Atomic Survivors Share Tales In Boro
By Angy Altamirano
For many, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski in Japan are merely a few pages in a history textbooks, but for three women who survived the only recorded uses of atomic weaponry against a civilian target, sharing their experiences and making sure such actions are never taken again have become their life’s work.
Toshiko Tanaka, Reiko Yamada and Setsuko Thurlow were young girls in Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb fell on the city. This year, to honor the 65th anniversary of the attacks, they spent five days visiting New York City high schools in all five boroughs to share their stories with today’s youth.
Working with Hibakusha Stories, an initiative of Youth Arts New York, in partnership with Peace Boat, the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and New York Theater Workshop, the women had the opportunity to share eyewitness accounts of the atomic bombings with teens. In Japanese, the survivors of the blasts are called Hibakusha, and many have dedicated their lives to peace and working for nuclear disarmament.
On Friday, Dec. 10, the three survivors, along with Hibakusha Stories Program Director Kathleen Sullivan and Founder and Treasurer Robert Croonquist, paid a visit to a select group of 11th and 12th graders at Newcomers High School in Long Island City.
“Atomic bombs are morally unacceptable; we can take a stand to see it never happens again,” said Croonquist when he welcomed the students in the school’s library. The main goal of Hibakusha Stories is to share the survivors’ tales with future generations, to entrust them with the stories in order to ensure atomic bombs are never used again.
“It is unique in the world, what we are bringing to high school students. I think it is unique in the country and in the world,” Sullivan said. “I see hearts open; I see hatred turn into forgiveness and friendship.”
Two groups of students came into the library in two class periods to meet the survivors. They were separated into three groups, with each survivor in the center sharing her experiences with students. Translators were seated alongside the survivors for full, accurate accounts of the events. The students listened attentively as each survivor shared their moments of fear and anxiety after the initial attack, uncertain of what would happen next.
“When you learn from a textbook you get nothing, but when you learn from actual people, it’s concrete,” said Hanna Zhuang, a 12th grader at the Academy of American Studies, a school that shares the building with Newcomers High School.
“It makes me feel sad, and I got the message of the atomic bomb being bad,” said Jith Deydipro, 12th grader at Newcomers.
Thurlow, who was 13 when the bomb was dropped, shared her story with the students, but also emphasized the need for change. “It is you that has to change the society,” Thurlow said. “This is an urgent issue.” She stressed to the students around her that President Barack Obama needs support for disarmament and the end of constructing weapons that can replay the acts that took place in 1945.
“You can’t sit still and do nothing,” Thurlow said. “I count on you and the world counts on you.”
Thurlow trained and practiced social work in the United States and Canada and has devoted more than 40 years of her life to nuclear disarmament. She even made her concern for a world without nuclear weapons known at a session of the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in October 2008.
Yamada, who was 11 at the time of the bombing, is a part of the Tokyo A-Bomb Survivors Association, and for more than 30 years has continued to tell her experience of the atomic bomb and to stress a nuclear weapon-free world.
“I sincerely hope that people all over the world should understand how a single atomic bomb could destroy a city and kill a large number of people indiscriminately and cruelly,” Yamada said.
Reach Intern Angy Altamirano at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128.