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.” *
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.