George Takei Helps Museum Acquire 'Priceless' Collection of WWII Internment Camp Artifacts
By Jessica Roy
George Takei saves the day!
The Rago Arts and Auction Center was planning a sale of a collection of paintings, photographs, and artifacts created and owned by people who had been imprisoned in internment camps for people of Japanese descent during World War II.
But thanks to an intervention from Star Trek star and social justice activist George Takei, the collection will be acquired by the Japanese American National Museum, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Roughly 450 works were set to be auctioned off. Items included photographs taken in the camps, watercolor and oil paintings and carved sculptures created by people who were incarcerated, and furniture and other belongings that survived internment.
"Many of the photos picture peoples’ grandparents and parents, and there’s a strong emotional tie there," Takei told the LA Times. "To put that up on the auction block to the highest bidder, where it would just disappear into someone’s collection, was insensitive."
So Takei -- who is a board member of the Japanese American National Museum, which is located in Los Angeles -- personally spoke with David Rago, a founding partner of Rago Arts.
"The most appropriate and obvious place for the collection was the Japanese American National Museum," Takei said. "I talked to David Rago after the uproar, and he was very thoughtful and receptive."
Ultimately, the auction was canceled, and the entire collection was acquired by the museum.
Greg Kimura, the president and chief executive of the Japanese American National Museum, said Takei had been instrumental in securing the collection for them.
"The works are priceless," Kimura told the LA Times. "To us, they’re not just pieces of art; they are deeply important representations of the longing and hope of our families."
"This collection wouldn’t be coming to (our museum) if it weren’t for the intervention and passion of George Takei," he continued. "He stepped in to ask Rago that the auction be canceled, and, I mean, who can say no to George?"
A brief background on Takei's personal history with the internment camps: After Pearl Harbor was bombed, America collectively panicked that anyone in the country of Japanese descent could be a potential spy or operative for Imperial Japan. Nearly everyone with Japanese DNA, including people who were second- and third-generation citizens of the United States, was rounded up and forced to live in the camps. More than 100,000 people were sent to live in internment camps scattered around the country during World War II.
In 1942, Takei -- then 5 years old -- and his family were sentenced to an internment camp made of converted horse stables at Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles.
"We had nothing to do with the war. We simply happened to look like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor," Takei said in an interview with Democracy Now! "But without charges, without trial, without due process … we were summarily rounded up, all Japanese Americans on the West Coast … and sent off to 10 barb wire internment camps."
After Santa Anita, his family was shipped to an internment camp in Arkansas, where they remained until the war ended. Just 20 years later, Takei would make history with his role as Sulu on the original TV series of Star Trek.
Angelina Jolie's Unbroken was also about World War II -- watch her explain how the compelling true story became her passion project: