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Handwritten title page of an essay written on lined notebook paper.
The title page of Haruo Shimizu's handwritten essay on surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Manuscript Division.

Treasures Gallery: Surviving Hiroshima

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This is a guest post by Meg McAleer, a former historian in the Manuscript Division. It also appears in a slightly shorter version in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, which is devoted to the June opening the David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery.

Haruo Shimizu, a Japanese schoolteacher, survived the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. One year later, he wrote down his memories of that horrific day on 24 pages of lined rice paper in his careful penmanship.

Shimizu remembered boarding a trolley that morning to visit a friend before reporting to work at a munitions factory. At approximately 8:15 a.m., his world exploded with “a silver-white flash, like that of magnesium powder used in taking a photograph, high up in the sky.” The U.S. bomber Enola Gay had dropped an atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy.”

Torrential rain began to fall. Shimizu grew disoriented: “A tremendous clap of thunder went on and huge columns of brown clouds with dust and flame were making sheer screens all around.” The dead and dying surrounded him. “Some of them were carrying their wounded wives on their shoulders and some their dead children in their arms. They were all desperately shouting for help and calling aloud the names of their families.” The next day, he saw a B-29 plane circling the city. His anger erupted: “What the hell do you think there is still left to be bombed in this devastated city?”

Aerial photo of Hiroshima taken several months after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. Photo: U.S. Army. Prints and Photographs Division.

Shimizu returned to his native Hokkaido. Though afflicted by radiation poisoning and trauma, he secured a job as an interpreter in an Otaru hotel that served as an American military club during the U.S. occupation. There he met and befriended Willard C. Floyd, a 19-year-old soldier from Bliss, Idaho.

The account of Hiroshima, written by Shimizu in flawless English in 1946, was for Floyd, so that he would understand the terror, devastation and loss hidden beneath the soaring mushroom cloud. Floyd eventually moved to Arizona after returning from the war and ran a barber shop. He died in 1985. His family gave his papers, including Shimizu’s manuscript, to the Library in 2020.

Writing about and sharing traumatic memories can lead to self-healing for some people. Shimizu was a Walt Whitman scholar who taught at Japanese colleges and published on Whitman’s poetry. Like the poet, Shimizu captured the inhumanity of war in his writing, yet he retained his faith in humanity.

Shimizu retired from teaching Gifu Women’s University in 1986. He died in 1997. You can read more of his war account, and of his brief but sincere friendship with Floyd, in this blog post.

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