Last summer, Scribbler reader Jay Weaver noticed an unusual item in “The Lancaster That Was” feature from 75 years ago. The July 28, 1944, story noted that “Japanese-American citizens described the people of Lancaster County as ‘unusually friendly.’ ”
These were Japanese-American citizens who had been held in internment camps for up to four years during World War II, after which they moved here.
Weaver said he would like to know more about Lancaster’s involvement with relocation of Japanese-Americans after the war. He wondered whether Lancaster was more welcoming than other places, given our more recent reputation as “America’s Refugee Capital.”
Here, belatedly, are results of the Scribbler’s investigation of this issue.
The original news story actually provides the opinion of only one Japanese-American transplant, Kay Kinoshita, who lived in Bird-in-Hand. She said Lancaster County people are “unusually friendly,” but she also said that she and her niece, Chiyoko Maeda, had been “cordially treated by all the people we have met here in the east.”
To be clear, Lancaster County was not involved in any way with the relocation of these women. They came here to reside with Konoshita’s brother, an employee of a local “poultry association.”
All of the more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans who lived on the West Coast and were imprisoned following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were free to go anywhere they chose when the U.S. government finally decided they posed no threat to the United States.
Kinoshita and Maeda were living in their native Los Angeles when they were stripped of their home and possessions in 1942 and sent to the internment camp at Poston in southwestern Arizona. They had nothing to return to when released in 1944, so they traveled here.
Several other Japanese-American individuals and families moved here after they were released from internment camps. Some, including Yoneichi “Bill” Uyeda, now 96 and living at Homestead Village, remained. Others, including the late Yuriko Lilly Yabiku, returned to the West Coast.
When he was 18 years old, Uyeda and his family were forced to leave their home near Tacoma, Washington, and go live in a barbed-wire compound at Tulelake, California. After their release, his parents settled in Chicago. Uyeda ultimately moved to Lancaster and worked at RCA for 53 years.
Uyeda has talked to many groups about his experiences in the internment camp. He said he did not like being incarcerated but was not bitter.
Yabiku and her family and friends also were imprisoned, leaving their home in Sacramento, California, for the internment camp at Tulelake. Yabiku met her future husband, Kazuo Gene Yabiku, at the camp and came to Lancaster with him.
The last Japanese internment camp closed in March 1946, well after the war ended. In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act whereby over 80,000 surviving Japanese Americans each received $20,000 as reparations.
This settlement hardly covered the loss of homes, possessions, jobs and human dignity. But it was $20,000 more than interned German-Americans received.
The government moved more than 10,000 German-Americans to internment camps during the war. One of them was a Lancaster man, the late Joe Feilmeier, who spent four years at a camp in Crystal City, Texas. He was released in the spring of 1946, long after war’s end, and returned to Lancaster.
Several years ago, Congress examined and decided to ignore the German-American internment and reparations issue.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.