Part III: Santa Fe Japanese-American Internment Camp

World War II was fought in order to save the world from Adolph Hitler’s ruthless Gestapo, the Nazis’ inhuman treatment of conquered people, and concentration camps in Europe, as well as from Japanese military aggression in Asia. How paradoxical that in fighting to prevent such barbaric behavior, the United States itself imprisoned 120,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, in “concentration” camps during the war.

In 1942, during the months immediately after Pearl Harbor, there was widespread panic in the U.S. about possible attacks on the West Coast. The disaster at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was blamed by many Americans as due to espionage by Japanese Americans, rather than on the lack of preparedness by American military forces. Actually the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians declared after the war that:

              Not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage,
          or fifth column activity was committed by an American
          citizen of Japanese ancestry or by a resident Japanese
                                   alien on the West Coast.

The Santa Fe Internment Detention Camp and later Internment Camp housed only male internees who were identified as “enemy aliens” and were separated from their families because of their potential to be spies because of their livelihoods or community leadership Ironically, these “dangerous” detainees or internees were brought to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the gateway for persons working on the largest secret of World War II, the atomic bomb research in nearby Los Alamos.

On April 20, 2002, an historical marker was placed overlooking the site of the former camp to identify the internment camp life and internment camp conditions. It succinctly states:


At this site, due east and below the hill, 4555 men of Japanese ancestry were incarcerated in a Department of Justice Internment Camp from March 1942 to April 1946. Most were excluded by law from becoming United States citizens and were removed primarily from the West Coast and Hawaii.

During World War II, their loyalty to the Untied States was questioned. Many of the men held here without due process were long time resident religious leaders, businessmen, teachers, fishermen, farmers, and others. No person of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. was ever charged or convicted of espionage throughout the course of the war.

Many of the internees had relatives who served with distinction in the American Armed Forces in Europe and in the Pacific.

This marker is placed here as a reminder that history is a valuable teacher only if we do not forget our past.

Information about the Santa Fe Internment Camp is difficult to find, so the chapter
in Silent Voices of World War II is rare, describing life in the Japanese American camp. ❇

For more information on all camps click here.

Japanese American National Museum click here.