Cover image: PA

Hiroshima Survivors Vow To Continue Telling Their Stories 75 Years On

Cover image: PA

Survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima say they will keep on telling their stories, 75 years after the first use of the weapon in warfare.

Their numbers may be dwindling, but they say they still face discrimination.

Lee Jong-keun hid his past for nearly 70 years, until he turned 85. He was afraid of the widespread discrimination against blast victims in Japan.

The 92-year-old is now part of a survivors’ group, known as hibakusha, that feels a growing urgency to tell their stories.

"We must work harder to get our voices heard, not just mine but those of many other survivors," said Mr Lee in an interview at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

"A nuclear weapons ban is the starting point for peace."

"All lives are equal," he added.

"As someone who has faced harsh discrimination, that’s the other lesson I want to pass on to younger people."

The first US atomic bombing on 6 August 1945 killed 140,000 people in the city of Hiroshima.

A second atomic attack on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, killed another 70,000.

Japan’s surrender on 15 August ended the Second World War - a date which is commemorated as VJ Day.

The average age of the survivors is more than 83 and many suffer from the long-lasting effects of radiation, coupled with deep frustration over stalled progress in global efforts to ban nuclear weapons. 

According to a recent Asahi newspaper survey of 768 Hiroshima  survivors, nearly two-thirds said their wish for a nuclear-free world is not widely shared by the rest of humanity.

More than 70% also called on a reluctant Japanese government to ratify a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

The now-elderly witnesses to the Hiroshima bombing say they want to reach a younger generation that they believe is losing perspective of the horrors of Hiroshima.

The city was wartime military hub and had a large number of Korean woerks, including those forced to work without pay at mines and factories under Japan’s colonisation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Devastation following the attack on Hiroshima in August 1945 (Picture: PA).
Devastation following the attack on Hiroshima in August 1945 (Picture: PA).

On the morning of 6 August 1945, 16-year-old Mr Lee, a second-generation Korean born in Japan, was on his way to work at Japan’s national railway authority in Hiroshima when the uranium bomb nicknamed 'Little Boy' exploded.

It took four months for his severe neck burns to heal.

As there was little knowledge of the effects of the bomb, some thought radiation was like having an infectious disease.

There were also concerns about genetic damage that could be passed to children.

Mr Lee’s co-workers said he had "A-bomb disease" and refused to go near him.

Koko Kondo, 75, who was an eight-month-old baby in her mother’s arms when the nearby blast destroyed their house.

She said: "I want each child to live a full life, and that means we have to abolish nuclear weapons right now."

Adding too many nuclear weapons remain, Ms Kondo said: "We are not screaming loud enough for the whole world to hear."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, peace events leading up to the anniversary have largely been cancelled or scaled back. 

The Japanese health ministry reports more than 300,000 hibakusha people have died since the attacks, including 9,254 in the past fiscal year.

Michiko Kodama, 82, who survived the bombing but lost most of her relatives to cancer, said: "For me, the war is not over yet."

Years after the atomic bombing, a receptionist at a clinic noted Ms Kodama’s "hibakusha" medical certificate in a loud voice, and a patient sitting next to her moved away.

She said: "We don’t have much time left.

"I want to tell our story to the younger generations when I still can.

"If someone wants to hear my story, I will go anywhere and talk."

Cover image: Devastation following the attack on Hiroshima (Picture: PA).

Related topics

Join Our Newsletter


RAF C-17 becomes biggest aircraft to land on tiny remote island

Ukraine war: What we know about the destroyed Nova Kakhovka dam

Inside the world of an RAF fighter pilot policing Nato's Baltic skies