Shortly after Japan’s invasion, American naval personnel arrived with orders to round up and evacuate Aleuts from the Aleutian Chain and the Pribilof Islands to internment camps almost 2,000 miles away near Juneau. Stewardship of the internment camps would fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USF&WS). Furthermore, orders included the burning of the villages to the ground, including their beloved churches, as part of a “scorched earth” policy. The Army’s stated purpose was to protect the Aleuts, who were American citizens, from the dangers of war. But one officer told astonished Aleuts that it was, as he put it, “Because ya’ll look like Japs and we wouldn’t want to shoot you.” That exchange is part of a documentary video called Aleut Evacuation.
With only the clothes on their backs, 881 Aleuts from nine different island villages were forced aboard the USS Delarof and transported to dilapidated abandoned salmon canneries where the roofs and walls had holes, the windows and doors were broken, and the floors were so rotten that people fell through them. There was no electricity, sanitation, or running water.
The Aleuts were interned against their will for the duration of the war, long after the Japanese were routed out of Alaska, and were largely neglected by the very government that said it was protecting them. Ironically, less than 30 miles away, over 700 Nazis who had been captured in North Africa were imprisoned at a POW camp at Excursion Bay. The Nazis, sworn enemies of America and our allies, were treated far better than the Aleuts, so much so that military historian Stan Cohen later wrote in The Forgotten War, “All in all, the German imprisonment in Alaska was quite pleasant.”
–John Smelcer, The Other WWII American-Internment Atrocity