How do Americans see Japanese women

US-Japanese: "Nobody wants to hear that"

It began after the attack by the Japanese army on the US Pacific port of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Shortly afterwards, the US declared war on Japan and, at the same time, all Japanese or Japanese citizens living in the country a security risk. In February 1942, then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a decree under which over 120,000 people were detained in camps against their will. Only one fifth of internees were born in Japan. Most belonged to the second or third generation of Japanese emigrants. Today their internment is seen as an expression of a racist and xenophobic policy.

Mary Murakami was 14 years old when the US government took her and her family from California to a camp in Utah. Today the retired microbiologist tells her story at lectures in schools and universities.

Deutsche Welle: How quickly did the mood in the US change after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mary Murakami: It all started the same day. We knew the FBI already had a list and that they would come and pick people up. My father's nephew had already been picked up.

That first night after Pearl Harbor it became very quiet in "Japanese Town" in San Francisco. When we looked out our window, we saw the US Army. The men stood shoulder to shoulder in the street, from one sidewalk to another. No one came in or out of our part of town. We knew then that it looked very bad for us.

Mary Murakami as a young woman. She was 14 years old when the government took her to the detention center

What was the time until you had to go to the internment camp in the spring of 1942?

First there was a curfew. It was said to refer to "a few miles". But these "miles" got shorter and shorter. The area in which we were allowed to move became smaller by the day. Soon my older sister and father could no longer go to work. And then my older brother couldn't go to high school anymore. At some point the curfews even applied to the individual blocks, so I couldn't go to school either.

Many became unemployed because of the curfew. In addition, the bank determined what amount you could withdraw each month so that you couldn't get your savings to live on.

Before you were brought to the camp in the spring of 1942, the US Army informed you about this on posters. It also said that you were only allowed to take with you what you could carry. What happened to all of your belongings?

My parents had to sell everything - seven rooms full of furniture. The next day the buyers came and resold our piano for an amount they had paid us for the fully furnished house.

Some churches that had Japanese members offered to store a few items. We brought things there that we wanted to keep for the time after the war. But when we came back everything was gone - the good dishes my mother still had from Japan, our dolls. Most of the belongings in public storage have been taken away from us. Many US-Japanese have lost everything, their homes, their jobs, all their belongings.

This is what the camp looks like to which Mary Murakami had to move with her family

How was life in Internment camp for her?

We were housed in barracks with about 200 people. Each family was assigned a number - we were number 22416. Each individual family member was then even assigned a personal number so that you knew exactly where you were in the family, my number was 22416E. My father was 22416A and my mother was 22416B. We were just numbers.

We were lucky because my sister was able to organize two rooms for our family of seven - one for my parents and brothers, one for us girls. Actually, we would only have got one. The only furniture we had was army beds and a cannon stove to keep us warm. It was bitterly cold in Utah at times, but the cold didn't bother us that much. The sandstorms were worse. The sand hit us right in the face, there was nowhere to protect yourself from it - and the floors in the barracks all had holes so that everything was full of sand.

We had a communal latrine for all families in our barracks. The toilets had no doors and faced each other. So were the showers.

What is your worst memory from the time in the camp?

Once a man came too close to the barbed wire fence. The man was about the same age as my parents and couldn't speak English. The guard did not understand him and shot him.

I also found it terrible when I walked along the barracks and saw a gold star in the window. The star meant the family had a son in the army and he had fallen.

So there were men from the camp who served in the US Army?

Yes, quite a lot. Some men volunteered for the army to prove their loyalty to the United States. They also hoped that their work would close the camps sooner. But that didn't happen. My sister's husband also volunteered in a separate Japanese-American battalion. It got the most awards.

At some point the recruiters also came to the camps to fetch the young men. As soon as they were 18 years old, they had to join the military. My brother was drafted right after he graduated from school and sent to Germany.

A Japanese-American unit of the US Army liberated one of the Dachau sub-camps. It was so ironic because most of the soldiers in this unit had parents themselves who were in internment camps.

A camp bed and an oven - the sparse furnishings in the barracks

Now you go to schools and other institutions and tell about your experiences. Why is this so important to you?

It's a part of US history that most people don't want to know about. But you need to listen to this story, especially now. Some newspapers and politicians treat Muslims here today as they treated us then.

What moves you when you think about the upcoming presidential elections in the USA?

I am very worried. If Trump becomes president ... The way he talks about Muslims makes me very concerned. That's one of the reasons I'm telling my story. I want to show what a big mistake it was when our civil rights were simply taken away from us. This choice clearly shows us that something like this can happen again.