• Park Cultural Landscapes

Stories: Social Injustice on the Landscape

Aleutian-World War II National Historic Area
Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Attu, A Lost Village of the Aleutians
Dinah Gewalt, NPS Alaska Regional Office

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.

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.

Troops Landing on Attu
U.S. Troops landing on Attu, Aleutian Islands, 1943 (Courtesy of the US Army Military
History Institute, 171526)

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.

Rachel Mason, Senior Cultural Anthropologist with the NPS Alaska Regional Office, worked with former Attu resident Nick Golodoff, who was six years old when he and his family were taken to Japan, to compile and edit his memoir, Attu Boy. Copies of Attu Boy can be obtained by contacting Greg Dixon, Cultural Resource Technician, NPS Alaska Regional Office, at (907) 644-3465. The National Park Service is pleased to make available the story of a young boy's experiences as a Japanese captive and intern during World War II and of his resettlement after the war.