Atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) present their personal stories on humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons

May 10th, 2013

8 May 2013 — Two hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) from Hiroshima, Mr. Lee Jong-keun and Ms. Reiko Yamada, met with UN tour guides and interns in New York to share their testimonies of the horrors they experienced in Japan in August 1945.

The meeting provided a precious and rare opportunity for the participants to hear firsthand accounts from hibakusha on the humanitarian impact of the use of nuclear weapons. Belonging to a dwindling number of survivors whose average age is 78 years old, Mr. Lee Jong-keun and Ms. Reiko Yamada have dedicated their lives to peace, and, despite their age, they continue to work with diligence and vigor in support of nuclear disarmament.

Atomic bomb survivors: Mr. Lee Jong-keun (left) and Ms. Reiko Yamada (right)

Since 2010, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) has collaborated with Hibakusha Stories twice a year in May and December, to arrange briefings for the UN tour guides, interns and staff to hear testimonies of hibakusha as a way to further implement recommendations by the 2002 UN study on disarmament and non-proliferation education.

About these survivors

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 am, a sixteen-year-old Korean boy, Mr. Lee Jong-keun, saw a yellow-cream light, a “killing flash,” that burned his entire skin. On his way home, there was a dead horse with blistered red skin with widely open eyes that gazed at him very sadly. No medicine was available. Instead, he put Mercurochrome, a red colored liquid antiseptic, which made his skin dry and formed scabs. He needed to take the scabs off, except for the back of his neck where he could not reach. The unreachable parts of his body ended up being oozing fluid and soon had maggots crawling. My mother picked out the maggots with tears, saying “Where is your dignity as a human being with maggots crawling over you living body?…I almost wish you were dead, so that you can at least rest in peace.”

68 years ago, an eight year-old Japanese girl, Ms. Reiko Yamada, stood in the middle of an extremely hot summer day. In a blue sky with no clouds, a shiny silver airplane, a B-29, grabbed the little girl’s attention. “That’s pretty!” Suddenly, a white flash blocked her sight. She ran, being followed by a burning sandstorm… a while after, cold black rain made her and her friends shiver. Later they would find out that it was, in fact, radioactive rain. Since that date, she never saw her 13-year-old friend again. By the end of the year, 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki had died. Even after the bombing, many survivors gave up getting married and having children and endured discrimination, being sufferers from the after-effects of radiation. People’s desperate cries for help that awful day still vividly remain in her mind. Those memories still torment her because of her remorse that she could not help them.

The two survivors concluded their testimonies with the hope that people all over the world understand how a single atomic bomb could destroy an entire city and kill tens of thousands of people instantly and indiscriminately. Both survivors stressed that they do not have hatred against anyone, rather it is time to stand up together toward a world without nuclear weapons.

By Sayaka Shingu and Nandor Gergely. Photos by Nandor Gergely

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Photos from the event