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Leaving home behind: The fates of Japanese American houses during internment

Yesterday we posted about Japanese internment camps and Roosevelt’s Executive Order authorizing internment. Yesterday’s post does not emphasize that, when the Roosevelt administration began its internment policy, thousands of Japanese-American families had little time to arrange their affairs and pack the few things permitted them in the camps. Japanese Americans were given from four days to about two weeks to settle their affairs and gather as many belongings as they could carry. In many cases, individuals and families were forced to sell some or all of their property, including businesses and homes, within that period of time. In some instances, the authorities came to arrest individuals, ransacking their homes and leaving the doors open and/or unlocked when they hauled individuals off to internment.

Some Euro-Americans took advantage of the situation, offering unreasonably low sums to buy possessions from those who were being forced to move. Many homes and businesses worth thousands of dollars were sold for substantially less than that. Nearly 2,000 Japanese Americans were told that their cars would be safely stored until they returned. However, the US Army soon offered to buy the vehicles at cut-rate prices, and Japanese Americans who refused to sell were told that the vehicles were being requisitioned for the war.

After an average of three years of incarceration, many Japanese Americans returned to their homes upon their release. While confined to the internment camps, their homes remained unprotected. According to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, some released Japanese-Americans "found their homes or farms ill-cared-for, overgrown with weeds, badly tended or destroyed.” Some reported finding strangers living in their former homes, while others reported burglaries and—in some instances—houses had been burned to the ground.

Read the full article here.

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