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Recollections from Jerome and Rohwer

In 2002-2004, I was honored to serve with two distinguished historical colleagues, the late Roger Daniels and the late Franklin Odo, as a co-consultant for the Life Interrupted Project, jointly sponsored by the Public History Program of the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and the Japanese American National Museum. Funded chiefly by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting statewide issues of economic, racial, and social justice, this project generated eight new exhibitions, initiated elementary- and secondary-level educational curriculum, produced a new documentary film, and organized a major one-day national conference, “Camp Connections,” held at Little Rock in September 2004.

As succinctly observed by filmmaker-writer-psychotherapist-social activist Satsuki Ina in her Winter 2006 project review for the Public Historian, the Life Interrupted Project’s primary purpose was to “educate the citizens of Arkansas and the nation about Japanese Americans in World War II Arkansas, with particular emphasis on the Jerome and Rohwer camps in Arkansas, where Japanese Americans from California were held during the war” (p. 171). Two decades later, the book under review here, judiciously edited by Waltar M. Imahara and David E. Meltzer, embodies the very same enlightened mission.

To fulfill this assignment, the editors of Jerome and Rohwer, Imahara and Meltzer, have artfully assembled an impressive compendium of recollections of the two camps (the furthest removed and the least documented of the 10 World War II War Relocation Authority incarceration facilities for Japanese Americans) provided by former inmates and their close relatives. The majority of the memoirs relate to families whose prewar roots were in cities and towns in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

The stories they tell typically (but certainly not always) relate information pertinent to their communities of origin and then proceed to provide significant and very often captivating details about their uprooting and enforced migration to so-called temporary “assembly centers” (15 in number overseen by the Wartime Civil Control Administration), followed by their transfer to one of the two more permanent Arkansas WRA “relocation centers.” Although most of the WRA-based narratives pertain primarily to life at the Jerome camp as against the Rohwer camp, certainly ample coverage is given to the latter site as well.

While many of the narrators represented in Jerome and Rohwer were very young at the time of their World War II incarceration (and even some of them were born after the WRA camps had been emptied of inmates), this fact does not detract from the value of the book. Instead, it points up how increasingly the story of the concentration camps are going to be communicated in the future less on the basis of direct personal experience per se than through the agency of heartfelt and conscientious inter-generational transmission.

The co-editors of this bountiful volume are to be congratulated not only for the meticulous assembly and abundant content of the selected narratives, but also for providing readers with a precise and comprehensive index that will allow them to retrieve topical information in an efficacious manner.


JEROME AND ROHWER: Memories of Japanese American Internment in World War II Arkansas
Edited by Walter M. Imahara and David E. Meltzer

(Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2022, 228 pp., $22.46, hardcover)


*This article was originally published in the Nichi Bei Weekly on January 1, 2023. 


© 2023 Arthur A. Hansen / Nichi Bei Weekly

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About the Authors

Art Hansen is Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton, where he retired in 2008 as the director of the Center for Oral and Public History.  Between 2001 and 2005, he served as Senior Historian at the Japanese American National Museum. Since 2018, he has authored or edited four books that focus on the topic of the resistance by Japanese Americans to their unjust World War II oppression by the US government.

Updated August 2023

The Nichi Bei News rose out of the ashes of the historic Nichi Bei Times (1942-2009) and Nichi Bei Shimbun (1899-1942) legacy to launch the first nonprofit ethnic community newspaper of its kind in the U.S. in September 2009. From community issues and events taking place in the historic Japantowns and beyond, to entertainment profiles, food, film and book reviews, politics, hard news and commentaries, the Nichi Bei News has you covered. Published by the innovative nonprofit Nichi Bei Foundation, it proudly follows the rich tradition of some 125 years of community leadership through quality media.

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