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World War II Incarceration Of Japanese Americans Featured In Ellis Island Exhibit

Ellis Island, NY

The award-winning exhibition, America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese American Experience, which drew record crowds to the Japanese American National Museum in 1994 and 1995, is a featured exhibit at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City beginning Friday, April 3 and running through January 5, 1998.

The exhibition details the World War II experiences of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry who were unconstitutionally forced to leave their homes and businesses on the West Coast and Hawai‘i and live in desolate camps located in seven states west of the Mississippi River. Japanese Americans as well as individuals of German and Italian ancestry were also held at Ellis Island and elsewhere by the U.S. Government. Ellis Island’s role as a detention facility during World War II is explored in the exhibit.

In 1981, The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians determined that the major causes of the mass incarceration were racism, opportunism and the failure of political leadership. It recommended that former inmates by granted an official government apology and reparations, which was enacted by Congress with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. However, despite redress, the mass incarceration remain relatively unknown to most Americans, especially those living on the East Coast, the South, and Midwest.

“Presenting this exhibition at Ellis Island provides a unique opportunity to make this information accessible to many new audiences—national, international and school groups—that may not be familiar with the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II,” observed Irene Hirano, President and Executive Director of the Japanese American National Museum.

The exhibit, designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the designer of the permanent exhibition for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, represents each camp with a detailed map and statistics. But beyond providing facts and figures, the exhibition focuses on the human experience, told through words, historic photographs, and mementos. In addition, actual footage from several of the camps taken by inmates with their home movie cameras was edited into an award-winning documentary by the exhibit’s curator, Karen Ishizuka and Director Robert A. Nakamura, under the title Something Strong Within, which is shown continuously in the exhibit.

The focal point of the exhibit is an authentic barracks fragment which once housed Japanese Americans in the Heart Mountain Wyoming Camp, which is displayed on the front lawn of the Museum overlooking New York Harbor. The barracks, overshadowed by a 26 ft. guard tower and surrounded by fencing provides a clearer picture for visitors of how the inmates were forced to live while incarcerated.

The exhibit is presented at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Statue of Liberty National Monument with funding from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund established by the U.S. Congress, the Japanese American National Museum, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation’s Endowment Fund, the Nathan Cummings Foundation (funding public programs related to the exhibit), and with assistance from the New York Advisory Council of the Japanese American National Museum.



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