Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Religion and Community in Japanese Internment Camps

                 The Minidoka Churchman, Vol II, No 25, Saturday, October 9,1943

GTU's Archives and Special Collections has a few unique resources on the Japanese Internment religious experience.

While our collections reflect Christianity,  a significant number of the population of each camp were Buddhists or followers of Shinto.
We recently received a request from Carol S. Ash, Chief, Interpretation and Education, Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site, Hagerman, Idaho,  regarding one of our Japanese Internment Collections.  Ash was looking for church bulletins or newsletters to supplement an exhibit on this year's theme.

The Minidoka National Historic Site is one of  the sponsors for an annual symposium on civil liberties held in Idaho. This year the event is on  The Struggle for Religious Freedom, Yesterday and Today, June 19-20, 2014, (also see flyer). This takes place right before the annual pilgrimage to Minidoka.

Our collection contains most of the issues of The Minidoka Churchmen from October 1943 through December 1945. The bulletin features particularly complete letters from church members who had left the camps for schools, jobs, or to serve in the armed forces. In response to the request, a digitized copy of what we have was provided.

During  World War II,  the library director of Pacific School of Religion (PSR),  J. Stillson Judah (1911-2000), established and coordinated  a project to set up small theological libraries for the Japanese ministers in the War Relocation Authority internment camps. Some of the ministers were graduates of PSR.  He enlisted eleven theological seminaries from the Bay Area and nationally to contribute books from their respective libraries to circulate 1,200 volumes through the camps on a rotating basis. 

Besides PSR,  the other local seminaries who participated were Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, Starr King School for the Ministry (Unitarian), San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian), and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Episcopalian).  From outside the Bay Area, Union Seminary was one of the participants. They were among those who loaned books to Minidoka.

Either in return or on request, seven of  the camps sent their church bulletin and newsletters to PSR. These were donated to the GTU archives in 1994. Since then, the collection has been accessed frequently by scholars.

Judah left the library and entered the service in 1944, learning Japanese in order to become a translator and interpreter.  He served in post-World War II Japan in that capacity before returning to PSR, Years later he became the first library director at Graduate Theological Union.

Our related collections include:
  • Japanese-American Internment Camp Church Bulletins and Newsletters Collection, 1942-45, GTU 94-9-02.  Material received by the Pacific School of Religion Library from seven of the internment camp churches.
  • The J. Stillson Judah: Japanese Camp Books Collection, 1942-46, GTU 2001-3-01. Records from a project where seminaries lent religion and theology books for internment camp church ministers and members to use. The project was coordinated by the librarian at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Calif.
  • The Gordon K. Chapman:  Protestant Church Commission for Japanese Service Collection, 1942-47, GTU 2002-9-01.  Records of a cooperative project for the Protestant denominations in California to coordinate needed programs and services in the internment camps.  Gordon Chapman was the Executive Secretary.
  • The Sunday Before: Sermons by Pacific Coast Pastors of the Japanese Race on the Sunday before Evacuation to Assembly Centers in the Late Spring of 1942 (GTU  97-5-02)  includes sermons delivered by Protestant ministers prior to the forced evacuation of Japanese and Japanese Americans on the West Coast to Relocation Camps. The sermons are online.
  • Lester E. Suzuki Collection,  GTU 2000-11-02. The collection consists of three drafts of his doctoral thesis Ministry in the Assembly and Relocation Centers of World War II, as well as books and other research materials donated by Suzuki. The thesis describes daily life and worship in the Japanese relocation centers.