At 8:15 a.m. on Monday, August 6, 1945, Miyake Nobuo name was riding the train
in Hiroshima. A diminutive 16-year-old, he was crammed into the aisle in the
packed train and surrounded by so many people during the morning rush hour he
couldn’t see outside.
Suddenly, the train shook.
There was a flash
of blinding blue light, like hundreds of cameras going off next to his face.
Miyake thought the electricity had short-circuited and the train was about to
burst into flames. He was close to an exit and quickly jumped out.
strong gust of wind blasted through the area, hurling people into the air and
slamming them against the ground.
“I was sure I was hit by an explosion,”
Miyake, now 83, remembered in Jerusalem last week, 67 years later. “I thought:
I’m going to die. But somehow I was still breathing. I slowly opened my eyes.
Everything was covered in black ash.”
Lost, confused and feeling utterly
helpless, Miyake ran home in time to see an enormous fire advance from the
center of the city closer and closer to his house. He grabbed his mother from
the half-destroyed ruins of their home and the two ran back in the direction of
the train station. “We passed people covered in burns. They looked like they
weren’t human. They were moving strangely, creeping like inhuman creations,
yelling, ‘It’s hot!’ and ‘I can’t breathe!’ People were throwing themselves into
the river, into concrete wells... I thought we had arrived in
Unlike 140,000 others, Miyake had survived the initial blast. But
the ordeal of surviving was just beginning.
World War II saw no shortage
of nightmares. Around the world, death and destruction took place on a scale
previously unimaginable. For years, victims and survivors have nursed their pain
In Israel, it took decades for some Holocaust
survivors to begin to tell their stories. In Japan, where the culture is more
introspective, some survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs still
have difficulty talking about those days. Cancer continues to claim victims
“Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased.”
old adage seemed especially fitting last Tuesday morning at Yad Vashem, when
survivors of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb met with Holocaust survivors in an
emotional meeting. Survivors shared their stories: the sinking feeling of fear,
not knowing if family members had survived. The way a mother spent years running
to the door at the slightest sound, convinced her oldest son had finally come
home. A confused child or teenager running through deserted and destroyed
streets, sobbing, trying to find someone or something familiar. Watching people
lay down and die.
Miyake, Tsuchida Kazumi, Nagayama Iwao and Sugino
Nobuko, all survivors of the atom bomb in Hiroshima, visited Israel for a week
at the initiative of the Israeli Anti-Nuclear Movement, working in cooperation
with the Japanese Peace Boat and the International Campaign Against Nuclear
Weapons. They visited Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, and held anti-nuclear
weapons events for the public in Haifa and Tel Aviv. They also protested in
Jerusalem last week, holding signs at the Western Wall that said “Nuclear
Abolition” in Japanese.
But the highlight of the trip was an emotional
meeting with Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem. Sharon Dolev, the director of
the Israeli Movement Against Nuclear Weapons and the initiator of the tour,
pointed out at the beginning of the meeting that both groups of survivors paid a
personal price as civilians for events beyond their control. Though the
circumstances were different for the Israeli and Japanese survivors, their
coping mechanisms and struggles of survival were the same, she
“When I finally got to Israel, I decided to erase everything that
was in the past,” said Pnina Kazir, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau who lived
on just 230 calories a day in the death camp. “I was able to erase it for 50
At age 70, Kazir gave testimony for Yad Vashem, and her story
came pouring out. “I finally understood how much energy I’d invested in not
telling it,” she said.
Sugino told Kazir she understands exactly what it
is like to finally unburden yourself and share your personal story. Only a year
old at the time, all of her siblings were killed in the atomic bomb. Her older
sister, six, suffered terrible burns in the initial explosion and her family
watched her die for three terrible weeks. Her brother was close to the blast
center and was most likely instantly incinerated. Sugino’s mother never
recovered, and Sugino lived every day in the shadow of the bomb.
telling her story around the world and advocating for an end to nuclear weapons
has allowed her to share some of the pain, lessening it in the
The point of the Hiroshima survivors’ visit to Israel was to
advocate for an end to nuclear weapons around the world. Their message echoed in
Israel as the war drums beat with Iran over its possible nuclear
Nagayama said the most moving part of the Yad Vashem Holocaust
museum was visiting a tree planted in honor of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese
vice consul who saved 6,000 Jews by issuing visas in Lithuania. Because Japan
was allied with Germany, the country has never recognized his efforts and his
story is not well–known in Japan, Nagayama said.
In Israel, the younger
generations learn about the Holocaust and vow to “never forget.” “Yizkor – We
will remember, we will never to forget the terrors of the Holocaust, never to
forget the nightmares that can happen when extremism leads to genocide.” But
Miyake said while remembering is important, the visitors’ call is “No more” – to
ensure it never happens again. “No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki,” they
Miyake has visited Auschwitz and other concentration camps and met
with Holocaust survivors in Washington.
“I really feel the connection,
there is a common point of the inhumane actions people are capable of. The
things we saw in the museum made a huge impression on me,” he said.
understands that the Japanese were not blameless in WWII. “We killed and we were
killed,” he said. “There were difficult things.” But those actions were taken by
his government, not him, he said.
After a poignant but restrained
retelling of many stories of survivors from both sides, Yaakov Gutterman, who
survived the Holocaust in hiding as a Polish Catholic shepherd, could not hold
back his emotions. “I know it’s not acceptable in Japanese culture to hug,” he
said. “But it is so sad that after 2,000 years of civilization there could be
things as terrible as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As we’re sitting here in this
room, the tragedy of Hiroshima affected you and the tragedy of the Holocaust
And then the survivors left their chairs on each side of
the room, gathered in the center and hugged one another and cried. Tears flowed
for the tragedies they had lived through and the miracles of life that came
afterwards. Tears flowed for the connection they had forged through cultures and
countries by being victims of their terrible circumstances and still having the
strength to share their stories. Tears flowed among the event organizers and the
translators and even the few cynical journalists who had stayed until the
“We have a huge responsibility to make the world a better place,”
Gutterman said before the outpouring of tears began. “I’m not so naïve to think
that tomorrow they’ll throw all the atomic arms into the sea. But I think that
we, sitting in this humble room, have the moral force and the moral right to say