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Nagasaki A-bomb survivor told German foreign minister to spurn 'nuclear umbrella'

Shigemitsu Tanaka shares his A-bomb experience in the city of Nagasaki on July 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Takahshi)

NAGASAKI -- Nagasaki A-bomb survivor Shigemitsu Tanaka, 81, used German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's July visit to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum to share his experience of the bombing and ask her to abandon the U.S. "nuclear umbrella."

    Germany, a NATO member, participated as an observer in the first meeting of parties to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons held in Vienna in June, despite being covered by the U.S.'s nuclear arsenal. Although Germany has not signed the treaty, the European nation stressed that it will participate in constructive dialogue with the countries and regions that have ratified the treaty.

    The 41-year-old foreign minister, who came to Japan for talks with her Japanese counterpart, visited the A-bomb museum on July 10. Tanaka is the chairman of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council and was invited to the museum for the visit.

    Baerbock looked Tanaka in the eye, and as if in reply, Tanaka shared his experience of the atomic bombing and his subsequent suffering. He hoped that his wish that there should never be another "hibakusha," or person exposed to the atomic bombings, reached the foreign minister.

    On Aug. 9, 1945, a flash of light engulfed 4-year-old Tanaka in his yard in the Nagasaki Prefecture village (now town) of Togitsu, about 6 kilometers north of the hypocenter. He rushed into an air-raid shelter to escape the noise and the blast. When he went outside again, he found his home's tatami mats and shoji sliding doors blown away and the windowpanes shattered.

    The next day his father, an Imperial Japanese Navy unit member stationed in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, was sent to the bombed city to do rescue work. When he returned home, he complained of physical discomfort and other symptoms. His mother also treated the injured at a national elementary school in the village, and a few days after the bombing, she went to an acquaintance's home about 1 km from the hypocenter to check if they were all right.

    His mother developed diarrhea and rashes on her legs, and later liver and thyroid problems. His father became frustrated with his mother's many hospital visits, and he turned into a violent alcoholic. Twelve years later, he died of liver cancer.

    After his younger brother and sister graduated from high school, Tanaka married a second-generation A-bomb survivor at age 29. Although he worried about the effects of the atomic bombing, his daughter and son grew up healthy. However, his daughter gave birth to a boy with compressed lungs. The baby died three days after birth. There is no way of knowing whether Tanaka's exposure to the atomic bomb had anything to do with his grandson's death, but he worried that it was his fault.

    Shigemitsu Tanaka, left, shares his A-bomb experience with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, right, at the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims in the city of Nagasaki on July 10, 2022. Sitting next to Tanaka is Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Takahashi)

    Baerbock carefully listened to Tanaka's words. He entrusted the minister with his wish that Germany would move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons and away from the nuclear umbrella.

    When the foreign minister left the museum, she left a comment in the visitors' book that read, "This is a place that conveys the madness of nuclear war and the terrible suffering caused by the atomic bombs. As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that such a horrific reality will occur again. That is why our commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons will never weaken."

    In 2016, Germany's then-President Joachim Gauck also visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and met with Sumiteru Taniguchi, then chairman of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, who passed away in 2017. Meanwhile, despite repeated requests by A-bomb survivors' organizations every August, a Japanese prime minister has not come to the museum since Yasuhiro Nakasone's visit in 1984, when the museum was an archive center at the former Nagasaki international culture hall.

    A review conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is being held in New York for the first time in seven years. The five nuclear powers that have not joined the nuclear weapons ban treaty, as well as Japan and Germany, are participating in the conference, which began on Aug. 1.

    Tanaka had strong words for the Japanese government: "If we say that we are 'the only country to have experienced atomic bombings' but do nothing, we will lose the world's trust. Since Japan claims to serve as a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states, now is the time for Japan to take a stance like that of Germany, which participated in the meeting (of parties to the U.N. nuclear weapons ban treaty) even though it did not sign or ratify the treaty."

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takahashi, Nagasaki Bureau)

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