Hiroshima survivor asks students to remember

Tomiko Shoji, an 88-year-old Hiroshima bombing survivor, spoke movingly
of war, memory and survivorship at a Thursday Master’s Tea.
Tomiko Shoji, an 88-year-old Hiroshima bombing survivor, spoke movingly of war, memory and survivorship at a Thursday Master’s Tea. Photo by Jacob Geiger .

In a Thursday Master’s Tea, an 88-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima bombings of World War II told her story.

Tomiko Shoji, the grandmother of Keni Sabath ’16, spoke in Japanese to approximately 40 students in the Trumbull Common Room while her daughter translated. Though Shoji did not lay blame on either Japan or America for the bombings or for her resulting lifelong medical issues, she urged the audience to never forget what happened on Aug. 6, 1945.

“I do not hate Americans,” Shoji said in translation. “I do not hate Japanese. It is not any country’s fault. But I want with every breath, with all my strength to tell people [about the bombings].”

When the atomic bomb hit, Shoji said she was entering the office where she worked.

“The door banged on my back,” she said. “I’m facedown and … Probably for 10 seconds I lost consciousness.”

After seeking refuge in a bomb shelter, Shoji said she surveyed some of the damage to the city and its people. Characterizing the city as “red” and burning, she described skin hanging from victims seared by the flash. Shoji spoke of burn victims turning to “charcoal” as they jumped into water, issuing smoke.

Many students had tears in their eyes as Shoji recalled these images of war. At some points, Shoji gesticulated and made non-verbal noises to communicate the force of the blast and the motion of people being thrown off their bicycles.

Shoji also spoke of the aftermath and the difficulties of being a survivor, adding that she discovered that she had radiation poisoning because she could no longer climb stairs.

Upon moving to Taiwan for an arranged marriage, she was divorced by a husband who considered her disabilities too incapacitating for her to fulfill the duties of a housewife. Thereafter, she relocated to Japan, where she received over 15 years of medical treatment for organ damage. Finally, she moved to America and, receiving a special dispensation from the United States government for war victims, became an American citizen.

Shoji laid extra emphasis on her purpose as a survivor.

“Everybody, please know what happened, and never forget,” she said, echoing the slogan of Holocaust survivors.

In addition to her stated desire to remember the past, Shoji focused on the importance of peace for future generations. She asked students to stand while she offered some final reflections, describing war as “horrible” and advocating for an end to nuclear weapons development.

Shoji also offered insight into the political realities of wartime Japan, adding that the Japanese people did not have the right to think for themselves or consider giving up the war effort — they had to obey.

Sometimes recollections of these harsh realities and the bombings caused Shoji to become restless or fall silent. Translator Shoji Sabath explained that it was hard for Shoji to go through the trauma again, even after the passage of some 68 years.

“Sometimes [survivors] cannot concentrate and they’ll drift away and continue to focus on one point,” Shoji Sabath said after the talk. “And I’ll want to keep on agenda.”

Although there were a few moments of miscommunication or difficulty in translation, audience members interviewed spoke enthusiastically of the event.

Tanner Allread ’16 said he found the talk was moving and inspirational.

“My expectations coming into [the Master’s Tea] were very high, because I’ve never had the chance … to hear someone like this,” he said. “It was more than I thought it could be.”

Though 68 years can seem like a long time ago, Margaret Clark, master of Trumbull College, said hearing a personal narrative is much more powerful than anything else.

The bombing of Hiroshima killed an estimated 150,000–250,000 Japanese people.

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