Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Memory of studious girl who fled A-bomb fire clutching her dictionary

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer

Throughout her life, the girl’s Japanese language dictionary was always within her reach, even on the very day Hiroshima was attacked with the atomic bomb.

The dictionary belonged to the late Katsuko Osawa, and one of her children donated it to the Peace Memorial Museum. At the time of the bombing, Ms. Osawa was 10 years old and she loved to study. She was at home in Senda-machi (in today’s Naka Ward), about 2 kilometers from the hypocenter, when the atomic bomb exploded. Before she fled the conflagration on her father’s back, she somehow managed to retrieve her favorite dictionary from the collapsed house. She and her father then took shelter at a relative’s home in today’s Kaita-cho. While she was staying there, she always kept the dictionary close at hand.

After the war, Ms. Osawa was unable to return to her house in Senda-machi, and probably because she still vividly remembered the horror of the atomic bombing, she spoke little about her experience of that time. The only thing she said was that the scenes she witnessed while escaping were just like a vision from hell and that she would never forget the stench that permeated the city after the bombing.

Ms. Osawa continued to cherish the dictionary that had survived the atomic bombing with her. She used it even after it turned a reddish-brown color and became worn to the degree that the corners were rounded off. As I carefully turned the pages, I noticed that she had practiced writing Chinese characters, over and over, on the pages of the dictionary. This was back when studying was a very hard thing to pursue, no matter how much desire a person had. I imagined a girl who was always excited to come across new words when she used her dictionary.

(Originally published on March 5, 2018)