Camp-Related Items Taken Off eBay After Community Protest

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Catalog for the eBay auction of Japanese American camp artifacts.

A community campaign has resulted in a Japanese American family’s World War II-related items being taken off eBay.

After seeing such items as a 442nd Regimental Combat Team medic’s bag, a collection of 1942 landscape drawings from Manzanar, and a carving from Tule Lake on eBay, historian and genealogist Bif Brigman started a petition on Change.org with the following description:

“Works created out of human suffering are not collectibles. Objects made and saved from World War II Japanese American incarceration should not be priced, tagged and sold to the highest bidder.

“But eBay sells and profits from the sale of Japanese American trauma.

“This week, a 442 Army medic bag used by a Japanese American soldier was sold. On April 6, at 6:46 p.m., 20 drawings made in 1942 at the Manzanar concentration camp will be auctioned off.

“Please help us send an urgent message to eBay: Stop the pending auction of the Manzanar drawings. Stop selling objects born of a racist World War II policy that locked up 120,000 American Japanese — the same ugly racism expressed in today’s anti-Asian violence.

“These sales are painful, offensive and disturbing. Let’s stop seeing a dollar sign in racial, ethnic and religious pain.

“Please tell eBay: Stop selling Japanese American history. Help our nation be better.”

Japanese American Heritage: NOT for Sale then got involved. The Facebook community was formed in April 2015 when the collection of Allen H. Eaton, a craft expert who visited the WWII camps and collected handmade items, was going to be auctioned by Rago Arts and Auction. They were saved from the auction block by grassroots protests and were acquired by the Japanese American National Museum.

On April 5, a call to action went out to stop the auction of the drawings and change eBay policy to ban the sale of Japanese American WWII concentration camp art and artifacts. A letter to eBay was signed by more than 50 organizations, including JANM and the Japanese American Citizens League.

On April 6, Japanese American Heritage: NOT for Sale declared victory: “The Manzanar drawings were removed by eBay today only three and a half hours before the auction was set to end. Company officials said in a meeting today with representatives of the JA community that the listing violated eBay’s artifacts policy, which regulates the sale of objects made or found on federal land.

“Thank you eBay for your swift and thoughtful resolution on this issue. Discussions will continue with the firm about how to identify key words that flag Japanese American concentration camp artifacts so that they can be removed if they violate the Artifacts policy.

“The listing came down one day after a community letter was signed by 59 Japanese American organizations and 29 individuals. There would have been many more people who would have liked to sign, but the clock was ticking down and time was of the essence.

“We continue to hope for an opportunity to work with the seller on a mutually agreeable plan to return these objects back to the family from where they originated.

“Our thanks to everyone who signed and shared our petition and volunteered for this effort. Objects of oppression shouldn’t be monetized.

“If you find objects made in the incarceration camps, think of the families of survivors who lost so much and please contact a Japanese American organization or camp pilgrimage effort for assistance in finding a suitable home.”

The drawings were done by Masaru Matsumura, who passed away in 2019 at age 94. Both he and his father, Giichi, were artists who were held at Manzanar. Lori Matsumura of Stevenson Ranch, Masaru’s daughter, was surprised to see his artwork being sold online. The identity of the seller has not been made public.

“We’re grateful that eBay swiftly took down the listing that was to end yesterday. That was a big step,” said Nancy Ukai, a writer and researcher who spearheaded the 2015 campaign. “But the drawings remain in the hands of the seller. Let’s hope something can be resolved so that Lori Matsumura gets her father’s drawings back.”

“Now the question is, how did the seller acquire the drawings, and will the family be able to get them back?” the Facebook group said.

It was Lori Matsumura who provided a DNA sample to identify skeletal remains found in the mountains outside Manzanar. Giichi Matsumura was part of a group that slipped out of the camp in 1945 to go fishing. He apparently stopped to do a painting, got separated from the group during a freak snowstorm, and never returned to camp. He was recently laid to rest in Santa Monica, where the family settled after the war.

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