A-bomb survivor Yoshiko Kajimoto shares account, makes appeal to Pope Francis

by Junji Akechi and Koji Higuchi, Staff Writers

Never repeat this tragedy

“The agony that I have endured must not be experienced by any of the children, any of the people, on this earth,” said Yoshiko Kajimoto, 88, an A-bomb survivor and resident of Nishi Ward, Hiroshima, as she shared her experience of the atomic bombing with Pope Francis and about 2,000 people in the audience. Ms. Kajimoto spoke at the “Meeting for Peace,” which took place in the Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward. By describing her account, she fulfilled the important responsibility of delivering an appeal from the people of the A-bombed city to the Pope.

On August 6, 1945, Ms. Kajimoto experienced the A-bomb attack while at a propeller parts production plant in Misasahonmachi (now part of Nishi Ward), located about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. She was then in her third year at Yasuda Girls’ High School (now called Yasuda Girls’ Junior High School and High School) and had been mobilized to the plant to work for the war effort. Soon after she started her work at the plant with her classmates, she saw a flash of bluish light on the window, and the building abruptly collapsed. Trapped under the wreckage, she lost consciousness. She then came to, at the sound of a friend screaming, and crawled out from the ruins.

She saw people who had been severely burned, their skin drooping down from their flesh, and the city center colored red with flames. The scenes she witnessed that day have remained vivid in her mind. Her father, who searched for her frantically after the bombing, died suddenly a year and a half later, and her mother suffered from sickness, too. To help her mother and her three younger brothers, she worked hard and gave up her dream of becoming a teacher. Though she married and was blessed with children and grandchildren, she developed stomach cancer in 1999 and had to undergo surgery.

Ms. Kajimoto had remained silent about her experience of the bombing for many years, but in 2001 she began sharing her account with others. She said, “I’ve told people about my experience hundreds of times, but they can never completely understand how horrific it really was.” Though this has caused her some frustration, she has continued to convey the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons to children visiting Hiroshima on school trips.

This time, she had only five minutes to tell her story, along with a speech by another survivor, Koji Hosokawa, 91. But Mr. Hosokawa suddenly lost his health and couldn’t attend the gathering so his speech was read out by someone else. Ms. Kajimoto struggled with the idea of sharing her experience within such a limited allotment of time, but her desire for nuclear weapons to be completely eliminated spurred her to take part. She spoke for a little over three minutes and expressed her anger over nuclear weapons and her wish for nuclear abolition, saying, “I believe nuclear weapons can be abolished with the power of many people who desire peace and the many souls of those who lost their lives in the atomic bombing.”

After the meeting ended, Ms. Kajimoto had a look of relief on her face and recalled her impression of the Pope. She said, “Pope Francis held my cold hands in his hands. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but his hands were very warm.”

(Originally published on November 25, 2019)