Survivors from Hiroshima

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by Holly Taylor

I was a junior in High School when I first read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey. Never would I have chosen to read about war on my own initiative — but it was required reading; and by the end of the first chapter, I was riveted. The book tells the story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima from the point of view of six survivors. Vivid and gruesome, the images they described stuck with me, even when I wished they wouldn’t. Nothing in the history books so far had portrayed America’s actions during World War II to be anything less than heroic, and I found this new point-of-view distressing.

This year, 64 years after the publication of Hersey’s book,  I met three of Hiroshima’s survivors when we invited them to participate in our Explorer film, 24 Hours After Hiroshima. At first, I feared they might resent our film crew — that we’d represent to them the nation that had done them harm. But I needn’t have worried.

Koko Tanimoto happens to be the daughter of one of Hersey’s six characters, Reverend Tanimoto. She was only eight months old  at the time of the blast, but she recalled for us a childhood spent as a study participant at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, where she was examined annually for signs of radiation exposure. When she was a young teenager, the humiliating nature of being prodded by strange doctors from foreign countries took its toll, and she vowed to never admit she had been in Hiroshima because she felt ashamed. Today, she has made her peace with her past and spends much of her time speaking to school children, hoping her stories of forgiveness will help them to forgive too.

Video Preview: “Devastating Radiation Effects” — Two years after the US dropped the atomic bomb, a commission is created to study the effets of the intense radiation on humans.

Takashi Tanemori is a 73-year-old man who as a young boy lost most of his family in the days and weeks following August 6, 1945 — and in recent years has lost most of his vision and struggled with cancer. Still, he speaks only of forgiveness and peace, hoping his message and his artwork, inspired from his memories of that fateful day, will deter others from considering war or the use of nuclear weapons.

Shigeko Sasamori was barely a teenager when she survived severe face and body burns inflicted by the atomic bomb. As a young woman, she was selected to be one of 25 “Hiroshima Maidens” who famously made their way to America in the 1950s for reconstructive surgery.  She is beautiful not just because of her warmth and ease, but because she wears her scars with grace and forgiveness.

Each of them received us with open arms and gracious hearts. Each of them made it clear that in war there are no heroes or villains, no victors or victims, only survivors.

Nat Geo Explorer 24 Hours After Hiroshima premieres August 17th at 10P et/pt.