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WW2

Hiroshima Survivors Remember the Morning Their City Vanished

Sunday marked the 72nd anniversary of the world's first city to be erased with a nuclear bomb.

by David Allegretti
07 August 2017, 9:12am

Kazuhiko Futagawa viser billederne af sin mor og sin afdøde far og søster. Alle fotos af forfatteren. 

This article originally appeared in VICE Australia

On the morning of August 6, 1945 a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber dubbed Enola Gay took off from Tinian Island bound for Hiroshima. Upon receiving the all clear, the plane dropped a bomb containing 64 kilograms of uranium-235, dubbed "Little Boy." At 8:15am, some 600 meters above downtown Hiroshima, Little Boy exploded with a blast equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT and obliterated everything within two kilometres of the hypocentre. At least 70,000 inhabitants of the bustling Japanese city were directly killed. By end of December 1945, around 140,000 people had succumbed to radiation and injuries.

Today, those who survived the blast are known in Japan as hibakusha. Every year, on August 6, a memorial ceremony is held at Hiroshima's Peace Park. A moment of silence is observed at 8:15, in remembrance of the victims, and in honour of the survivors. At the 2017 address, the mayor of Hiroshima stressed the importance of preserving the memories of the hibakusha, whose average age is now over 81.

I attended Sunday's ceremony and had a chat with three survivors afterwards. Here are their stories of August 6, 1945 as communicated via a translator.

Hiroko Watanabe, 83

Hiroko was 13 when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. At the time, she was working as a mobilised student helping to demolish bomb-damaged buildings near Tsurumi-cho, 1.5km from the hypocenter. She blushes when I take her photo, and says something to me in Japanese. Her interpreter laughs and says to me "She is saying her face is beautiful, just not in photos, and she looks better in a kimono."

On the morning of August 6, I left my house at 7:30 to attend the building demolition work. At one point I looked into the sky and saw an airplane flying over. I noticed that the plane did not have our flag on it. Then I saw something falling from the plane. Then all of a sudden there was a flash and I fainted. I have no idea how long I was unconscious. When I did open my eyes it was complete darkness, and lots of people were running all around me. I was still on the ground and realised that I was on top of someone's body. I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman. They weren't alive.

I began to run. I was almost naked, my clothes and body were almost completely burned and what remained was torn. Even my underwear was torn but I just ran and ran to where I thought my house was. Eventually I came to the Tsurumi Bridge where there was a crowd of people close to the river. I watched as one by one the injured people went into the river. I screamed at them "Come back! Come back! You will drown! It's high tide now!" I shouted and shouted but they wouldn't listen to me. One after another, they entered the water and never came back.

I continued past the river and saw my classmate. She was crying out for her mother and she couldn't move at all. On the way back to my house a lot of people called my name. "Hiroko! Hiroko!" so I thought my face was not so damaged, but I couldn't tell who they were because all their hair was burnt and their faces were swollen from the blast. Why was my face not so damaged? I thought that maybe the reason was that I covered my face with my left hand as I looked up in the sky at the moment when the A bomb flashed. No wonder my left hand was burned so severely!

When I arrived at my house it had collapsed. "Mommy! Daddy!" I shouted loudly. My father soon appeared from behind the ruined house. Then I saw my mother who had some broken pieces of glass and dishes stuck in her right hand. Moreover, she had a tiny hole on her chest that was bleeding heavily. My father also had a big hole on his back, but he took care of my mother first.

Later, officers started to deliver supplies so my parents begged them earnestly to give some medicine to their daughters. They answered to my parents that they were only allowed to give medicine to promising patients, meaning only to patients who would live. Oh no, I thought, I'm going to die soon. Someone asked my father if I was a boy, and at the point I realised that my hair was all gone. My father wrapped my head in a towel and put me in bed. I couldn't move at all. Today I am still alive and healthy and thankful to my father for taking such good care of me. I wouldn't be alive without his support.

Kazuhiko Futagawa, 71

Kazuhiko was born eight months after the bombing of Hiroshima. As his pregnant mother searched ground zero for her missing husband and daughter, it's very likely he was exposed to high levels of radiation. He is now a member of Hibakusha In-Utero Network. Kazuhiko stands warm and composed as he agrees to my interview. He shakes my hand firmly as we sit down.

I was born April 1st, 1946. Eight months after the A-Bomb, so I'm one of the youngest hibakusha. My father and eldest sister died, but my mother never told me about the bomb, so my story is based on stories I've heard from my aunts, cousins, and other relatives. My family's house was about 8.8 kilometres from the hypocentre but still, the blast blew away the door and shattered all the glass.

Kazuhiko shows the last memento that remains of his sister; a spare school blouse she was not wearing at the time the bomb dropped.

Before the bombing my father worked at the post office, which was located 300 metres from the hypocentre. He must have just started working when the bomb exploded. He would've been killed by the blast and the heat instantly. He was only 47 years old. My eldest sister was also killed, and she was only 13 years old. Towards the end of the war, many of Japan's cities were subjected to widespread incendiary bombing, so in Hiroshima, many older-age school children were mobilised to demolish buildings—this is what my sister was doing when she died. She was working about 600 meters from the hypocentre. About 8,400 students were working on building demolition throughout the city, nearly 6,300 of them were killed. My sister was one of them.

The centre of the city was completely destroyed by the A-Bomb, the whole city was on fire, so nobody was able to enter. So it was not until the next day my mother rushed to the area of the hypocentre where my father's post office was and my sister worked. She wandered along the riverbanks and through the city every day, day after day, looking for them. But they were never found. She was 32 years old and two months pregnant with me at the time

Keiko Ogura, 80

Image of Keiko supplied by HIP

Keiko, an eight-year-old elementary school student at the time, was on the road near her house in Ushita, 2.4 km from the hypocentre. She is now the Director of Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace. Friendly and well spoken, Keiko does not use an interpreter for the interview.

On the day of the bombing, my father said to me "Keiko today you shouldn't go to school, something might happen." He had a kind of premonition. When the bomb dropped I was on the road near my house and suddenly there was a big flash and everything turned white, as if my eyes were covered with white cloth, and then I became unconscious. When I opened my eyes I thought it was evening because everything was so dark, but actually the sky was just filled with soot and other debris. Then I found that our house was burning and suddenly I was so scared. The first sound was my little brother's cry. I went to look for him and saw the glass sliding doors were destroyed and a thousand pieces of glass from the door were stuck on the walls and the ceiling. I stepped out of the house and felt something falling, I looked up and saw it was black rain.

In front of Hiroshima Station there is a hill, and I lived behind this hill, which saved me. But the people who came to help, they did not know entering the city was so dangerous. Many people entered the city later then became sick and died. The younger they were, the more susceptible they were to radiation. We did not know why people entering the city were becoming sick. We suffered so many years—people with no scars would die.

My sister's husband's house was right in the center of what is now the peace park. He tried so hard to find information about what happened to her. Survivors would first try to find out if their family members were still alive. Secondly, even though they were dead they would still want to find the bodies. I've met so many survivors who saw their family member's moments before cremation and yelled "Stop! That's my daughter!" People would say "Oh you are so lucky to have found your daughter." It's difficult to find any information. People tried so hard to find anybody who had witnessed their family members' deaths. My brother in law continued to do that for 60 years, until finally he gave up.

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Many thanks to Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace (HIP) and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Outreach Division.