Chronicle: Akito Hirotani—Miracle violin that survived the A-bombing, Part 4

by Akito Hirotani, former English teacher living in Hiroshima City

Before long, a prolonged war cast its dark shadow on the Christian missionary Hiroshima Jogakuin School (present-day Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior & Senior High School). In 1940, the relationship between the United States and Japan worsened, forcing American teachers and missionaries to return to their country. Sensing antipathy toward foreigners, Sergei had a difficult time deciding whether to continue living in Japan or start life anew in another country. His homeland of Russia no longer existed as he once knew it. After much anguish, he put two small pieces of paper in his hat and drew lots, resulting in his decision to stay in Japan.

At the time, his oldest daughter, Kaleria, and oldest son, Nicolay, studied at the Canadian Academy in Kobe, occasionally returning to Hiroshima. In 1940, Nicolay traveled to the United States in an attempt to gain acceptance into an American university. Kaleria returned to Hiroshima and started work as an English teacher. Photographs of Kaleria show her to be a tall, dignified woman, giving the impression she had inherited her father’s strong will.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 profoundly changed the life of the Palchikoff family. The family lost contact with Nicolay in the United States. One day, Sergei remarked to his friend that he had Hokkaido cheese at his home. The rumor spread that he had a “chizu” (“map,” in Japanese) of Hokkaido hidden in his home. He was taken away on suspicion of being a spy and underwent harsh interrogation. He was later cleared of suspicion and released, but had to leave his position as instructor at Hiroshima Jogakuin School due to ill health from his lengthy confinement. His beloved home was requisitioned by the military, and the family had to move to a rented home in the area of Ushita (now part of Higashi Ward), at that time a suburb of Hiroshima City.

On the morning of August 6, 1945, Sergei, his wife Alexandra, and Kaleria were inside the house. His youngest son, David, was playing outside. The moment David came into the house shouting he had seen a plane in the sky, there was a white flash of light.

(Originally published on August 19, 2021)