The Lost Villages Project

The Lost Villages of Alaska

Aleutians World War II National Historic Area

Four Aleutian villages disappeared during World War II. Three of them, Kashega, Biorka, and Makushin, were all located around Unalaska Island, with the village of Unalaska as their hub. During the war, the U.S. government took the Unangan (Aleut) residents of the villages to internment camps in Southeast Alaska, and after the war they were told they had to live in Akutan or Unalaska instead of their home villages. The Attu people, from the most remote island of the Aleutian Chain, had a different and even more tragic story. They were held captive in Japan, where almost half of them died; after the war, the surviving Attuans were resettled in Atka.

The Lost Villages project, sponsored by the Affiliated Areas program of the National Park Service, aims to document the history of four Unangan villages that were left behind in World War II, and never permanently resettled. Only a few former residents are still around; others are gone now, but their memories live on through their stories and their descendants. The project has evolved in unexpected ways since it began in 2004. Each presentation or lecture about the project has resulted in at least one person in the audience coming forward to identify a photo, correct a mistake, or tell about a relative’s experiences. Recording the history of four tiny, remote villages, each with fewer than 50 people, has generated a large network of people whose lives were connected to those places.

In 2004, Ray Hudson conducted interviews with five Unalaska elders who had once lived in the villages of Kashega, Biorka and Makushin. Each of them remembered the villages from their childhood and had also been through the experience of wartime relocation. Sadly, two of those elders are gone now. I talked to the three surviving former residents in Unalaska, and found others living in Anchorage and Juneau. They all still missed the villages they had left behind long ago. Their children and grandchildren also wanted to see the places they had heard about from their elders. In 2009 and 2010 we were able to organize return trips to the now-empty villages of Makushin, with elderly former residents and their descendants. Participants in these trips have expressed how much it means to revisit the places they left behind many years ago, and for the children and grandchildren of village residents to see and stand on the places they have heard about from the elders.

The Attuans’ experience during World War II is particularly tragic. The Japanese took 42 Attuans to Hokkaido Island, and only 25 returned. The others died of disease, poisoning, or starvation. Nick Golodoff, six years old when the Japanese invaded Attu, is one of three remaining survivors of Attu, and the only one who remembers the experience of captivity in Japan.. For years, with the help of his granddaughter Brenda Maly, Nick has been writing a book about his memories of Japan, entitled Attu Boy. We worked out an agreement with him to edit, compile, and publish his memoir. The volume is now nearing completion.

Because they were prisoners of the Japanese, the Attuans were not eligible for postwar restitution monies from the U.S. government. Only a handful of surviving residents remain, but descendants of Attu are still living in Alaska and outside who would like to revisit the village. Because of Attu’s remote location, this village trip is more costly and difficult to organize than the others already completed. We would like to time the Attu revisit for the summer of 2012, seventy years after the Attu residents were taken to Japan. Planning is still underway for this final boat trip of the project.

Each of the trips so far have been documented on video and in photographs. Products of the Lost Villages project will include two books, and possibly one or more DVDs, as well as a museum exhibit.

Last Updated: September 24, 2013