What are the similarities and differences in the living conditions between Night and Farewell to Manzanar?

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Though the placement of Japanese Americans in "relocation camps" by the U.S. government in 1942 was totally unjustified and racist, the differences between this and the Holocaust far outweigh the similarities.

The intention of the Nazis was to exile, and then to annihilate, the entire Jewish population of Europe. Concentration camps were extermination camps, with gas chambers and crematoria. Even the prisoners who were not immediately killed were subjected to a process of overwork, dehumanization, and slow starvation that was intended to cause death. Prisoners were routinely beaten savagely, and their living quarters were worse than those in which animals are normally kept. In Night Elie survives, but after liberation notes that "a corpse stared back at him" from the mirror: he's become one of the living dead.

In Farewell to Manzanar, conditions in the camp are harsh, severely uncomfortable, and dehumanizing, but not genocidal. The US government had no intention of exterminating Japanese Americans, although it did have a brutal and racist fear of them. With her arrival at the camp, Jeanne, her family, and the others in their group were not shouted at, beaten, or herded like animals as Elie's deportation group were. An example of American insensitivity and cluelessness is the food given to the prisoners in Jeanne's group: rice with a sweet fruit topping of some sort. The topping makes the rice inedible. At the time, Americans apparently had no concept of Asian cuisine, but the incident shows how relatively benign this stage of the "relocation" was. Though, as stated, it was nevertheless cruel in its way and totally unjustified.

The basic similarity is that both the Germans and the Americans targeted a population they regarded as "alien" and a danger, removed them from the civilian world, and imprisoned them. After this the resemblance ends. One also should note that the Germans, well before the start of the war, formed the intention of eliminating the Jews from German and European life. The persecution of the Jews intensified once World War II started. However, it was a genocidal policy that Hitler and his henchmen had formulated from the moment they took power in 1933. Though Americans had always discriminated against people of Asian background, there had never been any plan for genocide, and even after Japan became the enemy and Japanese Americans were imprisoned en masse, there was no policy to murder them as the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe.

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The varying conditions found in the concentration camps of Night and the internment camps of Farewell to Manzanar are rooted in the differing end goals of the horribly oppressive government of the US and the horribly oppressive government of Germany and the Nazi parties of its allied countries.

The Nazi party had launched a campaign of total extermination against Jewish people across Europe, and as such, the concentration camps reflected this end goal. Millions of Jews, as well as thousands of Roma people, LGBTQ people, mentally ill people, homeless people, political dissidents, and others, were kidnapped and held prisoner in concentration camps. At those camps, Nazi soldiers executed, beat, and tortured people, while others died from starvation, disease, and labor. The people who survived the concentration camps had to endure forced labor, inadequate food and inadequate shelter, exposure to the cold, many forms of torture, witnessing mass murders and torture, separation from loved ones, and the other horrors of imprisonment.

Farewell to Manzanar describes the oppression and torture Japanese and Japanese-American people faced as they were forced into interment camps during WWII. The US government kidnapped over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes and held them prisoner in camps where they suffered inadequate food, inadequate shelter, confinement, familial separation, torture, beatings, exposure to the elements, forced labor, and again the general horrors of being held prisoner. Because the end goal of the United States was not to exterminate these folks, but to violently imprison them while they dropped a bomb over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, killing over 200,000 Japanese people, the internment camps did not exactly mirror the deaths camps of the Nazis. However, both were horrible concentration camps that operated from differing goals of oppressive states.

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Night and Farewell to Manzanar are two memoirs written by individuals persecuted during the Second World War. For an American, it is eerie to see the similarities between a concentration camp like Auschwitz and Manzanar: barbed wire fences, armed soldiers, and long rows of bunkhouses. Yet for the people inside, the living conditions in these two places were widely different.

In Auschwitz, the goal was to exterminate the Jewish race and others the Nazis found unacceptable. Some were immediately sent to the gas chamber and crematorium, while others were worked to death over a series of weeks or months. In Manzanar and other internment camps in the United States, the goal was to contain Japanese residents until the end of the war. Clothes and food were provided, along with education for children.

That is not to say, though, that living conditions in Manzanar were anything close to ideal. Thin shacks provided by the American military offered little protection against the cold desert nights. Restrooms and other sanitary accommodations were poor at the best of times. Also, as Jews in Europe experienced, Japanese Americans were forced to sell their homes, businesses, and other belongings before they were ‘deported’ to Manzanar or other camps.

Though very few people died as a result of internment, the similarities between Nazi concentration camps and American internment camps is an unsettling reminder about the power and destructive nature of racism.

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