One of Utah’s best kept secrets about one of America’s darkest decisions is located in Delta, Utah. The Topaz Museum is a short drive from the Topaz internment camp site and boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and first-hand accounts of Japanese Americans interned at the camp during World War II. The Topaz Museum opened in 2017 and, thanks to generous local and national donations, is maintained so that all who visit can study and explore what life was like for those who lived at Camp Topaz. Many of the artifacts and accounts have been donated by families and descendants of the Japanese Americans who lived there. The museum is operated by Delta locals who have a passion for sharing one of the tragic lessons in American history.
After the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, the United States government, led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, passed Executive Order 9066 which effectively ordered all people of Japanese descent to be evacuated from the Pacific coast. This led to the forced removal of nearly 112,000 Japanese Americans. Initially, these people were relocated into temporary holding facilities while the government constructed 10 permanent relocation camps. These temporary holding centers were converted horse stalls at the Tanfran racetrack in San Bruno, California. They were transported in train cars under armed guard to Delta in early 1942. For many of these people, Topaz would remain their home for the next three years.
The Topaz Museum uses photographs, personal accounts, newspapers, and visual reconstructions to help visitors sense what the Japanese Americans at Topaz experienced while they were interned. The museum’s curators have organized immersive exhibits to help patrons experience facets of this history. As visitors walk into the exhibit area they are confronted with scenes and accounts from Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes, lands, and businesses on the west coast and relocated to Topaz. The museum also depicts life in Topaz, using interactve exhibits to give visual representation of life for those interned. Patrons see vintage furniture, equipment, and bedding donated by families of internees. Exhibits give accounts of how the Japanese Americans interned in Topaz made the best of their difficult situation. The museum gives accounts of the local government that was formed, the schools and children educated in Topaz, the many different talents that were cultivated such as art and music, and the young men and women who answered the call to serve in the military of the same country responsible for their internment. The museum concludes its exhibits by reviewing the attempts at restitution by the American government and the safeguards created to prevent this violation of civil rights from happening again.