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The Inspiration Behind Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vivienne Schiffer, author of Camp Nine, about her inspiration for the book (my review). 

Today, she graciously offered to share with you the story and share a photo of the real cemetery that inspired her journey into the internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Camp Nine was inspired by my personal experience growing up in Rohwer, Ark., a town that was so small it was the perfect spot to hide nearly ten thousand Americans of Japanese ancestry where virtually no one would find them. There, my grandfather, Joe Gould, Sr., a wealthy landowner, sold hundreds of acres to the federal government to build what was euphemistically called the Rohwer Relocation Center. The United States government maintained that the Japanese Americans of California, Oregon and Washington were being simply “relocated” for their own protection, and for the protection of the war effort in sensitive military areas. In fact, it was pure racism. Powerful business lobbies on the West Coast didn’t want the Japanese Americans there. They’d been trying to exclude them for decades. Finally, they had the perfect excuse, and the federal government was the perfect ally.

By the time I was born fifteen years later, not only was the camp gone, even memory of it seemed to have faded. But how odd even that was. In 1942, the population of tiny Rohwer, Ark., swelled almost one hundred fold, from around one hundred people, most of them poor white and African American tenant farmers, to nearly ten thousand people, well educated city dwellers and prosperous farmers from somewhere far away. When the war ended, Rohwer abruptly shrank back to a population of one hundred, and fifteen years after the fact, not a soul in town mentioned that anything had ever happened. The only signs available to a small child were a brown government sign pointing the way over a dirt bank supporting railroad tracks, an incinerator smokestack, a tar-paper barracks formerly used as a hospital, and the ghost, the thing of beauty, the specter that crouched under the trees and hid in the cotton field: the haunting and lovely cemetery.

Copyright Vivienne Schiffer

That there were camps in the Deep South is news to even the well-informed. Japanese Americans from the camps did interact with their neighbors, and there were culture clashes. Unlike their counterparts in the western states, the Arkansans had never had any personal interaction with anyone of Asian ancestry. Their knowledge was limited to stereotypes and cartoons. Fear and resentment were real and were amplified by gossip. But the prisoners were Americans first. The only ethnic group required to prove their loyalty to the United States, men from the Rohwer Camp were a part of the “Go for Broke” team, the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit, the most highly decorated combat unit of its size in American military history. The 442nd famously liberated Rome (although they were stopped at the gates so that newsreels could record only white soldiers entering the city) and rescued the Lost Battalion of Texans in one of the most celebrated battles of the European theatre.

Camp Nine honors the Japanese Americans who endured their ordeal with grace and dignity, as well as those Caucasian Americans who protested their mistreatment and sought to make their lives better.

Thanks, Vivienne, for sharing your inspiration with us.

If you’re interested in reading about how WWII impacted U.S. communities, especially after the government began establishing internment camps for Japanese-Americans, you should check out Camp Nine.

  • Thanks for featuring Vivienne – I loved learning more about the background of CAMP NINE.

  • Pingback: Vivienne Schiffer, author of Camp Nine, on tour November 2011 | TLC Book Tours()

  • Wow, that makes me even more anxious to get hold of this book!
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last blog post ..Review: Girls in White Dresses

  • Vivienne Schiffer

    Thank you both Anna and Audra! I’m so glad Camp Nine is getting the word out about what happened so long ago. Audra, because it’s a small press, it’s only available in a few independent bookstores – but’s easy to order from the usual online suspects, amazon and B&N. Please do, and thank you so much for reading my book! Vivienne Schiffer

  • Wow — loved this. I consider myself pretty historically savvy and I hadn’t realized there were internment camps in the South, either — this is why I’m so grateful for historical fiction. Novels like this help lift up a little known story and hopefully provide readers a way to see the issue and relate to the characters, despite any differences. I’m really so excited to start this book — will be on the hunt for it this weekend!
    Audra´s last blog post ..Friday Reads, and it’s chilly out…

  • Fascinating story! It’s so important for history to revealed before there’s no one left to tell it.
    Anna´s last blog post ..The Girl’s Thoughts on Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

  • Vivienne Schiffer

    Thank you Beth – I had a signing last night in Arkansas, where the story is set. And one of the really great things that’s happening is that stories are now just coming from everyone here that I meet about their own connections to the camps, stories they’ve never told anyone. And they are so excited that somebody finally cares, and they are getting a chance to talk about it for the first time in all these years. I do hope you get a chance to read Camp Nine and that you love it! Vivienne Schiffer

  • I had no idea there were internment camps in the South! I find it odd that we don’t talk about the internment camps. I think it is important to get the stories written and told. This book will be going on my tbr list!