Japanese American Incarceration Era Collection -- Behind Barbed Wire

Behind Barbed Wire

After their detainment, Japanese Americans had to endure wretched living conditions in the WCCA assembly centers. The sixteen assembly centers were typically constructed on racetracks and fairgrounds throughout Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington State. They were small staging areas that contained hastily built living quarters for the detainees before they were sent to WRA centers.

Japanese Americans were dispersed among ten WRA centers. The incarceration centers were stationed in seven states: Tule Lake and Manzanar were in California; Minidoka was in Idaho; Heart Mountain was located in Wyoming; Topaz was posted in Utah; Poston and Gila River were in Arizona; Granada (Amache) was in Colorado; and Rohwer and Jerome were both in Arkansas.

The incarceration centers resembled Army camps but were commonly below Army standards of living. The camp buildings lacked climate control leaving detainees to deal with freezing winters and brutal summers. The barracks provided hardly any privacy and were usually partitioned with thin wooden walls or curtains. Practically every facility was communal, including the bathrooms and dining hall.

Barbed wire fences, armed guards, and surveillance towers were common features in the camps. Strict rules and organization resulted in meticulous documentation of the detainees’ movements. The constant presence of authority, control, and oppression escalated feelings of depression and anxiety among those incarcerated. However, despite these emotions Japanese Americans were able to create a community within the camps and participate in the war effort.

  • Tanforan Assembly Center, April 29, 1942
    Tanforan Assembly Center, April 29, 1942.
    Source: Library of Congress, photo by Dorthea Lange.
  • Topaz War Relocation Center
    Topaz War Relocation Center. Source: Library of Congress.
  • Granada War Relocation Center, December 9, 1942
    Granada War Relocation Center, December 9, 1942.
    Source: Library of Congress, photo by Tom Parker.
  • undefined
    Source: Library of Congress
  • Manzanar War Relocation Center, April 2, 1942.
    Manzanar War Relocation Center. April 2, 1942
  • Salinas Assembly Center, March 31, 1942.
    Salinas Assembly Center, March 31, 1942.
    Source: Library of Congress, photo by Clem Albers.
  • Manzanar War Relocation Center, April 4, 1942.
    Manzanar War Relocation Center, April 4, 1942.
    Source: Library of Congress, photo by Clem Albers
  • Photo by Russell Lee
    Source: Library of Congress, photo by Russell Lee