Atomic Bomb survivors talk to students at UNIS

Yasuaki Yamashita from Nagasaki and Setsuko Thurlow from Hiroshima discuss their experiences when the bomb hit their cities. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Yasuaki Yamashita from Nagasaki and Setsuko Thurlow from Hiroshima discuss their experiences when the bomb hit their cities. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

High school students at the UN International School at Waterside Plaza welcomed two World War II survivors from Japan to their class on Monday to hear their experiences from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The program was brought to the school by the organization Hibakusha Stories, which is a UN-affiliated NGO and is honoring the 70th anniversary of the bombings this year. A uranium bomb was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6 and a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Yasuaki Yamashita from Nagasaki and Setsuko Thurlow from Hiroshima shared their experiences with the students.

Yamashita, now an artist in Mexico, was six years old at the time and living a mile and a half from the hypocenter in Nagasaki. He explained that on the morning that the bomb was dropped, he was playing outside by himself when a neighbor and his sister both said they heard strange airplanes flying over the city.

“My mother took my hand and when we got inside our house there was a tremendous crash,” he said. “It was like a thousand lightning bolts at the same time. She covered my body with her body. There was tremendous noise and then there was silence. When I looked up at the windows, doors and roof, there was nothing there.”

Yamashita said that he and his family attempted to reestablish normal life afterwards. He explained that didn’t really think of himself as an atomic bomb survivor until he was working in an atomic bomb hospital after he graduated high school and he encountered a young man with leukemia who was around his age.

“One day he was suffering and his body became covered in black marks, and he died the next day,” Yamashita said. “Then I thought it would happen to me.”

Thurlow was 13 at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima and was working at army headquarters to help the war effort.

“We were trained to use math skills to read top secret messages from the front lines and decode them,” she said. “It is unimaginable that a 13-year-old girl was doing this.”

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High school students meet atomic bomb survivor

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Atomic bomb survivor Shigeko Sasamori at East Side Community High School (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Atomic bomb survivor Shigeko Sasamori at East Side Community High School (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Students at the East Side Community High School got a rare opportunity on Monday to meet an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima thanks to the program, Hibakusha Stories, an initiative of Youth Arts New York.

The sophomores in Yolanda Betances global history class listened in the school’s auditorium as Shigeko Sasamori recounted her experience in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on August 6, 1945.

Sasamori was 13 years old at the time, sitting in a classroom with other kids her age, when she heard an airplane.

“That day was very hot and sunny and there was a beautiful blue sky,” she told the students. “I looked up and saw the airplane so I told my classmate next to me to look at it too, and as soon as I pointed up, I saw white things drop out of the plane and I was knocked unconscious.”

She didn’t know how long she was unconscious but the next thing she remembered was how pitch black it was outside. After she made it outside, everyone she saw had their clothes torn away and their skin was raw and pink, so badly burned that it was peeling off their bodies. She made her way to the river but couldn’t get in because there were so many dead bodies floating in the water.

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