By Judy Berman
The yellowed, tattered newspaper clippings and mementos that were part of my late mother-in-law’s life brought back a flood of memories.
As my husband started to inventory his mother’s belongings years ago, I thought about how little she spent on herself. Yet she was very generous to her family.
To anyone outside of the family, Jennie Dicker’s mementos might have little or no value. To us, it was as if she were with us still.
How can you put a value on memories?
That’s what an auction house planned to do with artifacts made by Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during World War II over fears that they might be spies.
The Rago auction house was going to sell off 450 photographs and artifacts made by Japanese-Americans in internment camps.
After an outcry from the public, including Star Trek’s Sulu (played by George Takei), the auction house in Lambertville, New Jersey, decided to withdraw the art pieces that were for sale.
Rago Arts and Auction Center founding partner, David Rago, issued this statement on April 17: “We know what the internment camps were. We know that it was a disgraceful period in American history, but we did not understand the continued emotional impact embodied within the material. We just didn’t get it.” (Associated Press)
Takei was 5 years old when he was sent with his family to an internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, and has been a strong advocate to make sure that this time in history is remembered. On his Facebook page, he said: “These irreplaceable works represent the struggles and indomitable spirit of our community against a great injustice.”
He said this “dark time” is a “chapter that we must never repeat and never forget.”
When he was 8, they were released from the internment camp. He said they had “lost everything.”
Like others interred, his family was given a one-way ticket when they were released to wherever they wanted to go to in the United States, plus $20. Many were embittered about their experience and decided to relocate to other parts of the country.
His family chose to return to Los Angeles. Life was difficult. Many would not hire Japanese-Americans. They were denied housing.
Despite the bitter struggle, many like Takei’s family worked to put their lives back together. Their memories, sometimes, were all they had to recall life before World War II.
That’s why Takei is grateful to those who protested the sale. Advocacy groups and supporters want “to ensure this artwork was not sold off piecemeal to private buyers, but rather will be appreciated by generations to come.”
“The internees gave their artworks and furniture to historian Allen Hendershott Eaton while he was researching his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps,” according to an article in The New York Times (April 13).
Eaton’s daughter sold the lot to the unnamed consigner. The auction house will not identify the owner of the collection.
Takei said that Rago Auctions “will sit down with interested Japanese-American institutions and parties to ensure that the collection will find a home where pieces will be properly cared for and curated.”
What are your views on this topic? Another battle over art – this time stolen by the Nazis prior to World War II – was a decades-long struggle to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1. It was made into a movie, “Woman in Gold” (2015).
Main photo: (May 11, 1942) A soldier, 23, and his mother in a strawberry field in Florin, Sacramento County, California. The soldier volunteered July 10, 1941 to serve in the U.S. Army. The mother, 53, came from Japan 37 years ago. Her husband died 21 years ago leaving her to raise six children. She worked in a strawberry basket factory until her children leased three acres of strawberries last year “so she wouldn’t have to work for somebody else.” 453 families were to be evacuated from this area. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fa/Florin%2C_Sacramento_County%2C_California._A_soldier_and_his_mother_in_a_strawberry_field._The_soldier_._._._-_NARA_-_536475.jpg/621px-Florin%2C_Sacramento_County%2C_California._A_soldier_and_his_mother_in_a_strawberry_field._The_soldier_._._._-_NARA_-_536475.jpg
Photo: Internment camp – Japanese-Americans in U.S. during World War II – Los Angeles, California. Japanese Americans going to Manzanar gather around a baggage car at the old Santa Fe Station. (April 1942). They were boarding a train bound for one of ten American concentration camps. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a6/Internment.jpg/640px-Internment.jpg
Video: Japanese American Relocation – http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation
Video: George Takei, on an interview in ‘Democracy Now!, (2-28-14)” describes his family’s experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. http://io9.com/george-takei-describes-his-experience-in-a-japanese-int-1533358984
Photo: Map of forced Internment camps during World War II where Japanese-Americans were imprisoned in the U.S. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6b/Map_of_World_War_II_Japanese_American_internment_camps.png/578px-Map_of_World_War_II_Japanese_American_internment_camps.png