Inside the Manzanar National Historic Site

An air of trepidation enveloped our group as we entered the museum at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, just south of Independence on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which forced the removal of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including 70,000 American citizens, from the West Coast and imprisoned them in 10 remote, military-style camps scattered across the western states.

The Manzanar war relocation center held more than 10,000 people, two-thirds of them citizens by birth; most came from the Los Angeles area. Most Bay Area families ended up in a similar internment camp in Topaz, Utah. People had barely a week to prepare for relocation. Many lost their homes, their businesses and possessions.

Today, the desolate camp is a National Historic Site just off Highway 395. The site is open daily so visitors can tour the barracks, hear the stories and learn about this period of history. Admission is free.

The Manzanar National Historic Site offers a sobering look at the detainment of 110,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II. (Courtesy Dino Vournas) 

Conditions were harsh at Manzanar, with temperature extremes that ranged from well below freezing to 110 degrees. The wind blew constantly, penetrating the hastily constructed barracks and swirling around the barbed wire and guard towers. Few of the original buildings survive today, and the ones that do look better than the originals — they were renovated for the safety of visitors.

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