At a Santa Monica High School program organized by faculty member Douglas Kim and the organization Palisadians for Peace, students heard a talk by an actual survivor of Hiroshima, Kaz Sueishi.
The March 10 program began with two films, Children of Nagasaki and Mushroom Club, that dealt with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrifying aftermath. The latter film featured footage of the deaths and injuries inflicted on residents of Hiroshima. Its title referred to a group of survivors who were handicapped physically and/or mentally as a result of prenatal radiation exposure. Some of this footage caused the students to audibly gasp.
The audience mood continued to be somber as actor/singer Steve Crawford performed the song “I Come and Stand at Every Door,” based on a poem by a Turkish poet in reaction to the bombings.
But the appearance of Sueishi was a dramatic shift. This small woman, leaning on a cane, began by saying: “Konichiwa (Hello),” and then: “My name is Kaz Grandma. Please call me Grandma Kaz.”
“Hello, Grandma Kaz,” the students intoned.
Apologizing for her imperfect English, Sueishi explained that she was born in 1927 in Pasadena, because her father was here on business – but he moved the family back to Japan eight months later. Sueishi is an American citizen, but she grew up in Hiroshima. Because the war began during her teen years, she said, “We didn’t have time to learn English.”
When she came back to the US years later, Sueishi knew the following words of English: “Yes, no, don’t touch me – shut up!” Along with the students, she laughed at this last phrase, but added: “It was very important, you know, not to touch.”
She told the students that during the war, residents of Hiroshima seemed to be far away from its effects. But then came August 6, 1945.
“I remember a beautiful blue sky. To me, just peaceful. The B-29 I used to call ‘angel.’ It was a beautiful airplane. I said ‘Good morning angel.’ When the B-29 left I saw a white spot which I had never seen before, I asked my girlfriend, ‘What is that?’ At that moment I knew something was very wrong.”
She followed the drill she had been taught – to cover her eyes and ears. But then she fell into unconsciousness for a few minutes. When she came to, she was unable to move. When she was able to move, she began to run, only to run to a building that fell apart.
Sueishi is lucky to have survived that day. She told the students that people who hear her story often tell her she does not look like a Hibakusha (survivor). “They say ‘Where are your scars?’ I tell them scar is in here”(pointing to her heart).
She reminded the audience that the Japanese living in the US were also victims of the war, as they were interrned in what were called relocation camps, “but they were really concentration camps.” Sueishi’s husband lived in such a camp during the war.
After her talk, Sueishi took questions from the audience. One of the first questions was from a boy who asked: “Can I hug you?”
The students laughed but Sueishi let him give her a hug. Each subsequent student who asked her a question also hugged her.
“Why am I still alive?” Sueishi asked of herself and answered: “Because of the people’s love. Love makes courage.”
And together with the students, she recited a prayer:
“No more Hiroshimas.
No more Nagasakis.
No more Hibakusha.
No more ‘No More.’
May peace prevail.