Chronicle: Akito Hirotani—Miracle violin that survived the A-bombing, Part 6

by Akito Hirotani, former English teacher living in Hiroshima City

About a month after the atomic bombing, when Sergei went into Hiroshima City to search for acquaintances, he had a miraculous reunion with his oldest son Nicolay, who had traveled to the United States five years earlier.

Nicolay, who was working his way through high school in the United States, was shocked by news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor as well as by a letter from a friend in Japan informing him that his father was suspected of being a spy. As a result, Nicolay grew increasingly distrustful of Japan. In 1943, just before graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. military. After completing his basic training in the country’s interior, he was sent to the Philippines and tasked with monitoring and translating into English radio broadcasts from Japan’s mainland and Japanese military communications. He also interrogated Japanese prisoners of war. Familiar with Japanese cultural norms, he never acted arrogantly toward the prisoners and was thus able to obtain lots of information. In August 1945, he learned over the radio waves from Japan that Hiroshima had been destroyed by a single bomb. He reported the information to his superior officer, who dismissed it as a “mistranslation,” since any information about the atomic bombing was highly confidential.

After the war, Nicolay came to Japan as a staff member assigned to the U.S. military Commander Douglas McArthur, serving as an interpreter. In September, he was granted special leave and disembarked at the Hiroshima train station. He was speechless when he first looked out over his transformed hometown. He searched for his parents’ home, located in the central part of the city, but all he could find was the charred iron frame of a bed that looked familiar. Not knowing that the family had moved to the area of Ushita (now part of Higashi Ward) before the bomb had been dropped, Nicolay concluded that everyone in his family had died in the bombing and gave up hope.

In despair, he got into a jeep and was about to leave the city. Just then, his father came into view. Later, Nicolay wrote of the incident that it was as if he had been dreaming. Later, the family moved to Tokyo, and through arrangements made by Nicolay, Sergei and Kaleria began working for the U.S. military’s General Headquarters (GHQ).

(Originally published on August 21, 2021)