Earlier this year, a researcher approached the University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives wondering if it would be possible to digitize some materials from the George Shihei Shitamae papers. As a Japanese immigrant, George Shihei Shitamae was incarcerated at the Santa Fe Detention Center in Santa Fe. His collection contains a series of letters from his family who was incarcerated at the Minidoka Incarceration Camp in Idaho, outside of Hunt. The material was important for the researcher, but we also felt materials giving personal accounts of an important time in Idaho and the nation’s history would be beneficial to many people. We agreed and have been working to create the Shitamae Family Letters digital collection.
Spanning the years of 1942 to 1944, the letters in this collection detail the experiences of several of his nieces and other family, as they are forced to leave their homes and businesses in Seattle, Washington. They write about their lives in the temporary detention center in Puyallup, being transported to Minidoka, and the conditions and their lives in the camp. Around holidays and other celebrations, they would describe all the festivities and how the camp would celebrate. In this letter Miyoko Shitamae describes the preparations for Christmas and recalls the events of the previous year.
The letters in the collection include, original letters in both English and Japanese, as well as transcriptions of letters that we believe to be translations of letters. We are unsure who transcribed these letters, but because they are on notebook paper with multiple dates on pages and the fact that several letters are prescribed different authors, but are written in the same handwriting.
An interesting aspect of the letters written in Japanese is that they are all marked with a stamp saying “Detained Alien Enemy Mail Examined.” This shows how there was a lack of privacy in these letters and how they were all monitored and censored. Mail being sent to or from George Shihei Shitamae would be read by others. In one letter from Fumiko Shitamae she even says that a previous letter had been so heavily censored they didn’t even know what it had said.