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"It was just like being thrown into a prison, with no recourse." (Video interview, 18:11)

   John Junji Katsu
Image of John Junji Katsu
John Junji Katsu [detail from video interview]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army
Unit: United States Zone Constabulary; Military Government Office
Service Location: Germany; Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Rank: Technician Third Grade
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The youngest of seven children born to Japanese immigrants, John Junji Katsu was 14 years old and living in San Francisco, California, on December 7, 1941. In February 1942, his family—along with all others of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast—was ordered to report for internment. Held first in horse stalls at Tanforan Racetrack and then at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, he observed the tremendous resiliency and perseverance of his family and the entire Japanese-American community as they were stripped of their rights as citizens. Leaving the camp to attend high school, he was drafted in 1945, and served in Germany during the immediate post-war occupation era, where he wound up teaching classes in the principles of democracy to German youth.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (10 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (124 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (10 items)
Executive Order issued to intern all citizens of Japanese descent; Japanese American Citizens League; given two weeks’ notice before evacuation; parents disbanded business; could only bring what you could carry; transport to Tanforan racetrack in San Bruno, CA. (04:58) Living in a horse stable; horrible stench when it rained; had wanted to be a jockey; seeing it as a great adventure; hardest on parents and older siblings. (03:31) Community that was built at the racetrack and in the permanent internment camp; everyone contributing to a self-sustaining community; his pride in their accomplishments. (04:36)
Uncertainty of future; being permitted by War Authority to go to college; especially for older people, many people didn’t have wherewithal to leave camps. (02:04) Being allowed to attend high school in Kansas City; community there embracing him with open arms; so grateful for their generosity of spirit. (01:29) Feeling like a second-class citizen; difficulty in finding your way out; flexibility of youth. (02:12)
While overseas, encountering division of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii; tight-knit community; making friends; eating Japanese food that they had prepared. (02:52) Transfer to military government office; prosecuting cases of black market trading, but never won a case. (02:53) Empathizing with the German people; seeing them trying to make the best of a bad situation; observing their community and their hospitality; fair treatment of local population. (04:31)
Skiing with neighborhood children; organizing activities for the German youth; teaching kids about democratic principles; respect for German people. (06:44)  
  
 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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