The night was hot, and it seemed even hotter because of the fires against the sky, but the younger of the two girls Mr. Tanimoto and the priest had rescued complained to Father Kleinsorge that she was cold. He covered her with his jacket. She and her older sister had been in the salt water of the river for a couple of hours before being rescued. The younger one had huge, raw flash burns on her body; the salt water must have been excruciatingly painful to her. She began to shiver heavily, and again said it was cold. Father Kleinsorge borrowed a blanket from someone nearby and wrapped her up, but she shook more and more, and said again, "I am so cold," and then she suddenly stopped shivering and was dead.
Getting ready to go to Hiroshima ( I am being told the city -- very modern now -- looks beautiful when azaleas are in bloom), I have been reading the seminal essay by John Hersey, originally published in The New Yorker in August 1946 (and shortly afterwards as a book; sold millions of copies and is still in print). .
Hersey, an American journalist who had been born in China and educated in Yale, conducted in-depth interviews with six people who survived the explosion: a female factory worker, a widowed seamstress, a Protestant minister, a German Jesuit priest and two doctors.
Some 80,000 people, about 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed on that single day by the blast and the firestorm which resulted from it. Many more died later from injuries and radiation.
This is how Hersey begins:
At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.
Published on the first anniversary of the bombing, Hersey's detailed account, written in plain, restrained, almost dispassionate style, shook the American public. And the rest of the world. It was not available in Japan until a few years later, though. (American government, which occupied the country until 1951. discouraged the publication).
"Everyone able to read should read it" says the blurb on my worn out, yellowish copy, loaned from the wonderful library of the American School in Japan (my daughter's current alma mater).
Sadly, seven decades later it seems more timely than ever.
Everyone should read it (those who can and perhaps those who can't even more so).