Idaho State Museum hosts Japanese internment camp Smithsonian Exhibit

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75 years ago the Minidoka internment camp ceased operations, bringing to a close the incarceration of Japanese Americans. Now, in commemoration, the Idaho State Museum is hosting the exhibition, Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II. This Smithsonian traveling exhibit showcases the history of immigration, the war and the events leading up to executive order 9066, which prompted the forcing of Japanese Americans into internment camps throughout the country, including Minidoka, based in Idaho. 

“[The exhibit] displays various objects, such as photos, documents, clothing items, other personal items and art that reflect and remember the devastation the internment camps caused,” Francesca D’Alessandro, a sophomore majoring in history who is also interning for the Idaho State Museum, wrote in an email. “There is a map of all the internment camps that were present, a wall’s worth of names (I believe about 13,000) of those who were in Idaho’s own internment camp, Minidoka. There are also items from Minidoka represented in the exhibition.”

Many exhibitions that the Idaho State Museum is able to bring in demonstrate a strong focus on the human story, showing how people have overcome any hardships throughout history. Sarah Phillips is the interim curator of collections and exhibitions and feels this exhibition emulates a message of empathy while also displaying the strength of the human spirit. 

“This exhibit in particular really dives a little bit deeper into issues like immigration, racism and American citizenship,” Phillips said. “But also, in doing that, it delves into some very personal stories of people who were incarcerated who were removed from their homes and placed in camps and then the rebuilding of their lives afterward.”

One of the bigger elements of this exhibition that immediately strikes the eye is the wall of names, stretching across the length of the room on one side. This list is composed of all people recorded to be at the Minidoka internment camp. 

“This is from the final accountability rosters,” Phillips said. “There are over 11,000 names of people just recorded, but we know approximately 13,000 people came through the Minidoka site. So we have about 2,000 people we know went through there but don’t have any record of.” 

As one walks through the room, the panel displays, artifacts and interactive modules invoke an eye-opening experience. From seeing original artifacts, such as executive order 9066 to understanding how Japanese Americans were treated during this time, the history in the room is informative. 

Bob Reinhardt is an assistant professor of history at Boise State and has been able to experience the exhibition first-hand. With a strong passion for understanding and learning from history, Reinhardt explains the important role that exhibitions such as this one play in the world today. 

“It is critically important. And I would say not just to repeat it, but to understand in new ways the depth and complexity of the experience,” Reinhardt said. “This is why I’m excited about history as a real, relevant and vital discipline because it opens our eyes to the causes of injustice, as well as justice so that we can learn those important lessons about how to be better people now and in the future.”

 Phillips expands on what her personal take away has been and what it can look like for others. 

“I think it’s a little bit different for everybody but my personal takeaway is just understanding and empathy of how many people experience incarceration,” Phillips said. “These were American citizens who were removed from their homes without due process. So for me, if people can just understand that experience and how difficult it was but see how people moved on to rejoin society and be successful afterward, it is a story of a lot of hope.” 

Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and World War II will be on display until April 5. 

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