It is evening in Broadway hall, the biggest concert hall on board the ship. We feel like a small group in the big hall, assembling in front of the big stage. It is prime time, eight o’clock in the evening. Normally it would be the time for the big show and big entertainment in any cruise ship. This is not any cruise ship. It is the Peace Boat. In front of the biggest stage on board the ship the YMCA group is assembled to listen to Mrs Fumiko Hashizume telling us her story. This is not any story, it is the story of the life of a survivor from the atomic bomb which exploded over Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. She was 1400 metres away from the actual explosion of the atomic bomb. Mrs Hashizume is a beautiful lady of 84 years of age, well dressed that evening for the Captain’s dinner. She sits down in front of us, a faint smile is greeting us and then she starts in a low voice to share with us her experiences as a 14 years old girl in Hiroshima, one of the many, many innocent victims of the first atomic bomb used for mass destruction of human beings. At the end of the evening we are all crying, tears are streaming down our faces, interviewers, translators, all of us from the YMCA asking questions and listening to the small, beautiful lady of Hiroshima. A witness for humankind – a voice that needs to be listened to while it can still be heard.
I am writing this blogpost from the city of Hakata in Japan. Hakata was the Japanese centre of navy command structure during World War 2, and therefore chosen as a target for the first atomic bomb attack. It was clouded weather in Hakata that day, and the attack was moved to Hiroshima in stead.
And this is the story that was told to us this evening on board the Peace Boat:
“I was 14 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. If those had been ordinary times. I would have been a student studying at school that morning, but because it was wartime and so many young men had been sent overseas to do battle, the military assigned young people to help with tasks, such as tearing down family homes.
These were perfectly good homes, but they were made of wood and threatened important facilities nearby, like hospitals and schools, if they caught fire in an air raid. So they were torn down in advance, and junior high school students were mobilized to help carry away the debris. When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, almost all the young people doing such work were outside and died from direct exposure to the blast.
The Sun Falls
I, however, had been assigned to work in the Hiroshima Post Office Savings Bank, a large 4-story building. I was working on the third floor at the time and was standing near a big window when I briefly saw a light so vivid that I thought the sun had literally fallen down in front of my eyes! In a split of a second I saw beautiful rainbows everywhere, and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the light.. In the next instant, I lost consciousness. When I came to, I found myself in darkness about 20 metres away from where I had been standing. I thought I had gone blind.
I thought we were in the middle of an air raid, so I started to practice the training we had undergone in case we were ever under direct attack – pressing my index and middle fingers against my eyes to keep them from popping out, and placing my thumbs over my eardrums to keep them from rupturing. I tried to follow the third part of the training – laying on my stomach to prevent my intestines from being blown out – but I could not stretch out because a fallen beam was in my way.
As I couched down with my hands over my eyes, I felt something warm and sticky on my arms. I looked at my hands and could vaguely see how dirty they were, but assumed it was inly oily residue from the bomb. My head hurt, and I thought it might be injured, so after my vision cleared, I stood up to grab a cloth that I always kept in my desk. Yet, I was surprised to find all the desks, chairs and bookshelves damaged and scattered throughout the room.
Even more surprisingly, I discovered that my body was covered with glass, and blood was streaming from my arm, which was the “dirt” on my hands I had seen earlier. Then I heard somebody in the room yell, “Get out, everyone, quick!” One by one my co-workers and I began to get up and head toward the exit. I held my bleeding head with my right arm and started to follow them out, pausing before part of a high-voltage power wire that had been blasted into the room through the window and lay in a coil on the floor like a snake. One of my co-workers was wrapped in part of that wire, and I shuddered when I glimpsed his ashen-white face and realized he was dead. I did not know that he was just the first of many, many dead people I would see that day and in the days to follow.
The Cleaning Lady
I started to head down the staircase in the back of the building when I came across one of the cleaning ladies of the facility. She was naked because the blast blew off her clothes, and her pink intestines were spilling out of her stomach – the blast had been so quick that she had had no time to throw herself on the ground and protect her abdominal area. She was still alive, however, and was writhing from the pain, a movement that had made her entrails stream out even more. In horror, I stopped to pray for her, and in just those few moments all her intestines spilled from her stomach. Helpless to help her, I continued walking down the steps.
Saved by a Co-Worker
I exited the building onto the big main street and found people standing around in a daze wondering what had happened to them. They looked like ghosts rather than human beings. A few screamed when they saw the amount of blood that was streaming from my arm – enough to create a puddle around me! A young woman in her early 20s named Ms Tomoyanagi who had worked in my same section saw me, grasped out of concern for me, and helped me to walk to Nisseki Hospital, which was about 10-20 metres away.
On the way, I was puzzled by small pillars of fire that seemingly leapt from nothing in the ground. Perhaps the fires came from fallen electric wires? I thought. Somebody brought a bucket to put out the fires, and my first instinct was to stop and help put out the fire too, but Ms Tomoyanagi looked at me like I was mad and continued to lead me to the hospital.
This Must Be a Dream
On the way to the hospital, I saw people with reddish-black swollen face and bodies. Their clothes had burned, their flesh had burned, and their skin hung from their bodies in strips. So marred were their human traits that I could not even tell whether they were male or female, young or old. Because they had had no time to protect their eyes or stomachs before the blast, some were holding their eyeballs or intestines in their hands, trying in vain to stuff them back inside their bodies. Strangely, they were not crying or screaming, just quietly moving, quietly shuffling. This can’t be reality, I thought – it must be a dream. At that point, I lost consciousness.”