Cooling a debate about using "concentration camps" in the title of an exhibition about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II, curators of the show and their critics agreed Monday to display a prominent footnote to explain the term's origins and its shades of meaning.
At issue was the name of an exhibition organized by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, scheduled to open next month at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. The exhibition, "America's Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese-American Experience," is about the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese-American civilians, mostly U.S. civilians.After a two-hour meeting Monday at the American Jewish Committee here, both sides agreed to display a footnote in the museum lobby and include it in the program booklet. The explanation will offer a definition of "concentration camps," distinguish the Nazi death camps from the barracks in which Japanese-Americans were held and cite other examples of concentration camps in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and Bosnia.
"A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are," the passage will read. "Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarous medical experiments and summary executions; some were extermination centers with gas chambers."
The resolution comes after some Jewish-American groups, as well as museum officials, had expressed concerns that using the term to describe the Japanese-American experience would diminish the suffering of Jews in the Nazi camps. Curators of the exhibition had said they had not intended to equate the two and defended the term as an accurate description of their history.
All the while, each side took pains to note, at least publicly, its sympathies for the other's historic plight. Monday, both sides said that they were pleased. "It was a meeting of friends," said Arthur Berger, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, adding that his group supported Japanese-Americans' efforts to educate the public about their history.
"It was done in a real spirit of graciousness and generosity," said Karen Ishizuka, senior curator with the Japanese American National Museum.