Hiroshima Survivors Worry the World Will Forget

05 August 2020

The atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima 75 years ago.

Since then, the survivors have lived with shame, anger and fear. Many in Japan believe radiation sickness is infectious or hereditary.

Some hid the fact that they were survivors. Some watched as family members died, one by one, because of radiation from the bombing, and wondered: Am I next?

Their average age now is around 83, and they are worried their stories will be forgotten. Now, they want to share with young people the horror they experienced on August 6, 1945.

The Associated Press spoke to some of the survivors. Here are their stories.

Koko Kondo, 75

As a young girl, Koko Kondo had one thought: Revenge.

She wanted to find the person who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the person who caused the suffering, and hit him.

She got her chance in 1955.

Ten-year-old Kondo appeared on an American TV show called "This is Your Life" with her father, Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. He became well-known as one of six survivors whose story was told in John Hersey's book "Hiroshima."

Kondo looked with hate at another guest: Captain Robert Lewis who was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb. Kondo survived the bombing as a baby. She thought about walking to Lewis and hitting him.

Then the TV host asked Lewis how he felt about having dropped the bomb.

"Looking down from thousands of feet over Hiroshima, all I could think of was, ‘God, what have we done?'" he said.

Kondo saw tears in Lewis' eyes, and her hatred was gone.

"He was not a monster; he was just another human being...I knew that I should hate the war, not him," Kondo told The Associated Press. She said she was pleased she met Lewis because it helped the hate go away.

Konda suffered years of humiliation and discrimination as she grew up. One day as a very young woman, she was told to remove her clothes at a medical conference in front of many other people. A man refused to marry her because she had survived the atomic bomb.

On the day before Thursday's memorial at Hiroshima Peace Park, Kondo held a moment of silence and prayed for the victims, and for Lewis.

Like her father, Kondo is now working to tell her stories to young people.

"It's time we human beings get together and abolish nuclear weapons," she said. "We have hope."

Lee Jong-keun, an atomic bomb survivor, speaks after a memorial service for Korean atomic bomb victims in front of Monument to Korean Victims and Survivors at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo)
Lee Jong-keun, an atomic bomb survivor, speaks after a memorial service for Korean atomic bomb victims in front of Monument to Korean Victims and Survivors at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo)

Lee Jong-Keun, 92

Lee Jong-Keun kept his secret as an atomic bombing survivor for nearly 70 years. He did not tell his wife, and he always feared people would see the burns on his face.

Today Lee, a Korean born in Japan, is teaching young people to tell survivors' stories. He also wants them to learn about the difficulty that Koreans have faced in Japan.

"Survivors won't be here 20 years from now, but our stories must be," said Lee. He will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after Thursday's memorial to demand Japan do more to ban nuclear weapons.

About 20,000 ethnic Koreans who lived in Hiroshima are believed to have died in the nuclear attack. The city had many Korean workers, including slave-laborers at factories tied to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.

At a memorial Wednesday for Korean victims, Lee prayed for those who died.

On the morning of August 6, 1945, 16-year-old Lee watched the sky turned yellowish orange. He suffered burns that took four months to heal.

When he returned to work, co-workers stayed away, saying he had "A-bomb disease." He decided not to tell anyone about the atomic bombing because it would only increase his suffering when he was trying hard to hide his Korean identity.

Lee lived under a Japanese name, Masaichi Egawa, until eight years ago when he began speaking out.

"To tell my story, I had to explain why Koreans are in Japan," he said. "Now I have nothing to hide."

Michiko Kodama, 82

"For me the war isn't over," Michiko Kodama said in an interview. "Even 75 years later, we continue to suffer because of radiation...And nuclear weapons still exist."

On the day of the bombing, 75 years ago, seven-year-old Kodama saw a bright light in the sky from her classroom.

She lost her cousins within weeks of the bombing, then her parents, brothers and even her daughter. All died of cancer or from the radiation exposure. Kodama has lived in fear that she would be next.

There were also years of discrimination and humiliation.

One day, when she went to a clinic and showed her medical papers, a worker said publicly that she was a survivor and another patient moved away from her.

"I still...hurt from the discrimination; that is what sits the heaviest in my heart" she said.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

shame– n. a feeling of guilt, regret or sadness because you know or have done something wrong

hereditary– adj.something passed down from parent to child from before birth

revenge– n.the act of hurting someone because they hurt you

host– n.someone who talks to guests and leads a TV show

monster– n.a cruel, evil person

humiliation– n.to be made to feel ashamed and foolish

abolish– v. to officially end or stop something