Fort Lincoln Internment Camp: Toyojiro Suzuki
December 7 will be forever etched into the American story as the day that will live in infamy. While it was a tragic day, for many Japanese Americans, another tragedy was yet to come.
Toyojiro Suzuki was on a fishing boat in 1941 when he heard the news; the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. With the weight of their catch and questions about how the US government would treat those of Japanese ancestry, the trip back to harbor was a slow one.
Suzuki immigrated to the US in 1920, and even though he had obtained a social security card, Asian immigrants were not offered full citizenship until 1952. Two months after Pearl Harbor, he was arrested with many others from a thriving town of Japanese immigrants, Terminal Island. Soon the city would be empty of its 3,000 citizens. After interrogation, Suzuki was loaded onto a train with screened-off windows and clanking padlocks. Dropping temperatures told him they were heading north.
Their final destination was Fort Lincoln, just south of Bismarck. Armed guards, barbed wire fences, occasional interrogations, sirens and roll call remained constant reminders that they were not free citizens. For Suzuki, days were marked with letter writing, laundry and news. He fought boredom with movies, lectures, card playing and amateur variety shows. With money from washing dishes, Suzuki bought the basics and sent things to his family. They were located far away at Santa Anita Assembly Center in California.
The center was one of many relocation areas designated for Japanese Americans. Despite an early report of Japanese loyalty, fear and racism led to Executive Order 9066, which required everyone of Japanese ancestry to leave the West Coast. This was difficult for many, as the government had frozen their bank accounts. The military was called to move people to relocation and assembly centers as part of the largest forced relocation in the history of the US.
Almost seven months after arriving at Fort Lincoln, Suzuki was one of many internees being transferred to other places. On August 29th, he arrived at Santa Anita, and on this date in 1942 he was there for the birth of his daughter. He wrote, "I am overly excited and visit her many times..."
In 1988, the United States issued a formal apology and mandated $20,000 in restitution to every detainee for what had happened. However, Japanese Americans had lost billions and communities had been destroyed. Some, frustrated at their treatment, left for Japan after the war. Others entered the military in a predominately Japanese regiment, which became the most decorated in United States history.
Suzuki stayed in California. Years later, he became afraid the diary he wrote in camp could get him in trouble. After it was translated into English, he flushed the original copy down the toilet in pieces. Luckily, copies of the diary were made, so Toyojiro Suzuki's story, like Pearl Harbor, will not be forgotten.
Tune in tomorrow to hear about the German side of Fort Lincoln internment camp.
Dakota Datebook written by Alyssa Boge
Manuscript 20998 from the State of North Dakota Archives
Manuscript 20998 case file from the State of North Dakota Archives
"Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites" by Jeffrey Burton, Mary Farrell, Florence Lord and Richard
Lord in Publications in Anthropology 74, 1999.