Passing on a message of peace
Jun. 7, 2017
Picasso’s Guernica is one of the most famous anti-war paintings of all time. It depicts the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica in 1937. During the Spanish Civil War, Nazi Germany bombed the town, killing more than 1,600 people. It's considered one of the first indiscriminate air attacks on civilians. Members of the city council organized a memorial service in April, 80 years to the day of the attack. From Japan, atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki — known as Hibakusha — attended the event.
The civilians of Nagasaki also suffered great loss when the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II. The town was destroyed instantly, and 70,000 people died.
Every year, many youngsters visit Nagasaki Peace Park to learn about the devastation caused by the atomic bomb.
81-year-old Hiroshi Suenaga speaks to them. He was only 9 years old when the Nagasaki was hit by the atomic bomb.
“My mother and sister both died of cancer, probably from all the radiation and from breathing in radioactive air and dust," he says.
For more than 40 years, Suenaga has been passing on the experiences of people who survived the attack.
He sometimes uses the technique of kamishibai, a traditional Japanese picture-story show.
But 70 years after the war, memories of the atomic bomb are fading. He’s finding it increasingly difficult to interest people in his experiences.
“I worry that everything I say about the atomic bomb goes in one ear and out the other, and that the people who come and listen to me soon forget all the parts they don’t like,” says Suenaga.
For a long time, Suenaga has been interested in Picasso’s painting, Guernica.
He is eager to find out why this powerful painting continues to move people to this day.
“I can understand Picasso’s anger and sadness. I feel there is connection between Nagasaki and Guernica. I want to see Guernica,” he says.
In April, Suenaga went to Guernica with 27 atomic bomb survivors from Nagasaki.
In the welcoming party for the Hibakusha was 94-year-old Luis Iriondo. He’s one of the few remaining survivors of the bombing of Guernica.
They go to the Guernica Peace Museum, where photos reveal the total destruction of the city. Actual bomb shells used in the attacks are also on display.
The air raid shelters that many residents of Guernica fled to have been preserved.
“The shelter filled with people, and it immediately became hard to breathe,” says Iriondo.
Iriondo and Suenaga discussed the tragedy of civilians being killed in war.
On April 26th, on the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, locals gathered in the town square to observe a moment of silence.
500 people attended a memorial service for the dead at the cemetery where they are interred.
Suenaga was there, and noticed one thing in particular.
Flowers were presented by Germany, the country that perpetrated the bombing. Twenty years ago, Guernica reconciled with the country.
Iriondo was instrumental in making this happen.
In 1997, Germany admitted responsibility for the bombing in front of the citizens of Guernica.
A speech Iriondo gave at that time paved the way for the development of a new relationship.
“The monstrous bombing sparked not hate or revenge, but a strong desire for peace,” he said.
Iriondo delivered the same message at the 80th anniversary ceremony.
“Germans have started to visit Guernica. Now, we welcome them with open arms. Let’s walk toward peace together.”
These words resonated deeply with Suenaga.
Suenaga realized how important it is to continue passing his message on to younger generations.
“I now understand that there are prayers and hope, in addition to anger and sadness,” he says.
Iriondo set up a forum in Guernica for survivors from Nagasaki to talk about their experiences.
150 people, mainly teenagers, gathered to hear the talk.
Suenaga told his story using kamishibai.
“With one atomic bomb, Nagasaki was instantly transformed into a city of death,” Suenaga says.
He spoke passionately of his desire for peace.
“As survivors of the atomic bomb, this is our plea. We will continue to speak out as long as we live. No more Hiroshima! No more Nagasaki! No more atomic bomb victims! No more war!” he continued.
Suenaga spoke of his visit. “I think we need to take a hint from Guernica and deepen our awareness by going beyond the idea of friend or foe. I plan to use my own words to relay to the Japanese people what I’ve learned here in Guernica.”
Suenaga and the group of atomic bomb survivors he traveled with have promised to continue their dialogue with the people of Guernica to pass this message on to future generations.