Shizuko Abe

An A-bomb Survivor as a Living Testifier

2. August 6, 1945

On August 5, the day before the A-bombing, our neighborhood association had a meeting. Our neighborhood had to send ten members for building demolishing work the following day, and I was asked to be one member. I had been feeling very sorry that I was always in trouble delivering the assigned amount of pine resin and fodder for horses, so I agreed to go. When I came home and told my mother-in-law about my going, she scolded me, saying, “This family has a young man serving in the battlefield for the country, which is enough. So I don’t think you have to do any more service.”

However, the next morning, before 7:00 on August 6, ten people from my neighborhood association, including me, got on the train at Aki-Nakano Station. Arriving at Hiroshima Station, we walked to the demolition site in Hiratsuka-cho, 1.5km from the hypocenter, where demolition work had already started. At the site there were a lot of people mobilized from different areas inside the city and the suburbs, such as volunteer corps, middle school students and girls’ school students, as well as us. Our group of ten from Nakano-sunabashiri, were led by a young man who was in his late-20s. Elderly members of the mobilization group were watching people’s air-raid hoods and boxed lunches under the shade of trees because someone would steal them if they did not watch them. We were supposed to demolish designated buildings to make firebreaks that would prevent fire from spreading during an air-raid. Up on the roof of a one-story house with other people, I started taking off roof tiles and passed two of them to the second person, who passed them to the third person. Because those roof tiles were reusable, they were carefully carried down to the ground by a relay method and put aside before people pulled down the house.

I didn’t notice any U.S. fighter planes come flying at all. As soon as I heard a sound like air escaping, I was surrounded by a bright light and blown about ten meters away. There must have been other people on the roof, but I don’t know what became of them. I don’t know how long I was unconscious. When I came to, it was dim with dust and dirt flying all around, and the air was filled with an odd smell. The smell was from people’s burned skin. I heard people who were trapped under the toppled house crying, “Help! Help!” However, I was so severely burned on my body that I had no energy to help them.

When I was working on the roof, I was wearing a white hat I had made myself from old futon sheets. So, my head escaped getting burned, but my eyebrows which weren’t covered with the hat were burned. The heat rays came from the right, so I had severely painful burn wounds on the right side of my face and on my right arm. My shirt was half-sleeved, so my right arm below the sleeve to my fingertips got burned. The skin was peeled off to the finger nails and was hanging down from there. It was painful to lower my right arm, so I unconsciously held it in the air in front of my body. The leader of my group handed me a stick which he got somewhere. He held one end of it and told me to hold the other end. Following many other people, he led me walking to the south, where we saw there was no fire. I saw many people with severe burn wounds, holding their hands up in front of their bodies and walking hopelessly and aimlessly in procession as if they were ghosts. When the leader and I started to flee, the fire wasn’t so big, but a tremendous wind was blowing. Then the raging fires rushed there on that blowing wind. I think those who were unable to walk or trapped under the debris there were burned alive by the fires.

Suffering the pain of burn wounds and avoiding stepping on fallen electric poles, debris and people, I walked and walked. It seemed very far to me, and afterwards, I was told that the leader and I had walked 8km. When we reached the Japan Steel Works in Irikawa (present Aki-ku, Hiroshima) I heard some workers calling out to victims, “Please come into the factory. We are treating people.” When I looked, there was a long queue of victims, but I was too tired to stand in the queue. Seeing the building of the factory, which had been turned to a munitions factory then, I found injured people lying close together under the large shade of the wide eave of the building. Many schoolgirls who had been mobilized to work there were applying oil to those victims lying one after another. There were groans, “Father!” “Mother!” “It hurts!” everywhere. I was able to find some space to lie down. The helpers were saying, “We are treating people,” but all they did to us was apply oil to our burn wounds. My group leader said good-bye to me there. He also had severe burn wounds. I don’t know what became of him after that. By that time, my burn wounds had swollen and pus started to ooze out, and the swelling of my face prevented me from seeing. Moreover, I had a high fever. On the following day, maggots started to crawl about in those wounds, which really hurt.

I was there for two days in a daze. During that time, I didn’t have a drop of water. I didn’t even feel hungry. The third day after the A-bombing, my father came and found me. He had been searching for me, visiting every rescue station inside the city, supposing I remained in the city. I heard him calling my name. “Shizuko!” “Shizuko!” I replied, “I am here!” He came to me, but he said, “Are you really Shizuko?” several times because my appearance had changed too much to identify. He went back home and returned with a cart which he borrowed from a neighbor. He put me on it and carried me back home. The cart was a little more than a meter long, so I had to fold my body to fit in it. In those days, roads were not paved. So, the stony and bumpy dirt roads were hard on my wounded body. But come to think of it, that cart was better because it had rubber tires. In those days people usually used large carts which had wooden wheels. If my father had carried me with a wooden wheeled cart, bumpy roads would have been much harder for me.