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DELTA — As the 73rd anniversary of the start of World War II nears, ground is being broken Saturday at a former Utah internment camp for a permanent museum to help visitors understand the area's role in the war.
The museum currently exists as a small exhibit of artifacts in the Great Basin Museum, as well as a restored recreational hall outside. The new museum has been funded by a $714,000 grant from the Department of Interior, National Park Service and will cover nearly 11,000 square feet.
The Topaz War Relocation Center was opened Sept. 11, 1942, after a May, 1942, executive order signed by then-Pres. Franklin Roosevelt called for the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. The government and U.S. Army cited "military necessity" following the Dec 7, 1941, attacks on Pearl Harbor in the forced relocation of 110,000 men, women and children.
More than 11,000 were incarcerated at Topaz between 1942 and 1945: 10 percent of the total number of Japanese-Americans evacuated to 10 remote locations throughout the country. Many of those relocated to Topaz came from the San Francisco, Calif. area and were unaccustomed to Utah's climate, making life at Topaz an even more difficult experience.
In conjunction with the groundbreaking Saturday, a photo exhibit has been made available online that documents the lives of those evacuated from their California homes.
The photos document "the struggle of a group Japanese Americans carrying on with their lives under the most difficult of circumstances," according to Wilson Martin, Utah State History director.
Despite the camp's attempt to make life as "normal as possible" for those sequestered there — some were allowed to leave the camp for jobs or recreational activities — the presence of barbed wire fences and guard towers served as a constant reminder for internees of the most egregious abuse of civil rights in the history of the United States.
Visitors to the new museum, upon its completion, "will be challenged to consider what happened at Topaz and why it matters to all of us, as they come to understand the importance and value of their constitutional rights and civil liberties," according to exhibit designers.
Contributing: Ashley Kewish