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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Utah chapter.

Topaz is thought of by so many as a cool gemstone, great for accessories and decoration. For some, topaz is their birthstone, and others believe that it can have different mystical properties, which is absolutely awesome, and I even have a few gems lying around my dorm. But regardless of how cool of a rock topaz is, topaz is a name that should be associated with more than just a rock. On September 11, 1942, Utah’s very own concentration camp opened its gates- its name was Topaz. 


In the midst of World War Two, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which required hundreds of thousands of Japanese persons living in western America to relocate from their home and move to fourteen relocation centers across the United States – four of which were male-only camps. Topaz was located sixteen miles northwest of Delta, Utah, and was named after Topaz Mountain, which is found even farther west. From Topaz’s opening to its closing on October 31, 1945, more than eleven thousand people were processed, and Topaz’s highest population was around eight thousand three hundred, making it the fifth largest city in Utah at its time. 

After being forced from their homes, transported by train, and bussed hundreds of miles and allowed only to take what they could carry, thousands of Japanese Americans arrived at Topaz, a barren and windy desert with summers reaching upwards of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and well below freezing in the winter. Many of the barracks where these new internees were supposed to live weren’t finished. The internees were hired to complete their schools and barracks, few of which had windows by the time the first snow storm hit. The only source of heat for the barracks was a coal stove which residents weren’t supposed to use to cook. The living spaces came with army cots, mattresses, and blankets. If internees wanted their own table, chairs, or shelves, they would have to make them themselves. The Japanese were also hired to build the fence that would imprison them for three years. The internees were usually employed at different jobs in the camp, i.e., clerks, teachers, doctors, and even American soldiers if you disowned Japan and swore allegiance to the United States. None of these jobs offered pay above twenty-five dollars a month, and if you were lucky enough to get a job in Delta you were forced to pay “rent” to the camp. 

Even though these people were living through one of the worst violations of civil rights in American history, they found time to do the things they loved. People made rock gardens, went back to school, and learned to play instruments. The art school in Topaz had six hundred students, and the high school had dances and football games. Topaz even had its fair share of weddings. In 1943, residents who had sponsors were allowed to leave as long as they did not return to the west coast, but only about 2,000 people left, most fearing the racism waiting for them on the outside. By 1945, all of the residents had departed from Topaz — its barracks were torn down or moved. Now Topaz, seen from afar, looks just like the desert surrounding it, but up close its foundations remain, roads, gardens, pots, and other miscellaneous items survive to remind people of all that happened.   In the years since Topaz’s closing, there has been a monument erected, a redress bill of apology and compensation to survivors of Topaz signed, the Topaz site listed as a National Historic Landmark, and the creation of the Topaz Museum Board, which owns most of the Topaz site, and Topaz Museum located in Delta, Utah. 


One saying we are told over and over again is “those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” but America still would so quickly sweep under the rug things that it has done that are shameful. However, I feel that it is a necessity to bring to light our disgraceful past in hopes to never let such events happen again, and also in hopes that we never forget the survivors in these situations. The confinement of Japanese persons during World War Two is a part of America’s unethical past and deserves to be remembered by all.

Hello! I am Sydney and I am a freshman at the University of Utah! Go Utes!
Her Campus Utah Chapter Contributor