On Aug 6, 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima became the testing ground of a new, terrible weapon that would change the course of history.
At exactly 8.15am, an American bomber dropped an atomic bomb onto the city and, within the next minute, thousands of people were dead.
While it is indisputable that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and, later, Nagasaki heralded the end of World War II, the cost was heavy in terms of human suffering.
Up to 146,000 people were killed in Hiroshima, while Nagasaki lost about 80,000 inhabitants. Thousands more were left homeless and with horrific injuries.
To mark Hiroshima Day today, FMT Lifestyle recounts some of the stories of those who survived these unthinkable tragedies.
1. Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid
In a strange twist of fate, there were actually three Malaysians present in Hiroshima when the bomb fell onto the city.
Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid was the only one who survived, while Nik Yusof Nik Ali and Syed Omar Syed Mohammad Alsagoff were not as fortunate.
Abdul Razak was heading for a lecture at Hiroshima Bunn University when the bomb detonated 1.5km from his location.
The building collapsed around him, but he miraculously escaped the rubble before eventually being evacuated to Tokyo.
Despite his ordeal, he continued his interest in Japanese affairs as an academic, and was made the head of Malaysia’s Look East Policy in 1982.
Abdul Razak passed away in 2013 at age 88. His story is told in “Debu Hiroshima”, a book written by a former student.
2. Tsutomu Yamaguchi
If it’s sheer luck to survive one atomic bombing, it’s divine intervention to survive two.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi, then 29, was visiting Hiroshima on a business trip – with Aug 6 scheduled to be his last day there – when he saw the sky exploding in what he would later call “the lighting of a huge magnesium flare”.
The shockwave sent him flying and he suffered a burnt face and ruptured eardrums. Despite his injuries, he was able to take a train to his hometown of Nagasaki, hoping to leave the devastation behind.
While arguing with his skeptical boss about what happened at Hiroshima, the Nagasaki bomb went off.
“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he would later say. Thankfully, he again survived unscathed, as did his wife and child at home.
Tsutomu, who died in 2010, is thus far the only victim officially recognised by the Japanese government as a “twice-bombed person”.
3. Yoshito Matsushige
Yoshito Matsushige was a 32-year-old photojournalist who was caught in the bombing of Hiroshima right after breakfast.
“The blast was so intense, it felt like hundreds of needles were stabbing me all at once,” he would later recount.
Despite the pain, he managed to grab his camera, determined to capture photographic evidence of the decimated city and its citizens.
Still, the pain and suffering of his potential subjects made him hesitate. “It was such a cruel sight that I couldn’t bring myself to press the shutter.”
Matsushige would eventually overcome his hesitation and capture five photos. These would be the only images ever be taken in Hiroshima on that fateful day.
He would later capture the famous photo “Human Shadow Etched in Stone”, where all that remained of a victim was their shadow, permanently left as a dark stain on a staircase.
4. Osamu Shimomura
It was supposed to be another day of work for 16-year-old Osamu Shimomura when he saw US bombers in the skies above Nagasaki.
He would later recall what came next: “We were blinded for about 30 seconds. Then, about 40 seconds after the flash, a loud sound and sudden change of air pressure followed.”
While distant enough from the blast, the effects were still felt: black rain began showering the survivors, including Shimomura, with radioactive ash and water.
He would have likely suffered from severe radiation poisoning later on had his grandmother not immediately bathed him upon his return home.
Despite the horrors he witnessed, he would go on to become a leading scientist, even winning a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2008.
He would open up about his experiences only late in life, saying that dropping the bomb on Nagasaki was a reckless weapons test. “It cannot be justified,” he said during his Nobel Prize speech.