A Survivor’s Voice – Part 2

Another tale from 1945 Hiroshima, retold as understood through the interpreter.

Again, tread carefully, this story is even more potent than Part 1 and contains some graphic descriptions.


Part 2 is the account of Taeko Teramae.

When the bomb went off, Taeko was 15 years old and a mobilized middle school student, 550 meters from the hypocenter. Those students worked at a telephone office, directing calls – back in the day when they had to switch the cables on the board in front of them.

They were divided into three groups: a 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 group. Thankfully, she was in the 7:00 group. Why thankfully? Because when the bomb hit at 8:15, the group working died instantly due to the fire which ignited the electrical circuits (that group was wearing headphones with microphones), and the 9:00 group was on its way to the building, out in the open. They all died.

Taeko, on the other hand, was resting somewhere inside the building on the second floor when she saw something shining as it dropped through the sky. Then a flash blinded her and knocked her unconscious. She woke up and tried to get out of the building. There were many bodies in the hallway and even more on the stairs; people were falling on top of each other.

Since she couldn’t use the stairs, she decided to jump out the window. Once she jumped, she saw that a fire was roaring around them and she started walking away, going east. Ten years later, when she went to the museum and saw the molten glass bottles, she realized why she hadn’t been cut by jumping out of a broken window onto a ton of broken glass: the heat rays had melted them together smoothly.

Taeko kept losing consciousness, she didn’t know she was badly injured, but her school teacher helped her up and encouraged her. The teacher then helped her cross the river since the bridge had fallen.Many people were crowding the river, and many drowned. If it hadn’t been for her teacher, she probably would’ve drowned too.

On the other side of the river were soldiers, and when they saw the extent of her injuries, they helped her to a hospital where she stayed for a week. Her father came for her, though she never expected him to find her since he was a soldier himself. Soldiers from Hiroshima had been given permission to go home after they’d been told what had happened. So he brought her home and she learned that her younger sister had died. They’d brought the body back the day before Taeko came back.

When she came home, her two younger brothers (one a first grader, the other a sixth grader) told her “you look like a monster!” The wounds on her face had barely closed, but she got a high fever of around 40℃ (or 104 Fahrenheit) just from hearing those words and her scars opened. She said the scars looked like two mountain ridges crossing her face, and her left eye was popped out of its socket, leaving a gaping fist-sized hole.

Because of the shock and ensuing fever, her parents pulled out maggots breeding in her wounds until late October. In that time, she wanted to see what she looked like, but her family said she didn’t need to know and hid all the mirrors in the house. She did find one though, and when she saw herself she wondered why her teacher had helped her. She thought she should be better off dead with her friends. Later, she learned her teacher had died on August 30.

Taeko endured though, and went back to school in April with a patch over her eye. When she got off the train at the station, middle school kids threw stones at them (the hibakusha, survivors of the bombs) and called them monsters. Those kids were themselves victims and orphans of the war. Outside of school was hell, but she said inside the classroom was like heaven because everyone was so nice.

She kept on living, fearing that she would get cataract from the bomb and then become completely blind, or get cancer and just die. She did get cancer, and more than one. Uterus, breast, and thyroid. She was hospitalized for seven months and made it through now that she had a family to go back to.

When she got home though, she saw weeds in the garden – as the rest of the house were men, they didn’t take care of the garden. The doctors told her not to do anything physically strenuous, but she thought this would be okay. It wasn’t. She got another high fever and went back to the hospital.

This woman had such strength and endurance, I almost cried (again) during her really moving speech. I had to ask for a hug, which I got. She felt so frail! She will always be a source of inspiration for me.

“… [A]s long as I am alive, I want to convey to the future generation the terrifying consequences of an atomic bomb.*

Atomic bomb survivor, amazing woman.
Atomic bomb survivor, amazing woman.

If you’d like a more detailed account, check out this article* from the Asahi Shimbun.

The hibakusha and their children were (and still are) heavily discriminated against, mainly due to the public’s ignorance and fear of radiation sickness. People thought that hibakusha couldn’t have children, were contagious or that radiation was hereditary.

I hope these accounts brought you a new perspective or insight. While the bombings defined a catastrophic moment of our past, we can affect how to define our future.

Colombe

Ali J.

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A Survivor’s Voice – Part 1

Recently I recalled moments of my time in Japan as a student and looked everywhere for pieces of my journal I couldn’t find. But I found them at last, so I’m able to share a part of my experience with you.

However, today’s content is quite potent, so tread carefully.


When I studied abroad in Japan in 2009, our first field trip stop was Hiroshima. We’d had readings and discussions on the atomic bombs themselves and whether dropping  them ended the war, but I hadn’t given much thought as to what the city would look like, so I was pretty surprised to find it so beautiful and peaceful.

Besides the obligatory visit to the Peace Memorial Museum – which if you ever get a chance to, I highly encourage you to go, but brace yourself – we had the wonderful opportunity to hear two accounts from survivors themselves, via an interpreter.

Part 1 is the account of Hiroto Kuboura, at the time a 74 year-old man.

Sitting in the conference room is a nearly bald old man wearing glasses and a white patch over his left eye. On his right sits his interpreter; on his left, a map. He proceeds to tell us, group of about 35 foreign and Japanese students, where he was when the bomb hit.

Hiroto was an electrical engineer and was working at the train station 2.1 km away (that’s about 1.3 miles) from the epicenter. It doesn’t sound close, but on the map with the blast radius, he was definitely in the red zone.

He was sitting on the second floor of a building when the explosion occurred. He was blasted out of the room and under a desk, with tons of debris falling on him. He had 30 to 38 injured spots on his left side, and lost his eye – although he didn’t notice until his friend and colleague told him later while helping him. He managed to make it down the stairs, but as he saw the flames getting closer, he thought he was going to die. He fainted there, at the bottom of the stairs, but his colleague helped him and they both made it out of the building, bloody.

People were trapped inside under the debris and were crying for help. Hiroto and his colleague couldn’t help them, they had no strength left and could do nothing but sit there. Thankfully, the flames didn’t burn the building, and the people were saved later.

They slowly made their way to a hospital by the nearest train station, north-west of their position. They didn’t know it was an atomic bomb and that nothing was left of the city. They argued with some people who told them nothing was there. They headed north-east instead, but the fire had spread through that area and by the time they reached the hospital, no one was there.

They kept heading north, over the mountains, until they found a clinic of some kind and Hiroto was put on a stretcher. The doctor said he couldn’t do anything about his numerous wounds because if he took the clothes off he would bleed again, so they did nothing. Unfortunately the train couldn’t move until 12:30a.m. because the locomotive was going the wrong way. He was eventually evacuated north and sent to a very good, famous eye doctor who told him he had to do something about his eye if he wanted to keep his right one.

Hiroto underwent surgery 13 times, and was better around four years later. He was 19 when this happened. That was about my age when I heard him speak, and still to this day I cannot fathom what he went through or with what strength he carried on.

He is one of the leading speakers of the hibakusha (被爆者), surviving victims of the atomic bombs. He strongly advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons so that this tragedy and thousands of deaths may not be repeated. He saw many horrible things; things I don’t even want to describe because just thinking about them makes me want to cry. Throughout his speech, I was on the verge of tears.

Someone asked him what he thought our job was, as the next generation to his story to the generations to come. He said he wanted us to think about peace. “How do you create peace?” Is it with power? Or is it by talking heart to heart to each other?

Hiroto went to see a Buddhist priest because he was suffering and thought about taking his own life. He saw no point in living; he couldn’t get a promotion at his job since he was no longer qualified to work his dream job. The priest told him that his suffering was his own, and that suffering makes us better people. Everyone has experienced suffering, and it changes people, but it’s your job to change yourself for the better and grow from that suffering.

He mentioned he started talking about his experience in 1982 because if no one talked, no one would know the facts. He thought it was his responsibility to let other people know of the atrocities of nuclear weapons so that they can never be used again.

Atomic bomb survivor, inspiring tale.
Atomic bomb survivor, inspiring tale.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Because I’m retelling a story already retold through an interpreter, I’d love any comments on how to improve.

Persevere,
Ali J.