Times in Topaz: Daily Life in Utah's Japanese Internment Camp

Utah's only internment camp, Topaz, housed approximately 9,000 Japanese Americans for three years during World War II. People in Topaz attempted to maintain normalcy in their daily lives by having schools, recreational activities, a newspaper, and cultural associations.

Located behind a frail barbed wire fence fifteen miles out from the remote town of Delta, Utah, the Topaz internment camp is utterly isolated from the rest of the state. Topaz was an American concentration camp where approximately 9,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans primarily from California’s Bay Area were held during World War II. Open from September 1942 until October 1945, daily life in the Topaz internment camp was characterized by an attempt to maintain some sense of normalcy despite severe restrictions and unfair treatment. 

The main living area of Topaz was a 640-acre compound with rows of barracks that contained living quarters, communal bathrooms, and recreational areas. Topaz also had two elementary schools, a high school, and a library. Teachers were often camp residents or local adults. Students who graduated from Topaz High were sometimes allowed to leave Topaz to attend colleges in the East. The efforts to promote education despite incarceration reflect the attempts to maintain normalcy for Japanese people living in Topaz. 

Recreational activities in Topaz included participating in cultural associations, sports teams such as basketball and baseball, sumo wrestling, arts and crafts, and even the making of the traditional Japanese dessert mochi to celebrate the Japanese New Year. Many people in Topaz exhibited their creative work in art and hobby shows, which displayed traditional calligraphy, sculptures, painting, and jewelry. Many pieces of art from Topaz are still around today, showing the lasting impact and endurance of those who were in Japanese internment camps. 

Life in Topaz was recorded in the newspaper Topaz Times. Written by people in the camp, the paper documented news in Topaz including weather, events within the camp, new constructions and developments, new arrivals of people, sporting events, school, and recreational activities. This newspaper, with frequent updates about life and events within Topaz, is an excellent source of information about daily life behind the barbed wire. 

The lives of those forced into internment at Topaz were drastically altered, but many tried to maintain some sense of normalcy for those three years in order to survive. Today Topaz is gone, with only the foundations of barracks and some fencing indicating it was once an internment camp. It is important to remember the stories of those who were in Topaz to commemorate a darker side of Utah’s and the United States' history, to honor the resilience of those incarcerated, and to give a voice and identity to those who were once silenced. 

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Metadata

Kimball Yeates, Brigham Young University, “Times in Topaz: Daily Life in Utah's Japanese Internment Camp,” Intermountain Histories, accessed July 24, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/782.