Silent Witness

Silent Witness: Blackout curtain used to wrap wounded child

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer

One mother couldn’t stop herself from feeling regret over the fact that she did not give water to her burnt son, held in her arms, as they fled from the A-bomb fire.

She made use of a blackout curtain by wrapping it around her son. If this curtain is displayed, along with the underwear her little son was wearing at the time of the atomic bombing, we can understand the feelings of the mother during their flight on that day.

The mother, Ren Taoda, donated the blackout curtain and the boy’s underwear to the Peace Memorial Museum. On August 6, 1945, Ren, who was then 30 years old, visited her husband at the naval hospital in Kure and was on her way home when Hiroshima was attacked with the atomic bomb. The bomb exploded at the moment she was walking toward the streetcar stop at Hiroshima Station (in Matsubara-cho, now part of Minami Ward) to board the streetcar with her second son, two-year-old Hiroo, on her back.

She and her son were about 1.9 kilometers from the hypocenter and were blown toward the station building by the blast. She lost consciousness momentarily, but came to at the sound of Hiroo’s cry. They were both exposed to the bomb’s heat rays from behind and were badly burned.

Ren tried to reach home in Senda-cho (now part of Naka Ward), but the city center had been completely destroyed by the atomic bomb. After a little while, she and her son were taken by rescue truck to a national school that was being used as an aid station. Hiroo begged his mother for water, but she was reluctant to give him any because a rumor had spread through Hiroshima at the time, claiming that someone with severe burns would die shortly after consuming water. Hiroo passed away that evening as his mother cared for him, despite suffering from her own immense pain. Ren cremated Hiroo’s body and returned home with his ashes.

Not a single day passed without Ren thanking Hiroo for saving her life as a result of his crying. Not a day passed, too, without her feeling regret over not giving Hiroo some water. Due to her painful memories of that time, she avoided talking about her A-bomb experience.

About 30 years ago, when Hiroo’s elder sister, Matsuko Hasebe, 79, a resident of Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, decided to start talking about her experience of the atomic bomb, Ren took out the blackout curtain and Hiroo’s underwear and gave them to Matsuko, asking her to include her story in the testimony she would share. Ren, who died at the age of 94 in 2009, had kept the blackout curtain and Hiroo’s underwear until 2005, 60 years after the atomic bombing, when she donated them to the Peace Memorial Museum.

Each summer, Matsuko returns to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and always asks the museum staff to take her brother’s belongings out of storage. “Looking at Hiroo’s belongings brings tears to my eyes,” she said. “Although he was very young, he tried his best to survive as long as he could.” She still clearly remembers her younger days when she played with her brother and they romped about the house together.

(Originally published on June 12, 2018)