Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Shizuko "Suzie" Sakai Interview
Narrator: Shizuko "Suzie" Sakai
Interviewer: Dane Fujimoto
Date: February 6, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-sshizuko-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

SS: And then about August, we started hearing rumors that this was only temporary while they were building other camps for us to go to, so that increased the level of anxiety because there again, we didn't know where we were going or what it was going to be like, how we were going to get there, just life was very uncertain. Then about the first week in September, they started announcing that people would be moving out. The first group, I remember, went to Minidoka camp in Idaho. We, I think, stayed there for, excuse me, a couple more weeks, and then we headed for Heart Mountain, Wyoming, got on the train, and I don't remember how long it took us, but I remember ending up in this bleak godforsaken sagebrush and jack rabbit's hole up in the outskirts of Wyoming. And in the distance, you could see this mountain that they called Heart Mountain for which the camp was named.

That then was then a new, another beginning. We, there were probably over 10,000 people there. Most of the people came from California, from San Anita and some of those places. We were then assigned to a unit in a barrack. Each barrack, I think, had like six apartments. They really weren't apartments; they were just one big room. There again, we were issued some army cots to sleep on. There was a potbellied stove in each unit, and you had to go out to a big coal pile to get your fuel for your stove. I think the camp was divided into blocks, and if I remember correctly, each block, I think, had ten barracks. Each block had its own dining hall and its own laundry room and bathroom facilities. When we first arrived there, the weather was fairly mild. It wasn't bad, but you could look out, and there was nothing but sagebrush and this mountain in the distance and rocks, that kind of thing. When winter hit, we were really amazed because snow fell, the wind blew, and it was cold. These barracks were not insulated, of course, and every time the snow fell, the next morning when you woke up, there were ridges of snow within your unit. The window sills would be piled with snow, and areas around the window and around the doors would all be icy with snow and ice. The problem there in the wintertime was then that you had to run out for the bathroom and go out to the dining room three times. It was pretty rugged living that first winter. I remember they issued us these navy peacoats to wear; but you know, we, at least our family, didn't come prepared for that kind of winter. So the busy place was where you could find the Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs, and people were busy ordering especially warm coats and underwear for winter wear because if you came from Southern California, you certainly weren't prepared for the kind of weather that we were facing.

Here again, we were assigned jobs or you applied for jobs. I became activities director for our area. My dad became a cook in the dining hall which was very nice because we wouldn't want to go out for breakfast, so he would bring us, after he finished his morning shift, he'd bring us home whatever they had for breakfast, so we had breakfast in bed you might say. [Laughs] Food was, had something to be desired. We had a lot of mutton, I had never tasted mutton before in my life. I can't say that it was my favorite dish. We had horse meat. They did manage to have rice. And of course by that time, things like coffee and sugar were rationed, so they were also rationed in camp, lots of canned food, canned green beans. To this day, I can't stand to look at canned green beans. They had some fruits, some fruit juices that I remember. Oh, the other thing that I remember very vividly was they somehow thought that we'd like squid. Unfortunately at that point in time, they didn't know how to prepare it, so they forgot to take the ink sacks out, and so you got this plate with the rice all black from the squid, the black stuff from the squid. I don't think I'll ever forget that, so when... oh, in recent years, you know, calamari is very popular, and I wouldn't eat it for a while because of that, but I got used to it by now. Minus its ink, it isn't bad at all. We had some eggs. I remember hard boiled eggs for breakfast, had oatmeal or grits or hominy. I think it was hominy. It was something that I'm, I was not familiar with anyway. I'm not, you know, no one went hungry, but it certainly wasn't the most palatable diet.

The one thing that I remember about that first winter was my father's appendix burst, and he got peritonitis, and so he got put in the camp hospital, and he was there about over two months. We thought for a while we were going to lose him, but he did pull through. But of course, medical facilities were very limited in camp, and we just felt that it was fortunate that he was able to recover. But in order to visit him, then we had to walk clear across this camp, and I remember I froze both, both my knees froze. And for years after that when they got cold, I'd get water on the knee, but that was part of the camp experience.

There were, you know, the usual schools. They set up schools. Some of the teachers were from the camp itself, and then they imported some schoolteachers. We had things like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They showed movies periodically. The young people had dances. They had church services. So life kind of resumed some normalcy at least under the circumstances. But here again, I think we saw the distinct breakdown of the traditional Japanese family because the communal living, eating in mess halls, that kind of thing. It was certainly not the best.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.