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Hiroshima A-bomb survivor continues to share cruelty of war in English

Keiko Ogura moderates a regular online meeting of Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace (HIP) in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on May 28, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

HIROSHIMA -- Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, clouds have hung over Keiko Ogura, 84, a Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor. Anger and a feeling of emptiness swirl in her heart every time she watches news reports on the situation. On top of this, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made statements hinting at the use of nuclear weapons

    "Our appeals haven't reached other parts of the world," Ogura lamented. "I was very disappointed."

    Ogura is the only one of the 32 A-bomb survivors testifying at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum who can recount her A-bomb experience in English. On May 13, she met with European Council President Charles Michel, who was visiting Hiroshima, and testified about her ordeal in the bombing. Michel leaned forward to listen and said that he would do his utmost to prevent Russia from using nuclear weapons.

    Ogura commented, "I am glad that I was able to speak directly to a responsible leader. It meant a lot to have him come to Hiroshima."

    At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Ogura, then 8 years old, was exposed to the bomb on a street near her home, about 2.4 kilometers northeast of the hypocenter. In an instant, her surroundings turned white and she was knocked to the ground by the tremendous blast. When she regained consciousness, she heard no sound. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that the surrounding houses were damaged and a barn ahead of her was burning.

    When Ogura returned home, she found her younger brother bleeding from his head, but fortunately the eight members of her family were all alive. Around noon, she saw a line of burned and injured people walking in a line to a shrine near her home. She still remembers the smell of burning hair. Every day after the bombing, she witnessed many people dying.

    Later, Ogura married Kaoru, then an official of the external relations division of the Hiroshima Municipal Government, who was born in the United States. He later served as director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum while Ogura devoted herself to raising their two children.

    Ogura was traumatized by her experience of the atomic bombing and feared discrimination, and for a long time after the war she did not actively speak out about her experiences. The turning point came in 1979 when Kaoru passed away suddenly at the age of 58 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke. After Kaoru's death, Ogura learned English. With the encouragement of foreign journalists with whom she had been close, she founded the group Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace (HIP) in 1984 and became involved in interpreting testimonies of A-bomb survivors. In the course of these activities, she also began to share her own experiences.

    After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ogura received an increasing number of requests for interviews and lectures from abroad. In April, she was interviewed by Italian television.

    In mid-April, she gave a testimony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to about 20 high school students from an international school in western Japan's Kansai region. As soon as she finished speaking, an American male teacher who was leading the group stood up and told the students that Ogura had fought well and that it was now the students' turn to do their best. Witnessing the serious tone of his voice, she realized that her message had been received, and she gained a little courage.

    In September, Ogura will be the main guest at a symposium at a university in the U.S. state of Idaho. She asked the coordinator of the symposium to give her an opportunity to speak to elementary school students. She reasoned, "If I convey the horror of nuclear weapons and the cruelty of war, it may serve as a driving force for them to stand up (against war) in the future."

    The first Meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will begin in Vienna, Austria, on June 21. "Since the meeting will be held amid the crisis in Ukraine, discussions will likely be heated," an optimistic Ogura said. She hopes the parties will strongly encourage countries that have not joined the treaty, including Japan, to become involved.

    Hiroshima has been chosen to host the G-7 Summit in 2023. Ogura said, "Hiroshima, where so many people died in pain, has a unique power to make people think about peace. I hope that world leaders will feel this power and take even one step toward nuclear abolition."

    Ogura will continue to deliver her messages to the world, drawing on the strength of her language skills.

    (Japanese original by Kiyomasa Nakamura, Hiroshima Bureau)

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