Series: Alaska Park Science - Volume 10 Issue 2: Connections to Natural and Cultural Resource Studies in Alaska’s National Parks

Attu, A Lost Village of the Aleutians

By Dinah Gewalt, NPS Alaska Regional Office
Uniformed soldiers carry gear off a boat onto a rocky beach.
U.S. troops land on Attu in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, 1943.

Courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute, 171526

Four tiny, remote Aleutian villages were left behind forever during World War II: Makushin, Kashega, Biorka, and Attu. After the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, the U.S. government evacuated the Unangan (Aleut) residents of the Aleutian Islands and brought them to camps in Southeast Alaska for their own protection.

The residents of Attu, the most remote Aleutian village, had a different and especially tragic wartime experience. They were taken by the Japanese in 1942 and held as prisoners in Otaru, on Hokkaido, for the duration of the war. Almost half of them died, many from malnutrition and starvation. When the survivors returned from Japan, they were not allowed to go back to Attu, but were taken to the village of Atka in the Aleutian Islands.

A crowd stands at the railing of a boat, looking into the distance.
Men carry howitzer ammunition ashore to supply the guns. From the fog, other barges approach the shore for landing, showing the weather conditions in Holts Bay at the time when the landing was made.

Courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute, 174523

Lost Villages of the Aleutians, a project of the Aleutian-World War II National Historic Area, began as a small-scale history of the former villages documented through oral history interviews and secondary sources. It became more participatory and collaborative when it grew to include boat trips to revisit each village with former residents and their descendants.

In 2009 and 2010 the project chartered the US Fish & Wildlife Service research vessel to bring elders and their descendants to the sites of Makushin, Kashega, and Biorka. The site visits gave participants a chance to see the places they remembered or had heard about and to honor the memories of those who once lived there.

In October 2012, surviving Attu residents and descendants of the village, many of whom now live outside Alaska, convened in Anchorage for an Attu Reunion. Participants shared memories and photographs, some speaking of losses and family trauma spanning several generations. At events hosted by the National Park Service, Aleutian-Pribilof Island Association and the Aleut Corporation, the Attu descendants were welcomed into the Unangan community and learned about Unangan art, language, culture and history.

A crowd stands at the railing of a ship, looking off into the distance.
St. Paul residents gaze at their homes in 1942 as the US Delarof pulls away from the dock, taking them to internment camps in southeast Alaska.

National Archives

Rachel Mason, Senior Cultural Anthropologist with the NPS Alaska Regional Office, worked with former Attu resident Nick Golodoff to compile and edit his memoir, Attu Boy. Golodof was just six years old when he and his family were taken to Japan during World War II.  

Mason later collaborated with Ray Hudson to produce Lost Villages of the Eastern Aleutians, a story of how the Unangan communities of Biorka, Kashega, and Makushin endured for centuries, survived the challenges of Russian and American ownership, and how war hastened their disappearance.

The National Park Service is pleased to have these resources available online for print or download.

Related Resources

Visiting the Landscape

A map of the North Pacific area between East Asia and Alaska includes the Aleutian Islands.
The island of Attu is on the western edge of the Aleutian island chain.

NPS

For announcements and the most current information, please visit the Aleutian World War II National Historic Site website.  

Contact: (907) 644-3505

Fees: $6-10 per day, free for veterans

Access: Visitors must obtain a land use permit to visit privately-owned areas of Aluetian World War II National Historic Area. The park is open year round, but the optimal time to visit is May through October. 

Visitor center operating hours vary by season; it is always open when the ferry is in port.