, for most, was what they could pack into a few suitcases. They were bused from select meeting points to different camps. Unlike the concentration camps in Germany, most of the families here stayed together. Once at the camp, families no longer were referred to with a last name, but with a number. All the family's possessions were given that same number.
Each family was assigned a barrack. The barracks were very small and practically unfurnished. The average size was a twenty-five by twenty-five foot living space, complete with cots, army blankets, and bags to be stuffed with straw. The walls and roof were covered with tarpaper nailed to boards. The heat provided was by oil- burning furnaces. These set ups were said to be only appropriate for combat-trained soldiers on a temporary basis. The Japanese Americans made this place their home for up to four years.
The Japanese Americans who lived at Manzanar faced some hardships, but they somehow over came them. Not only after being relocated to a camp with minimal supplies, they had to face the weather of the desert. The temperatures ranged from 20 degrees below zero in the winter to 115 degrees in the summer. The land was dry and the air was arid. With these conditions, it was very difficult to grow their own food such as the government made them do.
But Manzanar had a large turn out in crops, as much as some small cities had. They had one plow for 1,500 acres, and the farmers worked in three shifts. They first grew plants that rubber could be extracted from. Then, crops for food were planted. They made irrigation systems for the fields and salvaged some of the orchards. After they became successful with food crops, they added cattle and other farm animals. Four months after Manzanar opened, the storehouses were full and they were sending extra crops to other camps that weren't as successful in farming.
Manzanar not only was reliant on themselves for food, but supplies as well. When the Japanese Americans first arrived to Manzanar, there were no stores or establishments, thus there were no supplies. Just weeks after Manzanar opened, ones skilled in business affairs had collaborated to form stores for supplies and services. They contacted the people that they did business with before, and worked out agreements with them. Before long, Manzanar had a beauty shop, barber shop, general store, newspaper stand, mail-order desk, shoe-repair, laundry, and other establishments. Just as the Japanese Americans had a knack for the skill of farming, they also did very well in business.
While businessmen, farmers, and others were employed at the camp, the Japanese Americans that were professional could not practice. This was mostly true for doctors and dentists because there was not a high demand for them. There also were not adequate supplies or facilities that were needed to operate efficiently. But, again, like the farming and business, they made due with what they had, and made it work.
Education within Manzanar was very important. The Japanese American prisoners established elementary schools and a high school within Manzanar. These schools eventually became accredited in the state's school system. The schools were provided with a limited number of textbooks and other supplies.
The teachers within the schools, at first, were required to be Caucasian. But then, due to lack of number of teachers, Japanese Americans were allowed to teach. One thing that was not acceptable in the classrooms though was that Japanese could not be used, whether as a second language or to help a student who was not fluent in English.
The students that graduated from these schools exceeded most, if not all, standards for education. Many students graduated with academic honors or the Torch Honor Society awards.
After the completion of high school, most Japanese Americans were not able to attend college. Many joined the army or worked. There were some college level courses offered at Manzanar, these were mostly business courses. There were also apprenticeships available. Most Japanese Americans wanted out of Manzanar though, so they looked for work.