Testimonies

A Family That Experienced Both

Tsugiya Umebayashi

BECAUSE OF THE increasing air raids in 1944, schoolchildren were evacuated from Hiroshima. All of us – I was ten and in the fourth year of primary school -- except children of parents living in the outskirts of the city were sent to a Buddhist temple not far away. Life in the group was dull. We did very little. I was lonely. The thing that I remember most vividly is taking off my shirt one sunny Sunday morning to find it infested with lice, which I spent time in crushing. My parents remained in Hiroshima, but in my letters to them I could not complain of loneliness, since our teachers censored our mail. But my parents sent me gifts from time to time. They were my sole source of enjoyment.

Several months after we were evacuated, I traveled to Nagasaki to be with my grandmother, who lived alone and who had asked my parents to send one of the children to live with her.

On the morning of August 9, 1945, I was playing in a stream near an air-raid shelter built by the neighborhood association. Suddenly a flash cut through the sunny sky. I dashed into the shelter. In that same instant, there was a tremendous roar that sounded as if the world were splitting apart. Earth and sand fell over me. For a long time, I waited in fear. Then I felt my head, face, and legs and saw that though covered with dirt I was uninjured.

Hearing voices, I timidly crept out of the shelter to see a sky filled with billowing black smoke. Over the city, pillars of flame shot up in many places and spread rapidly. I raced homeward among destroyed houses and along streets littered with broken tiles and shattered glass. The hills surrounding it had partly protected grandmother's house; and when I got there, she was at the door, about to go looking for me.

On the next day we learned that the kind of bomb that had fallen on Nagasaki had been dropped on Hiroshima a few days earlier. There was no way for us to get in touch with my parents and brothers and sisters. Our anxiety about them mounted steadily.

Finally, unable to remain idle at home any longer, we decided that, since they had no other place to go, my family would probably evacuate to Nagasaki. To be on hand to meet them and help them, we went every day to wait at Nagasaki Station.

At first, we had difficulty finding our way. All the old familiar landmarks had been wiped out. The devastation grew worse toward the Ohato and Dejima areas. Streetcars, wrecked and burned, stood in the middle of the road. Refugees with tattered, bloody clothes wandered about aimlessly, looking for relatives and loved ones. A group of people from the country stood dazed in front of the ruins of a house where they had expected to find someone.

The Nagasaki Station area was totally wasted. The only things still standing were the steel frames of some buildings, bent and twisted like noodles.

The station officials told us that repairs were under way but that the prospect of reopening train service was dim and that what trains ran stopped at Michino Station. Nonetheless, we waited patiently for hours on end, hoping that our family would be among the streams of refugees walking along the tracks. As we waited we saw rescue teams carrying corpses and cremating them on pyres made from the broken posts and beams of destroyed buildings on the station plaza.

On August 14, the repeated trips back and forth to the station began taking their toll on my grandmother's health. Since she was running a fever, we stayed at home that day and the next. Then, on the afternoon of August 15, my parents, my younger brother, and my three younger sisters arrived. They were exhausted and tattered. They carried nothing, since they had been unable to salvage any of our belongings from our destroyed house. Still, we were overjoyed to see them.

When the bomb had fallen on Hiroshima, everyone in our house was trapped under the wreckage. Fortunately, father had not gone to work yet. He extricated himself and then rescued the others. A beam falling on his back seriously injured my younger brother, but all the other members of the family suffered only minor injuries. They left Miyajima, just outside Hiroshima, on August 11; it took them four days to reach Michino Station, from which they picked their way laboriously to grandmother's house. They had to carry my younger brother.

We decided at once to evacuate to Shimabara, our family home town, about forty kilometers east of Nagasaki. After a number of days' waiting, we managed to take a train from Michino Station.

The coach was packed with wounded refugees. The air was foul with the stench of rotting flesh. Flies buzzed everywhere and defeated all attempts to brush them away from wounds, in many of which maggots already wriggled. Some refugees coughed blood into the wash basin. Others had hairless heads. It was impossible to tell whether some of them were men or women.

After a while, we settled down in Shimabara. But my father returned to Hiroshima to work with his old firm. My brother suffered from caries of the spine temporarily, but his symptoms ultimately disappeared. Today he is only slightly incapacitated.

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