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Hiroshima A-bomb survivor's accounts translated into German to pass on antinuclear wishes

Riho Taguchi, right, and Heidemarie Dann hold the booklet "Glatzkopf Tetsu" ("Tsuruhage no Tetsu"), the German translation of Tetsushi Yonezawa's recounts of his atomic bomb experience in Hiroshima, in this photo provided by Riho Taguchi.

OSAKA -- A booklet recording testimony by a Hiroshima atomic bombing survivor who continued to share his experience with students and others for decades has been translated into German, conveying the harrowing memory of the nuclear catastrophe across borders.

    Titled "Glatzkopf Tetsu," or "Tsuruhage no Tetsu" (Tetsu with a shiny, bald head) in Japanese, the booklet was named after the childhood moniker of Tetsushi Yonezawa, who went bald after being exposed to radiation from the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He continued to tell his experience until he died in November 2022, at age 88.

    Yonezawa was just 10 years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He was aboard a tram running through the heart of the city along with his mother. While fleeing for safety, he witnessed people with shards of glass stuck in their backs, and those who were dead with their upper bodies plunged in antifire water tanks, among other frightful sights.

    His mother, Shizuko, died on Sept. 1, less than a month after the bombing. His sister, then 1 year old, also passed away in October. Yonezawa himself was unscathed, as he was surrounded by other passengers on the packed tram, but he suffered headaches and loss of hair due to acute radiation sickness, which also tormented him with a fever of almost 40 degrees Celsius for two weeks. He also felt strong nausea, and spat up dozens of intestinal worms, as he recounted in the booklet. His relatives once prepared themselves for his death, but Yonezawa miraculously survived.

    After graduating from Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto Prefecture, Yonezawa worked as a hospital employee, while joining antinuclear activism. In the mid-1980s, he began to share his A-bomb experience in earnest, and after retirement he gave testimonials at schools and various gatherings.

    In 2020, 75 years after the atomic bombing, Yonezawa sent out a message to Hiroshima Alliance Hannover, a pacifist group based in the northern German city with a sister-city affiliation with Hiroshima. Kenji Yamamoto, 79, a resident of Osaka, who has long promoted Japan-German friendship and has interacted with the group, was requested by its members to share a message from a hibakusha, or an A-bomb survivor. Yamamoto turned to Yonezawa, whom he had been acquainted with, to ask him to contribute a message.

    Tetsushi Yonezawa is seen in this photo taken in Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward on Aug. 2, 2013. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

    At an annual gathering in Hannover to pay tribute to victims of atomic bombings held by the group on Aug. 5 (Aug. 6 Japan time), 2020, Yonezawa's message was read out: "We must carry through with the abolition of nuclear weapons."

    This spurred calls for opportunities to hear Yonezawa speak of his experience firsthand. Yamamoto thought he wanted as many people to learn about what Yonezawa had gone through as possible, and interviewed him about his A-bomb experience. The content of the interview was then translated into German by Riho Taguchi, 53, a member of Hiroshima Alliance Hannover and resident of the German city.

    In August 2022, a Japanese-German bilingual booklet titled "Yonezawa Tetsushi-san no hibaku taiken to sakebi" (Tetsushi Yonezawa's atomic bomb experience and outcry), spanning 100 pages, was completed for readers in Japan. In December, its 50-page, full-German version "Tsuruhage no Tetsu" came out.

    Through the German edition, those involved in the booklet project are hoping that Yonezawa's testimony will be spread far and wide across Germany, which is under the United States' nuclear umbrella like Japan. Once the front line of the Cold War before its reunification, Germany has seen a surge in antinuclear peace movements in the past. Yet the country remains part of nuclear-sharing arrangements, with U.S. nuclear warheads deployed on its soil.

    -- Sharing Yonezawa's experience with younger generations

    Another Hiroshima Alliance Hannover member, Heidemarie Dann, 72, contributed by translating and proofreading the text for the German edition. She says she was impressed by the way Yonezawa lived while continuing to advocate the need to "change the world." Dann shared her concern that German soldiers may be involved in the use of nuclear weapons, and said she wanted to let young people know that they need to act before those weapons are used. She plans to hand out 250 copies of the German edition to people at their request.

    According to Yonezawa's wife Hisako, 87, her husband suffered traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage due to a fall, and had been in a hospital and care facility since the summer of 2021. His condition subsequently deteriorated, and he died from aspiration pneumonia on Nov. 12, 2022.

    Prior to his death, a plan for Yonezawa to visit Germany in May 2023 to share his atomic bomb experience was under consideration. Looking at the booklet, he commented enthusiastically, "It looks well made. I want to go to Germany after recovering my health."

    Although his hopes were dashed, his wife said, "I'm sure my husband is pleased, knowing that his wishes will be passed down overseas through this booklet."

    For inquiries about obtaining the booklet, call Yamamoto at: 06-6327-7978.

    (Japanese original by Sachiko Miyakawa, Osaka City News Department)

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