The Arty Semite

Debating the Term 'Concentration Camp'

By Eric L. Muller

Earlier this week, Eric L. Muller wrote about the photographer Bill Manbo, mass incarceration and Kodachrome, and asked: What does a concentration camp look like? His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In my blog posts this week I have written about the Kodachrome slides that Bill Manbo took while imprisoned with his family at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in 1943 and 1944. Today I return to the question with which I began: Was Heart Mountain an American “concentration camp?”

Controversy over the use of the term “concentration camp” erupted in the late 1990s when an exhibition about the camps for Japanese Americans was slated to open at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York. The exhibition, created by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, was entitled “America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese-American Experience.” Some American Jewish groups, most prominently the American Jewish Committee, objected to the title. They argued that using the term “concentration camp” to describe places like Heart Mountain diminished the suffering of those (mostly Jews) who lived and died in the Nazi camps in Europe. Eventually a compromise was negotiated: The exhibition would retain its title but feature an explanatory panel disclaiming any attempt to compare the American camps to those in Europe.

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Author Blog: Making It Human

By Eric L. Muller

Eric L. Muller has been blogging here all week. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


The question that I am exploring in this series of blog posts is what a “concentration camp” looks like. In the first post, I noted that there has been tension between some American Jews and some Japanese Americans over the use of the term “concentration camp” for the prison camps that held Japanese and Japanese Americans during World War II. In the second post, I tried to describe a bit of what was unique about the American camps — the ways in which they arose from some of the same kinds of causes as the German camps while being administered by a government agency with a very different set of views from the SS. Tomorrow, in my last post, I’ll say a few words about how I’ve resolved the dilemma about using the term “concentration camp” in my writing about the American camps.

Today, I’d like to say a little bit about Bill Manbo, the photographer who took the Kodachrome slides featured in “Colors of Confinement,” and his family. It’s often rightly said that the number “six million” is an abstraction and that the truth of the Holocaust can only really be appreciated in the context of a real human life. The same is true of the 120,000 people the U.S. government exiled and imprisoned.

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Author Blog: Behind Barbed Wire

By Eric L. Muller

Yesterday, Eric L. Muller asked: What does a concentration camp look like? His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


My new book “Colors of Confinement” presents dozens of stunning Kodachrome photographs of everyday life inside the barbed wire confines of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in 1943 and 1944. The photographer was Bill Manbo, a 30-something auto mechanic from Hollywood, Calif., who was locked up there in September 1942 along with his family and his wife Mary’s family. Although Manbo was not a documentary photographer, his pictures (and the fact that he was allowed to take them) capture much of what was unique about the confinement sites that the U.S. government created for the West Coast’s ethnically Japanese population during the war.

On the one hand, the photographs reveal a population held captive in a desolate desert compound with no conceivable justification other than suppositions about racial loyalties.

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What Does a Concentration Camp Look Like?

By Eric L. Muller

Eric L. Muller is Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the University of North Carolina School of Law and director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Faculty Excellence. His newest book, “Colors of Confinement: Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II,” is now available. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


What does a concentration camp look like?

Does it look like this?

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