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Testimony from Hiroshima

Emiko Lenart

Aug. 8, 2016

Earlier this year, a pile of research documents was discovered that details the human effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 10 years on.

They were compiled by Kaoru Ogura, who was born in the United States, but spent most of his life in Hiroshima, the first city to be hit by an atomic bomb. Ogura dedicated his life to telling the story of the survivors to visitors from overseas.

Ogura's wife Keiko found a pile of papers among her husband's belongings -- copies of reports her husband had sent to a foreign journalist in the late 1950s.

"What one cannot bear is the psychological agony," one passage reads.

The 500 pages of documents are a record of the true voices of the bomb's survivors -- the hibakusha.

"I was thrilled when I found them," Keiko says.

Ogura sent the reports 12 years after the bombing, and hibakusha were dying from atomic bomb-related diseases such as leukemia. And discrimination against bomb victims was spreading in society.

Ogura sought to leave an account of the reality the hibakusha faced a decade after the bombing.

"It is often reported that grave tombs were not permitted to be made even after their deaths," he wrote.

"In rural areas, women with atomic-bomb related symptoms were often abused by their families for not being able to work hard," reads another passage.

Ogura also looked for hope in the ashes.

Yuji Wakao is an emeritus professor of history at Nagoya University. He's reviewing the reports.

"You can see from the documents that Ogura came to realize that his mission was to tell the world about Hiroshima," Wakao says.

He says Ogura's documents are a rare record of the hibakusha's experiences 10 years after the bombing. He pays particular attention to the parts where Ogura describes children affected by the bomb.

In his reports, Ogura referred to a girl who died from leukemia. Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the bomb fell. She was at home, 1.6 or 1.7 kilometers from the hypocenter.

Ten years after the attack, she suddenly developed leukemia. Sadako hoped to recover and folded paper cranes on her sickbed. Her sudden death shocked many people. A monument to commemorate young victims was built.

Ogura wrote about children Sadako inspired, and who began folding paper cranes to express their wishes for peace.

"The coming generation realizes they must take on the responsibility of preventing war and defending peace. They are determined to prevent the world from repeating such a disaster, so no one else suffers in the way that people like Sadako Sasaki did," Ogura wrote.

Other reports by Ogura had earlier been compiled into a book titled "Children of the Ashes," by German journalist Robert Jungk. It was published in 1959. The book's since been translated into more than 10 languages.

"The cranes symbolize children's wish to live. Ogura and Jungk thought that adults must think and act on the children's behalf," Wakao says.

After the book was published, Ogura began working for the Hiroshima city government. From that time, Ogura played an important role in talking to people coming to Hiroshima from overseas, who wanted to learn lessons about war and peace.

Keiko, Ogura's widow, took up his task after his death. She was affected by the bombing when she was 8 years old.

"I saw many wounded people, some, they had clothes, some of them their skin was peeling off," Keiko tells one group of students.

"It's such a tragic story but it's one that the whole world needs to hear because we should all learn from it," says one student in the group.

"The world has lots of nuclear weapons. Most people aren't aware of that. If they know about Hiroshima, it will help them understand what to do next," Keiko says.

"My husband passed the responsibility on to me to tell the world about the threat and horror of nuclear weapons. I hope that people will remember what happened to Hiroshima," she says.