Hiroshima survivor’s dream of a nuclear weapons-free world

Published: 6 August 2015 1:15 CET

Keiko Ogura was eight years old in 1945 when she witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Her family home was just a few kilometers away from the centre of the explosion. When the bomb exploded 600 metres above the city at 8.15am, she was outside her house and experienced the flash and blast. “That morning, my father had said: "Something doesn't feel right. Don't go to school today.” So I was all alone on the road on the north side of our house,” she said.

“Suddenly, I was engulfed in a dazzling flash of light, and the tremendous blast that followed slammed me to the ground.” All around her, homes were ablaze and all the windows and doors of her home were shattered. Amazingly her family inside the house were not seriously injured.

Soon, though, the house was filled with neighbours and friends looking for somewhere safe. “My half-collapsed home was crowded with injured relatives, friends and neighbors. My older sister was crying as she removed with tweezers shards of glass that were stuck in my uncle's back,” Keiko says. And outside, a tide of burned and injured people began arriving, drawn by the presence of an emergency relief centre near a local shrine.

“I came across a line of people, their clothes in tatters, with burns, seriously injured, fleeing the city. These people had charred hair, faces and lips swollen and blackened with soot, and they were covered in blood.” Most of the people in this silent procession of ghost-like figures were soldiers or students; some of them ended up bent over and others lay down on the stone steps along the road. The whole area was filled with seriously injured people on the brink of death.”

The effects ripple over 70 years

The next day, and for days after, Keiko watched the city from the hill. “I climbed those stone steps every day and continued to gaze over the city of Hiroshima.” She knew, then, that she had witnessed something extraordinary and that it would have an impact on the rest of her life, but talking about the tragedy was hard. “The biggest tragedy of the atomic bomb is that the never-ending fear of its effect on our children and grandchildren. That is why Japanese people have a tendency to hide the fact of being a bomb survivor, as we are afraid that telling a truth may have some negative impact on our grandchildren.”

Keiko later found, however, that discussing her experiences of that day allowed her to look beyond the tragedy and live as something other than ‘an atomic survivor.’ She began talking about these experiences far from home. “I decided to disclose my experience to foreigners who were far from my home. Being discriminated against was the biggest fear. If people didn’t know my family, relatives or community, it was much easier for me to speak out. I believe, telling our stories is a contribution to peace in the world,” she says.

A nuclear weapon-free world is one of Keiko’s ambitions, but she knows that the only way this will come about is for communities, students and those in power to talk – together. “I would like the world to stand up for the disarmament of nuclear weapons. I do not believe we can justify the cruelty of nuclear weapons,” she says. “I tell my story to those who says nuclear weapons are need them to promote security. It is widely recognized that nuclear weapons would bring humanitarian disaster.

This text is based on a collection of crowd-sourced questions from Red Cross Red Crescent Facebook users. Thanks to Soumaya Messeoud, Ndikuriyo Samuel, Patrizia Coppola, 
Adolfo Rendón Quesada, Mike John Giamalva, Kate Davidson and everyone else who contributed questions. The full questions and answers can be read here.