SAN FRANCISCO – Protests by Japanese-American groups have led an auction house in the U.S. to cancel a sale of 450 photos and artifacts from World War II internment camps.
The move comes after thousands of Japanese-Americans, advocacy groups and supporters posted their opposition to the sale on social media and the auction house’s Facebook page.
“We know what the internment camps were,” Rago Arts and Auction Center founding partner David Rago said Thursday. “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.”
The collection includes artifacts and hundreds of photos of people of Japanese descent who were imprisoned over fears they were spies. It also contains dozens of arts and crafts. Roughly 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated at 10 relocation camps after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The New Jersey auction house has declined to identify the owner of the collection, which internees gave to historian Allen H. Eaton while he was researching his 1952 book, “Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps.” Eaton’s daughter sold the lot to the unnamed consigner.
Last fall, the consigner came to the auction house to enlist help in finding the most appropriate home for the collection, Rago said, adding he didn’t realize there would be such a backlash.
“We were taken by surprise. We didn’t want to trouble anybody. It’s not good personally, it’s not good on any level,” he said.
Rago said the auction house will now try to find the “appropriate repository” for the items. “There are many that are interested,” he said, but declined to elaborate.
Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, who was interned in a camp, says the auction house made the right move.
“These artifacts reflect personal family memories of one of the darkest periods in U.S. history,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “These items belong with the families, or in museums so future generations can learn from them.”
Rago said he can’t put a value on the lot, but said it’s worth more than $25,000.
“In some respects,” he said, “the material is priceless.”
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