Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Keiko Ogura gave a keynote address in Pomona College’s Little Bridges Auditorium on Oct. 13, recalling her experience as a hibakusha or a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Aug. 6, 1945.
The event, organized by Pomona politics professor Tom Le, originally only involved Ogura speaking to his International Relations class, but developed into multiple presentations spanning over several days, including an address by Ogura in Pomona's Oldenborg Dining Hall on Oct. 12, a community lecture titled “Hibakusha: A-Bomb Survivors in Japanese Society” on Oct. 13 at the Joslyn Center, a lecture by Le on Oct. 6, a dedication of a tree planting to Hiroshima survivors Oct. 14 in the Sontag Greek Theatre, and a film screening of On a Paper Crane” on Oct. 15 at the Claremont Public Library.
“What makes her unique is that she was eight or so when she survived the bomb … There’s over a hundred thousand A-bomb survivors left. But the vast majority are very young, so when the bomb dropped they don’t remember” Le said. “She represents the final generation of this first-hand knowledge.”
Ogura’s testimonial was met with a large audience, where she went into detail about her experience on the day the bomb fell.
“Keiko, you shouldn’t go to school today,” Ogura remembers her father telling her that fateful day. “I have a feeling something bad is going to happen.”
Earlier that year the family had moved from within the lethal 1 kilometer blast radius to further into the countryside. Her family managed to survive with their lives and sight intact, but other families weren’t so lucky.
“So many children became orphans,” Ogura said during her talk.
She recounted how the cremation fires, like the one her father helped staff, dotted the landscape. She talked about how she was tormented by nightmares of the event for years after.
The problems didn’t stop after the fires stopped, however. Ogura recalled a time when one of her son’s friends expressed disgust at finding out she was a hibakusha, and how the hibakusha experienced difficulty getting married because of their perceived “bad genes.”
Some of Le’s students were especially involved in the events of the past week, such as Nina Zhou PO ‘19, Rachel Zimmerman PO ‘17, and Jacob Merkle PO ‘18. The three students attended an intensive ten-day program in Hiroshima this past August, a program of which Le is an alumnus.
“It’s a program on conflict and peace studies, really focusing on Hiroshima and its legacy as a city that survived the atomic bomb as a rising symbol of peace,” Zhou said.
While at the program, the students honored the anniversary of the attack, as well as met Keiko Ogura and listened to her testimony.
“It’s an incredibly humbling experience when you’ve listened to any hibakusha’s testimonials,” Zhou said. “This is a woman who has experienced this. This is a woman who knows who did this to her and her family, and yet she’s brave and willing and accepting to talk to westerners and foreigners and Americans to share with them her story.”
The program echoed themes present in the master class on Oct. 12 taught by Le and Tomoko Watanabe, the director of Asian Network of Trust (ANT) Hiroshima, an NGO that promotes peace and development. The class centered around exploring Japan's post-World War II peace-based identity. Watanabe is a second-generation hibakusha, born to survivors of an atomic bomb.
Ogura ended her address by stressing the significance of how Hiroshima has rebuilt its infrastructure and its spirit.
“The reason why we survived is we have to hand our story down to the future generations,” Ogura said. “We have to do something—not only our nations, not only certain countries—but all of the people. We have to end the bomb.”