America’s Concentration Camps


October 6, 1942 – June 30, 1944

“I lost all my hundred paintings left in the gallery. A hundred paintings all gone. I think maybe they auctioned my paintings. All gone.”
—Henry Sugimoto

The Jerome Relocation Center, in southeastern Arkansas, was situated in the middle of a swamp that had been drained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Barracks were built several feet off the ground to accommodate torrential summer rains. “Everything was muddy,” recalled inmate James A. Nakano. Four species of poisonous snakes invested the nearby waters.

Inmate Osamu Mori described Jerome’s extreme isolation. “I remember people saying, ‘Well, if you follow the railroad track you can leave town.’ Naturally you can, wherever that thing leads you. But it’s thirty or forty miles to nowhere.”

Everything Lost

Artist Henry Sugimoto’s paintings of life in Jerome were some of the first depictions of the concentration camps seen by the public. After the war, his work went on to gain widespread recognition.

But when the U.S. entered World War II, and the order came that all “enemy aliens” would have to leave the West Coast, Sugimoto thought his career as an artist was over. For Issei like him, who had immigrated to the U.S. to start new lives, the evacuation meant the loss of everything they had worked to build in their adopted country. Evacuation orders allowed only a few days to prepare for a journey to an unknown destination. People had to give up homes, livelihoods, pets, friends, and communities, and most of their worldly possessions.


Jerome took many of the Japanese and Japanese American detainees from Hawai‘i who were transferred to the mainland. Masamizu Kitajima’s group arrived at Jerome at nine or ten o’clock at night after six days on a ship and five to seven more on a train. Kitajima was surprised to find that the inmates there had built a bonfire to welcome the newcomers.

So the train pulled in, and the people helped us get off the train, and we all stood around the fire and held hands. These people, all the people from California who [had been] sent to Jerome earlier and who knew that we were coming in from Hawaii, came out to greet us and help us out.

Quote credits
Henry Sugimoto, quoted in Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, Ed. Lawson Fusao Inada, Heyday Books, 2000.
James A. Nakano, interview by Tom Ikeda, June 3, 2009, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.
Osamu Mori, interview by Richard Potashin, April 14, 2010, Manzanar National Historic Site Collection, Densho.
Masamizu Kitajima, interview by Tom Ikeda, June 12, 2010, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.

Grade school children, Jerome.Enlarge
Grade school children, Jerome. Part of Jerome as seen from one of the guard towers. Henry Sugimoto, Jerome Camp, ca. 1942. Henry Sugimoto, Untitled (Jerome Camp, Longing), ca. 1943.

Grade school children. National Archives and Records Administration [Electronic Record].