Shitamae Family Letters

Letters from Minidoka Incarceration Camp during World War II

About the Collection

These letters in this collection and other materials relating to Shihei (George) Shitamae can be found in the George Shihei Shitamae papers archive at the University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives. Shihei (George) Shitamae was incarcerated at the Sante Fe Detention Center in Sante Fe, New Mexico during World War II. The letters in this collection were written by his family incarcerated at Camp Harmony, a temporary detention center located in Puyallup, Washington, and the Minidoka Incarceration Camp in Hunt, Idaho. The letters contain information about family members, activities, and other aspects of life during incarceration.

Minidoka Incarceration Camp

During World War II, approximately 120,000 people with Japanese ancestry were forcefully removed from their homes in states along the Pacific Coast, relocated, and incarcerated in camps further inland. Idaho was home to two such camps, one was run by the US Justice Department near Kooskia, and the other was run by the War Relocation Authority near Hunt called Minidoka. The Minidoka War Relocation Center extended over 33,000 acres with 900 of those acres used to house, at it’s peak approximately 9400 individuals incarcerated there. The remaining land was used either for administrative work or agriculture. 1

When the first incarcerees arrived at Minidoka in August 1942, the construction of the camp was not finished, there was no running water and a sewage system had not been installed. Those who arrived were discouraged and unhappy with their living conditions. Families faced cramped living quarters with it being common for a family of 8 or 9 people living in a one bedroom apartment. Beyond that, the camp was situated in a high-desert climate. The majority of the incarcerees were from the Pacific Northwest and were not prepared for the harsh winters and summers of southern Idaho. Even with these conditions, incarcerees worked to improve the camp conditions by planting trees, flowers, and shrubs to beautify the camp, as well as keeping gardens for fresh produce.

The camp closed in October 1945 and the land was later offered for homesteading to veterans. Today, much of the former site is occupied by farmhouses and irrigated fields, but in 2001 72-acres of the site was established as the Minidoka National Historic Site. It’s purpose today is to educate the public about the experiences of incarcerees to ensure a similar experience doesn’t happen again.2


  1. Life at Minidoka National Park Service, Accessed 19 January 2021. 

  2. Japanese American Incarceration during World War II Friends of Minidoka, Accessed 27 January 2021. 

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