Most people have heard of Manzanar, the WWII segregation center located in Inyo County, California, but few have heard of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, a high security relocation camp, the largest of all the camps that imprisoned nearly 19,000 innocent Japanese against their will. Even fewer have heard of Camp Tule Lake, a German POW camp. The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Tule Lake Unit is one of the newest Department of Interior National Monuments and encompasses the Japanese Relocation and German POW camps that commemorate a confused and discriminatory time in our history.
On February 19, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the U.S. military to incarcerate Japanese American families living on the West Coast after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Without hearings or due process, the U.S. government put into motion a mass incarceration program that targeted persons of Japanese ancestry based on the claim, later proven to be false, of military necessity.
The government forcibly removed over 110,000 innocent persons of Japanese ancestry from their homes and communities. They were imprisoned in remote areas under primitive and overcrowded conditions. Tule Lake was the only Segregation Center. Residents of the center had to endure 30 degree below zero winters in tar paper shacks. Little buildings that only had tar paper to protect and insulate the internees from the bitter winds and snows of the Klamath Basin winters.
Converted to a high-security Segregation Center in 1943, Tule Lake became the largest of the 10 War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps, imprisoning 18,789 people. It was also the last WRA camp to close remaining in operation seven months after World War II ended.
German POW Camp Tule Lake
Driving by this camp one is taken aback. Old barracks in disrepair, concertina wire crowning a high fence, abandoned ground; certainly something sinister must have taken place here. It is the location of one of the lesser known German POW Camps in the United States. It sits alone and isolated, as if trying to forget a war that is fading into forgotten memories of the past.
Another section of Tule Lake monument is Camp Tule Lake, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. During WWII, after the CCC program ended, the camp was used before segregation to imprison several hundred Japanese American men who protested and refused to answer the loyalty questionnaire. It was used again shortly after segregation to house Japanese American strikebreakers brought in from other WRA camps to harvest the crops that Tule Lake strikers were leveraging to demand better living and working conditions. Between 1944 and 1946 the camp housed German and Italian Prisoners of War who worked for local farmers in the Klamath Basin.
Take U.S. 97 north at Weed (50 miles.) Turn right on California Hwy. 161 (also known as Stateline Road.) There will be signs for Tulelake and Lava Beds National Monument. Travel east on CA 161 (19 miles) through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to California Hwy. 139. Turn right (4 miles) to Tulelake. Turn right on East "W" Street. Turn Left on Main Street. The temporary park is housed in the museum at the TuleLake-Butte Valley Fair Grounds, 800 Main Street, Tulelake, CA.