Postcard from Rohwer Relocation Center

 In 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, war hysteria led to the forced removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes, businesses and communities. The U.S. government imprisoned them in camps such as the Rohwer Relocation Center in southeast Arkansas. Consisting of 500 acres, the Rohwer camp was chosen as one of the sites as the land was owned by the federal government and it was situated away from populated areas and near a railway. The 8,475 inhabitants were watched by armed guards from towers linked together by a barbed wire fence.

The site of the camp is now mostly farmed land

The land on which the Rohwer camp was located was in a severe poverty area and originally intended to be subsistence homesteading under the Farm Security Administration. When war broke out however and it was determined people of Japanese ancestry should be isolated, in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, a number of the camps were placed in poverty-stricken areas in hope they would boost the local economy. Not only did this not happen, even more resentment was felt by the local population who became resentful of the camp's residents for their access to 3 meals every day and free medical care.  There were no jobs available in the area for the locals, yet many of the Japanese men were employed to cut down trees to make room for more housing and buildings and were paid $12 per month by the government.

When the camp was newly opened, the first batch of male internees were dispatched outside the fence to start cutting trees to enable the camp to grow. A group of armed locals, thinking they were Japanese paratroopers invading Arkansas, "captured" them and marched them at gunpoint to the local jail where they were held until the camp's American director came for them.

Historical photo of Japanese children playing marbles in
the dirt of Camp Rohwer
By late 1942, the camp consisted of 620 buildings and included a hospital, post office, various shops, schools, churches, recreation halls, a movie theater, sawmill and a cannery. There were also baseball and other athletic fields and communal pick-nick areas. Most of the individual families planted their own gardens in addition to the 610 acres that were farmed for the whole camp. Many had flocks of chickens and pigs and a lively food barter system was established. It's easy to see why the impoverished locals felt the "prisoners" had it a lot better than they themselves did.

Some of the young men, those who had been born in America, were allowed to join the army and were sent to fight German forces in Europe. Of the approximately 200 who volunteered from the Rohwer camp, 31 paid the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefields. During the 3 years the camp was operational, 24 internees died and were buried in the camp cemetery.
George Takei as Lt. Sulu

One little boy of 4 was brought in with his family from California, but spent only 8 months in Camp Rohwer. His parents refused to take the required oath of loyalty to America so they were sent back to California to the maximum security camp at Tule Lake.  The little boy who had his 5th birthday in the camp, remembers Camp Rohwer because it was the first time he had ever seen a hog. George Takei grew up to become an actor of note with his most famous roll being Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek TV series and 6 Star Trek movies.

All that is on the site today is a replica guard house with informational posters, a brick smokestack, several monuments to those who died in Italy and France while serving in the military, the cemetery with its 24 headstones and a monument next to the cemetery in memory of those 24. That monument states in English, "Erected by the inhabitants of Rohwer Relocation Center October 1944." And in Japanese, it reads: "May the people of Arkansas keep in beauty and reverence forever this ground where our bodies sleep."

Rohwer Center Cemetery marker
A few of the 24 concrete headstones in the Rohwer Cemetery