The story of Suzuko Numata
I was born in Osaka on July 30th, l923. When I was five years old, my family moved to Hiroshima because of my father’s job. My family consisted of five people, my parents, elder brother, younger sister, and me. A younger brother was born in Hiroshima in April 1945, making us six.
As a child, I lived a comfortable life and did as I pleased. After elementary school, I started life I had dreamt about as a student at a girls’ school.
I was in the eighth grade when I learned of the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, a war which was destined to change our lives, and even our minds. I was not aware of the evil of war at that time, so I could not foresee what would happen to us. Living in a militaristic system as I did, I became a little militarist without even being aware of it.
During the so-called “Fifteen-year War”, from the Manchurian Incident to the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945, we were not taught about such things as the aggression against China and Southeast Asia, the Nanking Massacre, the bombing of Chongging, the repression on the Korean Peninsula, or the real war situation that developed after the attack on Pearl Harbor and throughout the Pacific War, not the fact that Japan had been the aggressor all those years. In the name of a “holy war”, “nationalism”, “justice”, and “victory”, we shouted phrases like “Hakkoh ichi-u(One world under the sky),” “Ichioku isshin hi-no-tama ni nare. (Be united in one mind like a fireball, 100 million people!”, “Zeitaku wa teki da. (Luxury is the enemy)”, “Hoshigari masen, katsu made wa. (We will endure anything until we defeat the enemy)”. We uncritically obeyed orders and made every effort for victory in the war.
When I was in the tenth grade, I was mobilized to serve at a military arsenal, where students in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades rubbed rust off cannon balls for five days from July 14, 1939. Instead of our school uniforms with their middy blouses, we wore knee-length trousers, training uniforms canvas shoes without socks and white cotton work gloves. Not realizing that the war was warping our very minds, I was actually proud of being engaged in the “honorable” work of supporting the war, though I was only a girl student. I wanted to rub that rust off those cannon balls as quickly as I could. I worked hard, spurred on by the hope that those balls would kill the enemy, enabling Japan to win the war. Long after the end of the war, this experience made me reflect on the fearful power of education, and I learned to reconsider the war from both sides, that of the perpetrators and that of the victims.
My dreams that never came true.
In 1942, after graduating from the girls’ school, I was employed by the Hiroshima Communications Bureau where my father worked. My younger sister began work there in April and I, in May. My father, sister and I were working in the same building, when I was engaged to be married in October 1943, I could endure the uncertain future, the shortage of food and the drab anti-air raid uniforms we all wore, buoyed by my joy at being engaged. The classmates who had been mobilized with me must have been delighted too when they learned my good news.
It was only our third meeting when, in March 1944, I saw my fiance off for the front at Ujina Port in Hiroshima, after he had received his draft card in Shimane Prefecture, In April, my younger brother, who was a junior high school student then, joined the ranks of the young militarists, entering the military training school at Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture. We then lost track of him until the end of the war. Behind my brave front as the “women defending the home front”, I could not even express my love by holding his hand at our parting. It was only in my heart that I told him: “Come home safely.” “Fight bravely!” Once again I was in grip of that terrible mentality that I had had in me when I worked polishing the cannon balls. In the ensuing weeks and months as I prayed for his return, we were getting news of the Battle of Okinawa, the B-29 air attacks throughout Japan and the awful hell they were wrecking on our cities and our people.
Then on May 1st, 1945, I was assigned with three colleagues to the Communications Installation Division for Defense on the roof of the same building where I had been working on the fourth floor. I suppose because our job was related to military affairs, we had no information about what we were doing, but we spent our days learning how to roll cigarets and running errands through the evening of August 5.
Around the end of March, I learned that my fiance was supposed to return to Hiroshima on assignment from the front around August 8, 9, or 10. Though by this time there were severe shortages of food and clothing, our two families decided to hold the wedding as soon as he got back. How eagerly I waited for August to come, full of the dreams and hopes of a 21-year-old! No one, myself included, knew of the fact that my fiance had been killed on the battlefield in July. The awful, eerie air-raid sirens warning of B-29 attacks were heard in Hiroshima as elsewhere in Japan, filling us with fear. But we also found it strange that our city, in spite of the heavy concentration of troops and military facilities, had not been attacked like the others.
On August 6, 1945, we enjoyed a tranquil morning with the end of the air-raid sirens that had continued far into the night, never dreaming that the fateful moment of 8:15 a.m. was approaching. Relieved to have gotten through the night without an attack, I resolved to put myself into the day’s work. I was also excited at the thought of my wedding just three days off. So I dressed quickly, and when my family too had prepared for the day, my mother suggested we leave early while the air was still cool. But just as we were about to leave, the siren blared again.
Exposed to the bombing 3 days before the wedding.
I was concerned and wondered at the threat of a B-29 attack so early in the morning, but thought that after waiting it out at home, we would get the all-clear as usual. I didn’t see the clock then, but later I learned that the siren started at 7:09 and ceased at 7:31. It seemed as if it had continued for an hour. A small radio assured us that all of the planes which had been approaching Hiroshima had turned back. Relieved I took my air raid hood and small first-air kit, said good-by to my mother, and left with my father and sister for work at the Communications Bureau, a four-story reinforced concrete building located 1000 meters away from what would be ground zero of the atomic bomb. My older brother was working at the Hiroshima Savings Bureau, 1,500 meters from ground zero, and my mother was at home.
When we arrived at the Bureau, my father went up to the fourth floor and my sister to the third. I hurried up to my post on the roof and found no other women colleagues there. I thought I was the first person there, but when I glanced at the desks there were men’s shirts on them. I looked out on the roof. There was not a cloud in the brilliant blue sky. The men, stripped to the waist, were exercising, chatting, or fanning themselves and looking at the sky. I watched them for a while, but then decided I’d better start cleaning the room. When I finally finished cleaning the large room, for some reason I went down to the fourth floor for water, though usually I would have used one of the three low water taps on the roof, stooping to scrub the cloths, my back and head exposed to the sky. I set off with my bucket, watching my colleagues outside, down to the fourth floor. I was just standing in the hall opposite the sink besides the steps, when I saw a brilliant flash of many colors.
I don’t think it could have taken me more than two minutes to get from the roof to the sink on the fourth floor. The spot faced the yard, in the direction of ground zero. I remember a bright mixture of colors: red, yellow, blue, green, and orange. I didn’t know it then, but have since learned that that was the flash released at the moment of explosion of the atomic bomb.
My lost left foot.
I don’t know how long it was, but the next thing I remember was being in the dark, trapped under something extremely heavy. Then I lost consciousness again. Although I had been standing in the hallway, I had been blown by the blast into a different room. Everything in the room had collapsed with the blast and my left ankle had been almost severed from my leg. While I was unconscious, an evacuee in the yard thought of me, seeing smoke with a strange smell spreading inside the building. With my ankle severed to the bone, it was all my rescuer could do to get me out, carrying me on his back from the fourth to the first floor. Later, my father told me that flames were blowing out the window like red curtains. If my rescue had come even a second later, I would not have survived, but would have perished there in anguish and tears of hate.
When I was brought to the yard, I could hardly see or hear. Panic reigned, and even the injured ran around, in a frenzy. My father was in the crowd, running around half-crazy and shouting, “Where is my daughter? I can’t find my daughter!” He was shocked to see my severed ankle and begged those around him, who were themselves injured, for help. Someone at last managed to find a tatami-mat from somewhere. I was laid on it and brought to a safer place. Although I lost consciousness a number of times, when the bleeding stopped I regained consciousness and my life was saved. When my sight and hearing became more clear, the figures I saw where hardly even human beings’ and the cries and screams they uttered in their death agony — “water!” “help!” “mother!” were out of a living hell.
There was someone with a blackened face crouching in pain at my right foot. It was my younger sister, bleeding from the glass fragments stuck in all over her head and arms. It was because she called me “Sister!” that I knew who it was. How long had it been from when I saw that beautiful flash? The sky suddenly turned black and big drops of rain began to fall. Later I heard that it was radioactive black rain. The rain soaked everything — my stump of a leg, the burn victims, and the dead. Oddly enough, my left ankle didn’t hurt me at all. But after three days without any medical treatment, my wound festered, endangering my life. On the night of August 9th, a doctor from a team from other prefectures that had arrived with the aid of flashlights and candles told us that the only way to save me was to amputate my left leg above the knee. In the dawn of August 10th, I underwent an amputation at the thigh, without anesthetics. I let out a great scream when the saw cut off my leg, but the amputation save my life.
Bombed Aogiri gave me courage to live.
The first floor of the Communications Bureau was used as a temporary relief center and I was also taken care of there. The room was dirty, and maggots infested all our wounds. With the anguished screaming of the conscious, the raving of the delirious, and the cries of those in their death-throes, it was like a living Hell, the dead and living existing side by side. As I lay on my bed, the air was heavy with the stench of blood, pus, and the burning of corpses which continued day and night on the burned-out desert which was once Hiroshima. I had four operations on my left leg before I was finally released after eighteen months of hospitalization. I left in March, 1947, on a baby carriage made into a crude wheel chair. Mother pushed it and I cried all the way home, seeing the city which had been transformed beyond recognition. Our house was a little shack erected with planks in the midst of the rubble.
My father was uninjured, my mother had received only slight injuries to her left hand, my older brother had burns on his face and chest, and my sister had received cuts all over her face and chest. Our family was not reunited until after the 15th of August, when my younger brother was released from military service and returned home. I had been scheduled to marry in August, but my fiance had been killed in battle in July. I learned of his death in mid-August, at the height of suffering from the pain and anguish of my amputated leg. I had lost all desire to live, or even to think, and was unable to grasp the fact that in the midst of countless, precious lives that had been lost, I had been saved. Instead, all my sorrow was turned into hatred and my days were filled with thoughts of suicide.What saved me from despair was encountering the Aogiri (Chinese Parasol) Trees — which were recovering from severe burns suffered in the bombing — and which today hold up their stout boughs in Peace Memorial Park, which recovered from the severe burns suffered in the bombing.
Four Aogiri trees were growing in the yard of the Communications Bureau where I worked. My colleagues and I used to take our break and relax under those trees. Three of the trees burnt by the rays that morning survived. A rumor circulated that neither plants nor human beings could grow or live in Hiroshima for seventy years and it lodged itself in my head, But when I saw the three surviving trees for the first time after the war, each of the trees, with its scars of the burns, had twigs and tiny leaves on it. Gazing at them, I gained the energy to live again. That was what gave me the strength to stand up again. The bombed building was replaced with an eight-story building twenty-four years ago, and the yard was no more. The trees were replanted in their present spot in Peace Memorial Park.
To devote my life to creating peace.
It took me a long time to get on my feet again, but I went into teaching and for twenty-eight years pursued a career as a teacher until my retirement in 1979. The years since then have been granted me as well. My parents died, worrying about the future of their daughters, and my older brother died too. My younger brother is enjoying a happy life, surrounded by his grandchildren. I and my younger sister, who has suffered one disease after another and has been plagued by the aftereffects of exposure to the radiation, live together and support each other.
Throughout the twenty-eight years of my teaching career, I did not speak about that day; I clammed up on that subject. After retiring and deciding to start speaking out, I realized that I was already on the threshold of old age. Today I devote my days to my mission of giving testimony, for I believe it my responsibility to teach, through my experience, the younger generations who have not experienced war about the dignity of life and the importance of making and protecting peace.
Not let the tragedy be repeated.
This year marks the one-hundred-and-first anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, and the fiftieth anniversary of the atomic bombing and the end of the war. The fiftieth anniversary may be a time for survivors to reflect on the fact of having survived for a half century in spite of the exposure to the atomic bombing. For me, however, it means an important starting point for continuing the effort to hand down the truth of the atomic bombing to later generations, so that we will not repeat the evils committed by humanity, but learn the truth about the past, have the humility to admit the mistakes that were made and turn our eyes to the anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-discrimination, anti-pollution and environmental conservation movements, so that humanity will have a happy future.
I am always thankful to, and learn from the survivors, who overcame many difficulties to rise up in their desire for peace in the post-war movement, as well as to the grassroots movement and individual activists, who all paved the way for us. We have to take good care of this road, and the young people who will live in the 21st century should take it over. We must not let the experience of Hiroshima fade away. I have been privileged to meet many people who have wanted to learn about Hiroshima. I appreciate the increasing opportunity for exchanges with young children, high school students, college students, grown-ups, or people from abroad, who listen to me with shining eyes, the weariness of their journey to Hiroshima gone from their face. I can also learn a lot from them and derive a sense of the value of my life and a hope in “the sun that rises tomorrow”.
Giving testimony is my way of planting seeds of peace. Let many people join hands to make an ever larger circle in which everybody plants a seed for peace. For the sake of our beautiful earth and for a wonderful future, let us spread seeds of the heart, starting with those around us.
Lastly, I want to say that peace is the ultimate happiness, while ignorance leads to absurdity. In wartime it was almost impossible to think clearly about what we were doing, but since the war is over, we live in peacetime when it is possible to look our society straight in the eye, in the midst of a crazy world, and rightly evaluate our own actions. If there is understanding between governments, trust and love between nations, our hearts will be able to communicate with each other. With a wish that all the people in the world may live in peace and happiness, I am on a journey in search of the historic truth. I have visited such places as the United States, Europe, Russia, Malaysia, Singapore, Belau, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Auschwitz in Poland, China, South Korea, Panama, and Okinawa. I go to South Korea and Okinawa every