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The testimony of a 77-year-old Hiroshima survivor: from the “blinding light” to “tremendous darkness” and the nightmare that returns to her mind

For the world Today marks the 77th anniversary of the first launch of a nuclear bomb on a city. But for Toshiko Tanaka It is also 14 years since she decided to break the silence and free herself from the taboo of telling in public that she was a survivor (hibakusha) of the attack that occurred on the morning of August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m., when at the age of 6 he was walking towards the Noboricho municipal school, in Hiroshima.

“Under the agreement of the governments of the United States and Japan, in those early years it was not well seen to talk about the attack, and people also tried to stay away from the attacks. hibakusha -‘bombed person’, in Japanese- for fear of being contaminated. But when I was about to turn 70, I felt I had a responsibility to bear witness to what I had lived through so that none of our children would experience what I went through. A new nuclear war will lead to the end of the world”, Tanaka told LA NACION from his hometown.

As she speaks only Japanese, the interview was possible thanks to the collaboration of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center, where despite her 83 years and needing a cane to walk, Tanaka is an active militant for peace and for the prohibition of atomic weapons.

Although in the United States, with the passing of generations, support for the president’s decision slightly diminished Harry Truman (1884-1972) to drop two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the latest polls show that in 2015 around 60% of Americans still supported that measure, considered the only way to end the war.

Toshiko with President Harry Truman’s grandson (right)

Precisely seven years ago Tanaka had the opportunity to meet with Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of the former president, speaking to several hundred high school students in New York. Truman Daniel said at that meeting that regardless of whether or not he agreed with his grandfather’s decision to drop the bombs, “the threat of nuclear weapons is such that all of us we need to listen to the survivors because if we don’t learn, we will do it again”.

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In 1945 Hiroshima was a commercial, industrial and military city with about 250,000 inhabitants. The houses were mostly made of wood with brick floors and many factories also had wooden frames, making it highly vulnerable to fires.

The Nakajima shopping district in Hiroshima before the attack
The Nakajima shopping district in Hiroshima before the attack

On the morning of Monday, August 6, Tanaka was walking to school when he saw a plane in the sky in the distance. and immediately a ball of fire that blinded her. The initial goal of bomba Little Boy it was the Aioi Bridge, which with its characteristic T-shape was easily identifiable to American planes from the sky. But ground zero for the blast was ultimately the adjacent district of Nakajimain the administrative and commercial center of the city, about 250 meters from the bridge.

The first time a nuclear bomb was dropped was on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in 1945, which forced Japan to surrender.
The first time a nuclear bomb was dropped was on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II in 1945, which forced Japan to surrender.EFE

The bomb exploded at 580 meters from the ground and 2.3 kilometers from the site where Tanaka was located. It is estimated that the fireball of about 250 meters in diameter reached a temperature of more than a million degrees Celsius.

“When I saw that flash It was like a thousand strobe lights and immediately covered my face with my arm. I couldn’t understand what was happening, but I felt like my right arm, head, and left side of my neck were burning. The blinding light was followed by a tremendous darkness, as if it were midnight, and the ‘black rain’ of the mushroom cloud with radioactive dust began. In the middle of that rain I was stunned and all the surrounding buildings destroyed or on fire. But I tried to locate myself so I could go back to my house. When I got there, there was nothing left standing, and my mom didn’t recognize me initially because my hair had been singed by the heat and I was completely blackened with my clothes in tatters”, he recalled.

The Little Boy bomb caused devastation in Hiroshima.
The Little Boy bomb caused devastation in Hiroshima.Getty Images

In the streets everything was destruction and there were people staggering woundedwith very serious burns or hanging pieces of skin. “Have you ever peeled tomatoes in hot water when making salad?”Tanaka asked. “The same thing happens with the human body when the skin is exposed to high temperatures. Every time I see tomatoes, the nightmare comes back to me”.

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Around 80,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima and as many died later as a result of burns or cancer.

“From that night, I had a high fever and was in a coma for a week. With all the doctors and hospitals gone, my mother thought she was going to die. When I regained consciousness, the city was still covered in smoke and the horrible smell coming from schoolyards and parks, because every day a large number of corpses were cremated thereTanaka noted.

With the passing of days, without sources of information to know what had happened -an explosion such as humanity had never seen before-, many survivors also began to see strange reactions in their bodies that no one could explain. “Many people who seemed to have escaped the attack unharmed began to have purple spots on their skin, their hair was falling out or their gums were bleeding. Soon after, they died,” Tanaka recalled.

That was what happened to a friend from Noboricho school, Sadako Sasaki, four years younger than her. That story deserves a separate chapter in the Hiroshima tragedy. “Sadako lived near my house and was apparently uninjured in the blast. But nine years later she developed a lump on her neck and behind her ears. He was first diagnosed with purpura and finally leukemia”. Around that time, nearly a decade after the atomic blast, Japan was seeing an increase in leukemia casesespecially among boys.

Little Sadako Sasaki
Little Sadako Sasaki

After being admitted to the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital, Sadako recalled an old Japanese legend that promises that whoever manages to fold a thousand origami cranes will have everything they ask for. With the desire to be cured of leukemia, the little girl began the titanic task of assembling the thousand cranes during her convalescence. As she ran out of paper, she used medicine wrappers and whatever else she could get her hands on, going around other patients’ rooms asking for paper. She made the fold smaller and smaller so that she handed him the paper to reach the goal of a thousand cranes.

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“With the help of other internees, Sadako managed to get past the goal, but her wish did not come true and she passed away when she was 12 years old,” Tanaka recalled. Several of Sadako’s cranes are preserved in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museumand during his visit to the city in 2016, the North American president Barack Obama he added his own crane to Sadako’s.

Obama's crane, along with three small origami cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki
Obama’s crane, along with three small origami cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki

For Tanaka, the most complex physical and psychological disorders also began years later, in adolescence, around the age of 15. “I had to undergo many interventions for vision disorders because of the flash. I constantly left ulcers in the mouth and throughout the body, and suffered frequent fainting spells,” he recalled. But her willpower allowed her to get married, start a family and also develop as a plastic artist, with works where she captures her commitment to peace.

Toshiko with her daughter Reiko and her granddaughter Eri, together with Steven Leeper, director of the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Foundation
Toshiko with her daughter Reiko and her granddaughter Eri, together with Steven Leeper, director of the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Foundation

Tanaka confessed to LA NACION that His fears of a new nuclear conflict resurfaced this year with the war in Ukraine. “I think Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons is very short-sighted. They haven’t learned anything from history.”he lamented.

For her, her message of hope remains the same as that left by her friend Sadako.

In Hiroshima there is a Children’s Peace Monument, which remembers Sadako and the thousands of boys who died in the nuclear attack. At the foot of the statue of the little girl, which is usually full of origami cranes left by visitors, there is a black slab engraved with the following inscription: “This is our cry, this is our prayer: to build a world of peace”.

The Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima, with the statue of Sadako Sasaki and an origami crane above her head
The Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima, with the statue of Sadako Sasaki and an origami crane above her head

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