Prisoners & Patriots Of WWII With Neil Simon

SEASON 1 EPISODE 19

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  • During World War II, the US government detained over 100,000 people of Japanese descent in internment camps at its west coast. One particular camp located in Santa Fe, New Mexico housed men who were considered the worst of the worst by the United States government. Many of these men were journalists, teachers, ministers, and businessmen whose stories have never been told – until today.
  • Neil Simon is the documentary filmmaker who tells the untold story of this camp through ‘Prisoners and Patriots: The Untold Story of Japanese Internment in Santa Fe.’

On the show is Neil Simon who has interviewed Japanese prisoners locked up in a Santa Fe camp during World War II. As a Jewish American, Neil wondered what happened to other races who became prisoners during WWII. While in New Mexico, Neil learned about the plans of building a monument for the campsite. He then decided to do some research on it and track down people in their 80s and 90s before their stories were lost.

Spending nearly 5 years to create the film, Neil was shocked by the amount of literature available as well as famous people who lived in these camps. Based on the interviews, people were rounded up by the Department of Justice and moved inland. Not only were business owners and community leaders arrested; families were ultimately separated as the wartime hysteria spread. There were constant fear and question with regard to the loyalty of Japanese Americans. While there was no evidence that these Japanese Americans posed any danger, the sense of patriotism towards Japan was present and people in the camp were even rooting for Japan to win the war. When Japan ultimately lost and the war ended, they thought things would get worse or they would be sent back to the country. But when they were allowed to stay and realized that was not treated severely compared to other prisoners of war, the sentiments were on not wanting to hold any grudge. No one enjoyed their time in the camps and their families were angry; but reflecting on the fear brought by war, the desire for forgiveness rather than bitterness was stronger.

Based on diaries and photographs, internees were able to do a lot of what they wanted to do. Some had jobs outside the camps. They could even do sports, write newspapers, gamble, and join an underground syndicate using beans! Life in the camp was without freedom, but many were able to make money and art with so much time in their hands.

The relationship with the guards was also quite positive. Although some were unfriendly, the guards were basically neutral and even helpful. Prisoners knew they were simply doing their jobs and therefore did not harbor ill will.

Many of these men have not spoken publicly about the experience. Even with their families, they did not always want to talk about it. But Neil’s interviews with them may have changed their minds on this. One survivor living in LA met with professors and students; this interaction led him to realize that he could educate others about his experiences. Some were not interested in talking in front of a camera, but others were also willing. For the first time, family members were able to ask questions about their parents’ or grandparents’ wartime experiences. Thus, producing the project did not just educate others but also help families reconnect. The film also became more than just Neil’s; it became a community endeavor. Its goal is not to paint a bad light to the country’s flaws during the war; it only sought to document the situation before its storytellers are gone and can no longer be around to tell the tale.

To catch the film, there will be Remembrance events in February across Northern California. It will also be shown at the Japanese American National Museum and Ohio Wesleyan University in April. Presales of its DVD is in Japan, but for those who would like to order their own copy or bring the film to their school or community, feel free to contact Neil through his website.

  • Learn Japanese Podcast. This website offers Japanese lessons and news in Japan. Its magazine edition for January and February includes a feature of Morino Lodge in Hakuba, with its owner Matt Dunn sharing about his life and snowboarding in Japan.
  • A Life in Japan. In this documentary, a variety of foreigners tell about their experiences living in Japan. Sharing what they like and dislike about the country, viewers would have an idea what it’s like for foreign residents who have stayed in Japan for several months to decades.

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