eBay auction of Japanese internment art pulled after protest

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FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2020, file photo Lori Matsumura visits the cemetery at the Manzanar National Historic Site near Independence, Calif. The auction of a series of sketches purportedly drawn by an artist at the Japanese internment camp has been canceled Tuesday, April 6, 2021, after groups protested it was offensive and immoral to profit off the misery of incarcerated people. Matsumura, the granddaughter of Giichi who recently reburied her grandfather's remains after a hiker unearthed his skeleton in 2019, thought the sketches could be by her late father, Masaru, or another family member. (AP Photo/Brian Melley, File)

LOS ANGELES – The auction of a series of sketches purportedly drawn by an artist at the Japanese internment camp at Manzanar was canceled Tuesday after groups protested it was offensive and immoral to profit off the misery of incarcerated people.

The auction was halted by eBay hours before it was to conclude after company executives met with Japanese American groups who called the sale “hurtful, and a degrading reminder of the mass roundup and incarceration.”

“It’s seems unethical and immoral to put this artwork up on eBay to the highest bidder," said Shirley Higuchi, author of “Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration.” “When you sell artwork created during an oppressive time for money ... that's against what our society feels is moral.”

In a letter to eBay, the Japanese American National Museum and Japanese American Citizens League and other groups cited the current wave of attacks on Asian Americans in the U.S. that has escalated recently.

“Sales of our history are never a good thing but are especially hurtful now, when we hear cries to ‘go back to your country,’ exactly what we were told during World War II,” they wrote.

Japanese American groups also got a New Jersey auction house to halt the sale of a much larger collection of internment art in 2015. In that case, hundreds of pieces were turned over to museums that commemorate the forced internment of more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent for more than three years on the dubious claim they might betray America in the war.

The artwork for sale on eBay were 20 pencil sketches from 1942-1943 with the name Matsumura written at the bottom, along with the word Manzanar. The drawings depict mostly what appear to be Japanese landscapes, including one of Mount Fuji.

The groups suggested the artist could be Giichi Matsumura, the subject of a series of stories first reported by The Associated Press about a Manzanar prisoner who died in a storm while sketching and painting in the high Sierra in the final days of the war. Several Matsumura families were held at the camp 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.