It was 76 years ago that the US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, respectively, leading to the end of World War II. But it also ended the lives of an estimated 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population and 74,000 in Nagasaki.

This was not all. The nuclear radiation released from this very first use of atomic bombs caused thousands more to die from radiation sickness in the weeks, months and years that followed. Those who survived the bombings are known as ‘hibakusha’ or ‘person affected by a bomb’.

Here we are sharing the story of one such person, Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima. Though she wasn’t killed immediately, she suffered the effects of radiation, and clearly saw death coming all the time. She was dying slowly, but she didn’t want to die. She, therefore, bravely fought for her life. The story of this daughter of Hiroshima is the story of a brave girl who struggled till her last breath for life.

A memorial for Sadako in Hiroshima
A memorial for Sadako in Hiroshima

Sadako is a symbol against mass murder of innocent people of all age group. The atomic weapons that were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had caused mass destruction. Many kids lost their lives, and many suffered from blood cancer (Leukaemia) due to radioactive exposure. Even the kids born after 1945 were affected in many ways.

The bombs were dropped by America during World War II, to gain victory, but these bombs destroyed the two cities and killed countless innocent people there. Those who survived lived a painful life and suffered different kinds of deformities.

The story of Sadako, and other kids like her, is about those who were affected by atomic bombings, but who didn’t know why were they suffering. The voices of these kids are heard not only in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but all over the world.

Paper cranes
Paper cranes

Sadako Sasaki was born on January 7, 1943. This little girl was only a just over two years when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She was home at the time, with her mother and grandma, passing a normal day when they heard a loud bang. Because of the pressure of the bomb, Sadako was blown out of the window, whose glass had shattered.

Her mother, Fujiko, ran out of the house and thought that her daughter must be dead. But by a miracle, the child was found without any serious injuries. The mother held her tightly, expecting another massive bang. She was terrified, thinking that she would lose her daughter forever.

The poor mother fled from the house to find shelter. Then she caught sight of Sadako’s grandma running back into the house. The old lady never returned. Sadako lived another ten years after the atomic explosion.

Sadako started living a normal life and enjoyed running and soon became an important member of the school’s relay team. In 1954, when she was eleven-years-old, she experienced swelling on her neck and behind her ear. In January 1955, Purpura had formed on her legs. Purpura are blood spots, or rash of purple spots on the skin caused by internal bleeding from small blood vessels. It occurs when small blood vessels burst, causing blood to pool under the skin.

Hiroshima today
Hiroshima today

Sadako was diagnosed with acute malignant lymph gland leukaemia. On February 21st, 1955, she was hospitalised. She was given only a few months to live. Her mother and others referred to this disease as “atomic bomb disease”.

Sadako was a patient at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital for treatment, where she was given blood transfusion. The doctors treating her noticed that her white blood cells count was six times higher than an average child.

During those times, huge increase in leukaemia was noticed among the children and it was clear that it was due to radioactive exposures. In August 1955, Sadako was moved to a different room in the hospital. There she met another girl named Kiyo, a junior high school student, who was two years older than Sadako. She gave her company and hope.

Sadako learnt there at the hospital from her friend and others about a Japanese belief that if a thousand paper cranes were made by someone, then his or her wish would come true. Sadako did not want to die. She wanted to live. She was highly impressed by the story about the paper cranes.

Sadako took up the challenge of making a thousand paper cranes, so that her wish would come true and she wouldn’t die. She would gather papers from here and there, and make paper cranes.

Sadako Sasaki
Sadako Sasaki

After some time, many cranes were brought to her room from a local high school club where the children had heard about her wish and wanted to help her. Sadako had plenty of time to make paper cranes, but she would often run out of paper. Her friends would then help her and bring papers for her. She also used medical papers and asked other patients for paper. She was very eager to reach her goal.

Some people say that she folded only 644 cranes before she died and then her friends completed it for her and buried the paper cranes with her.

The book about her life “Sadako and the Thousand paper Cranes” says that her brother Masanori Sasaki had confirmed that she had completed the thousand paper cranes in August 1955, but her condition continued to worsen in the hospital. She lost her appetite and got weaker day by day.

The last thing she asked for was some tea and rice, and said, “It’s tasty.” She died with her family and friends surrounding her. Sadako died on the morning of October 25, 1955. She was then a little over twelve-and-a-half-year-old.

Sadako Sasaki was also known as a “Hibakusha”, a Japanese word meaning atomic bomb-affected person. The kids of Japan learn about her from novels and history books. She was a brave and intelligent child. A memorial has been built in her memory. In 1958, a statue of Sadako was built in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

At the platform of the statue, there is a plaque where it’s written: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”

Sadako will always be remembered as a child who didn’t want to die, but who was driven to death by the after-effects of atomic bombing.

Even today, children all over the world want peace. I am sick of seeing kids suffer and die. Hundreds and thousands of them died or saw their parents killed in front of them because of wars, violence and terrorism. There are the Palestinian kids, Iraqi kids and Afghan kids. They live in dangerous conditions all the time.

Like Sadako, we, the children of the world, ask why people should live with the constant fear of atomic bombing or carpet bombing or aerial bombing? We must work together for peace to ensure that the Sadakos of today live their life joyfully, and don’t die an untimely death.

Published in Dawn, Young World, August 7th, 2021

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