Today marks the 76th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. The bombing of Nagasaki, Japan occurred just three days later, on August 9, 1945. This horrific event continues to send shockwaves through the lives of Japanese citizens to this day, and the stories of survivors remain vital to our keeping of an accurate historical record.
To commemorate this occurrence and preserve the personal stories of those affected, here are seven memoirs by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings at the hands of the United States.
The atomic bomb on my back by Taniguchi Sumiteru
This impactful telling of the story of, at the time, teenager Taniguchi Sumiteru, was just translated into English last year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.
Sumiteru had the skin stripped from his back by the blast. The horror of Sumiteru’s injury was famously filmed by an American soldier, going on to become one of the central reminders of the horrors of the bombings.
Sumiteru went on to stand at the forefront of the anti-nuclear campaign in his adult life until his death in 2017.
Hiroshima By John Hersey
Journalist John Hersey sought to tell the story of Hiroshima on the day of the bombing through the stories of survivors. Gathering first-person perspectives, Hersey put them together in Hiroshima, a book “that stirs the conscience of humanity,” according to the New York Times.
In this new edition, Hersey returns to Hiroshima almost four decades later in search of those who shared their stories. His return is now documented in the final chapter of the book.
Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya
In the two months that followed the Hiroshima A-bomb dropping, Dr. Michihiko Hachiya kept a daily diary, recording his recovery. Over time, Dr. Hachiya recounts how many patients die from, what was considered at the time, strange and unexplainable conditions that we now understand as the lasting effects of radiation.
The Bells of Nagasaki By Dr. Takashi Nagai
As he died of a leukemia unrelated to the bombings themselves, Dr. Takashi Nagai documented what led up to the dropping and the horrors that followed, including leaflets dropped from American planes threatening action if Japan did not surrender, and his ultimate realization that the horrors were the result of an atomic bomb.
Hibakusha: Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Gaynor Sekimori
Gaynor Sekimori assembled the personal accounts of 25 survivors from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, called “hibakusha”, meaning “the people affected by the explosion.”
Their stories range from the unspeakable horrors they witnessed, to how they coped with the tragedy afterward. Meant to stand as a warning against another nuclear bombing, “understanding what they went through may well be crucial to averting another nuclear tragedy.”
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes By Eleanor Coerr
While not a tried and true memoir, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a great way for young readers to star understanding the immense impact that the US’s dropping of the A-bombs had on Japanese citizens of all ages.
Based on a true story, the novel follows Hiroshima native Sadako as she goes from star runner to bedridden leukemia patient, suffering from the lasting radiation of the bombings. As she goes through treatment, she begins folding paper cranes in alignment with a legend that states if a sick person folds 1,000 cranes, the gods will make her healthy once again.
The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki Edited by Mark I. Selden & Kyoko I. Selden
This multi-genre memoir of essay, photo, poem and more documents the personal experiences of various survivors in devastating detail.
If written accounts fail to touch you the same way as photos and other works of written creativity, this piecemealed memoir drops you right into the experience of those directly affected by the atomic bombings.