Hiroshima survivors visiting in Israel last week.
Hiroshima survivors on a visit to Israel. Photo by Emil Salman
Text size

On the morning of August 6th, 1945, Nobuo Miaki, a thin 16-year-old was on the tram on the way to meet his mother on the other side of Hiroshima. It was eight o'clock, when suddenly a powerful flash hit the crowded tram. He later understood that this was the first of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. Sixty-seven years later, he is still haunted by that morning. This week, Miaki arrived in Israel with three other survivors to warn against the horror of nuclear weapons, all nuclear weapons, whether Iranian or Israeli.

"Within a second the tram was filled by a blue, blinding flash," Miaki recalled this week in Jerusalem. "I understood something terrible happened, but I thought it was a short circuit. Fortunately, I was standing next to the exit and I jumped out without thinking."

A second later there was an explosion and all the glass windows crashed on the people inside. "Many people were hurt, but I was relatively unscathed," Miaki recalls. "I shut my eyes, and then found it hard to open them due to the dust and dirt. I asked myself if I'm dead or alive. Only when the dust settled down I managed to open my eyes and see the terrible destruction around me."

Miaki ran all the way to the house where his mother was, and the sights he encountered on the way are still with him: "People whose skin was dripping off their bodies, horrendous burns, and since people didn't want their arms to be glued to their bodies they raised them up. Everyone seemed inhuman, like aliens or ghosts, all walking and shouting, 'I'm hot, I'm in pain.' Everyone was looking for water."

When he reached the house he found one of the neighbors trying to save his mother from the ruins. She was alive but her back was broken. "Only then did I raise my head. I suddenly noticed there weren't any houses left. Everything was destroyed. I could see a clear view of the distant mountains." People started screaming around him that a huge fire was rapidly approaching from the center of the city. "I hauled my mother on my back and started running. A military truck with seriously wounded people went by. My mother didn't suffer severe burns, because she was protected by the walls, but they took her with them on account of her broken back. I was alone again."

Miaki then went to the Hiroshima River to wash himself. "It was full of corpses," he recalls. "They probably tried to cool themselves but fell in and drowned." In the following days many of his friends and relatives died as there was no one left to take care of them. "The hospitals burned down, and the doctors were killed. There were no medicines, and even if there were, there was no one left to hand them out."

Throughout the years many other friends and relatives died, most of them due to sicknesses, mainly cancer, caused by the radiation. In the 1980s Miaki decided to join the group of the bombs' survivors - Hibakusha, in Japanese - and dedicate his life to raising world consciousness about the horrors of nuclear weapons.

"When Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be forgotten, history will repeat itself," he says. "Since 1945 the world was close to a nuclear war several times, but it didn't happen. We believe we have some part in that. Antiwar campaigns can help prevent another nuclear war."

"When one considers an atom bomb, one thinks only of the mushroom," says Sharon Dolev, founder and director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement, who is hosting Miaki and three other survivors. "People don't discuss the days and years that follow. That's one of the reasons I wanted them to come here, to create a discourse that doesn't exist in Israel. We talk about Iran, but don't really pause to consider the consequences."

Japan now has a new nuclear headache, North Korea. "Honestly, as to Iran and Israel I was unaware of the issue until I came here," says Nobuko Sugino, 68, "but Iran is presented in a negative light, in a similar way to how the Japanese media depict North Korea."

North Korea, as opposed to Iran, already has nuclear weapons, since 2005. Miaki doesn't believe Japan will be attacked by nuclear weapons, and points out that since there are so many nuclear power plants in Japan that could serve as targets, "a regular bomb would have more of less the same effect."

The Japanese constitution forbids the state to produce nuclear weapons, "but we're also against nuclear power plants," says Miaki. "The public is increasingly opposed to the plants, especially since the Fukushima disaster a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, the politicians have an interest not to phase out the plants, because they help foster political tension that benefits them."

Miaki and his friends continued on their journey in the Middle East, but it seems that as the years pass, their mission becomes more difficult. The Hiroshima survivors - 220,000 according to official data - understand that they must lower their expectations regarding full nuclear disarmament. Like Holocaust survivors, with whom they met last week, they must fight forgetfulness first. "Most Japanese have never experienced war," says Miaki. "That's wonderful, but it also causes indifference."