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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor continues quest to find boy in photo of Nagasaki after bombing

Yoshitoshi Fukahori looks at a photo collection showing the picture titled "The boy standing by the crematory," giving his views on the location of the photo, in Nagasaki on Jan. 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

At the end of last year, Pope Francis widely distributed a card bearing the message "il frutto della guerra" (the fruit of war)." On it was a photo said to have been taken in Nagasaki right after the end of World War II by U.S. military cameraman Joe O'Donnell, who died in 2007.

The picture, known as "The boy standing by the crematory," shows a boy with his dead brother on his back, waiting for his turn at a riverside spot serving as a crematory. Having called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the pope gave instructions for the photo to be distributed.

In a New Year's greeting this year, A-bomb survivor Yoshitoshi Fukahori, 88, quickly focused on this photo and his past efforts to track down the boy in it.

"I thought, this is a bother," he recalls. For many years he tried to find the boy in the photo, and though his face was clearly shown, no one came forward saying they knew him. The trees in the background are lush, far different from the scenes in Nagasaki immediately after the bombing, where areas were burned black from the heat and blast. "At the very least," Fukahori concluded, "it was not taken in the area near the hypocenter."

O'Donnell landed in the Nagasaki Prefecture city of Sasebo in September 1945, and took photographs in various areas, including the A-bombed cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. After he returned home he kept the negatives of about 300 photos in a trunk, as if to forget the terrible scenes. But then in 1989, after seeing an anti-nuclear sculpture, he decided he had to speak out about his experiences, and put the photos on display. One of those was "The boy standing by the crematory."

"The first time I saw it, it was shocking," Fukahori recalls. He thought that if he could work out who was in the photo, the power of its message would be several times stronger, and so he started asking around. Receiving information on likenesses of people when they were young, he patiently searched, but did not find any matches.

Fukahori noted that there were several clear mistakes in the stated locations of O'Donnell's pictures and surmised, "They were released over 40 years after they were taken. It wouldn't be odd if there were discrepancies in his memories."

Even then, Fukahori kept looking. "There's no doubt that this photograph shows the horrors of war. I want it to be spread so that war never again produces children like this young boy," he thought.

The reason that O'Donnell decided to open the trunk and show people his photos after 40 years was that he himself had suffered radiation sickness after walking through Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately after the bombings, and he thought he had to convey what had happened under the mushroom clouds.

Fukahori is adamant this feeling must not be denied when verifying the locations of the photos. (Story and photo by Noriko Tokuno, Mainichi Shimbun)

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In Oslo last year, A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha, were at the ceremony to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This drew the world's attention and hopes that it would stir up international opinions on the issue. In the meantime, the low-key efforts of hibakusha to underscore the inhumanity of nuclear weapons continue. This winter 2018 series of articles on hibakusha focuses on the messages of five people in the face of various obstacles, from the fact that nuclear weapons are not declining in number, to the emergence of more hibakusha.

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Yoshitoshi Fukahori is the chairman of the Research Committee for Photographic Records of Nagasaki Atomic Bombing at the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace. He was exposed to the bombing of the city when he was 16, at a point 3.6 kilometers from the hypocenter. He and others who had been exposed to the atomic bombing founded the predecessor of this committee in 1979, and he has gathered over 4,000 photos to date.

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