Behind Barbed Wire

Tens of thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated in desolate camps for up to four years.

By the end of 1942, some 75,000 American citizens and another 45,000 Japanese nationals living in the United States found themselves uprooted from their homes and sent to one of ten inland American incarceration camps. They lived in temporary tar-paper barrack-like structures surrounded by barbed wire, searchlights and guard towers.

Guard tower at Manzanar camp in California, around 1943
Courtesy of Toyo Miyatake Studios

The War Relocation Authority managed ten camps, some with isolation centers, for individuals and families who had been removed from military “exclusion zones.” All of the camps were remote; many were situated in desolate deserts or swamps.

The U.S. Department of Justice administered twenty-seven additional camps where they imprisoned enemy aliens and “dangerous persons.” These included Japanese—as well as German and Italian—nationals from across the United States, and thousands who were deported from Central and South America.

Incarceration Camps

New inmates arrive by train to the camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, around 1943

Italian inmates wander the grounds of the U.S Justice Department camp at Fort Missoula in Montana, 1942
William R. Pierce Photographs, Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana-Missoula

Takayo Tsubouchi Fischer first took to the stage in the Jerome camp in Arkansas, around 1943. She would go on to have a successful career as a film and television actress, including a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.


Nakano family and friends at Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, around 1944