The AFSC Archives offers a unique window into the experience of Japanese-American internment. Due to longstanding relationships between the leadership of our organization and the Japanese people, this humanitarian crisis involved AFSC in intensely personal ways. Staff in the Pacific regions had Japanese-American students living in their homes when Pearl Harbor struck; others, like Esther Rhoads, had spent years living in Japan, working at the Tokyo Friends School, and were fluent in the language and customs.
From the first orders to assemble at trains stations and bus depots, to the long, harrowing months in detention camps, AFSC staff and volunteers stood side by side with their friends of Japanese ancestry. Letters, reports, plans for moving students and families east, to safety—all of these are written from first-hand experiences. When our monitors visited people in detention to report on their situation, they lived inside the camps, under the same conditions as the interned Issei and Nisei.
Film for photography was almost unattainable inside the camps (see the Oral History by Helen Ely Brill), so photos are somewhat limited. However, the writing in our Archives is impassioned. The documentation of court cases springs from personal relationships with plaintiffs such as Gordon Hirabayashi. And the reports on efforts to bring Japanese-American college students to freedom on open-minded campuses read as if they’re describing a new form of underground railroad, from west to east.