Reporter’s View: I have not forgotten the “Southeast Asian Special Students”

by Yuji Yamamoto, Staff Writer, Hiroshima Peace Media Center

I have recently become familiar with Malaysia, though I have never been there. The very reason for that is because since early this year, I’ve followed the stories of a number of young people from Southeast Asia who visited Hiroshima during World War II and experienced the atomic bombing. These students, some from Malaysia (then, Malaya), were referred to at the time as the “Southeast Asian Special Students.”

Syed Omar was one such student. He died in Kyoto en route to his home in Malaya after the bombing. The anniversary of his death was September 3. This past summer in Kyoto, a group of residents formed together with the mission to share his life story and the horrific consequences of the atomic bombing. In his memory, they held a memorial ceremony at a Kyoto temple, where his grave is located.

While I wanted to attend the ceremony, I could not because of work. On the evening of September 3, I did, however, stop at the former dormitory for international students, known as “Konan-ryo,” located in Otemachi, Naka Ward. There is a memorial near the east end of Yorozuyo Bridge, where three international students, including Mr. Omar, lived and experienced the atomic bombing. Among them, Nik Yusof (also from Malaya), suffered severe burns and fled toward Itsukaichi, but he passed away.

I cleaned around the memorial and placed my hands together. Why did I do these things? Looking back, I think a feeling... which could not be expressed by a word of familiarity... began to grow while I listened to a female A-bomb survivor who knew the students, and while I looked at their letters and photos.

The former Japanese army repeatedly inflicted damage on the Malay Peninsula, so the international students were also referred to as “hostages” of the Japanese government. I began to think that I would like to go to Malaysia some day and breathe the air of the place where the students had grown up. If this is realized, I want to say that I haven’t forgotten you.

(Originally published on September 13, 2019)