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Account by Wiltrud Preibisch, 27 year-old German national, being evacuated under police guard with her uncle from Yamaguchi to Okayama on August 15, 1945 
Wiltrud POTTER(うぃるとるーと ぽったー) 
Gender Female  Age at time of bombing 27 
Year written  
Location at time of bombing Hiroshima(Exposed upon entering city) 
Location when exposed to the bombing  
Status at time of bombing  
Occupational status at time of bombing  
Hall site Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims 
We were the last ones. The last foreigners who were left of our little “Colony”, i.e. four lecturers and their families in a small university town in the south of Japan, when the war in the Far East began. According to the newspapers, we were the allies, but in real life we were considered the troublesome and unwelcome foreigners, whom you could not trust, not even in peace time. The police “visits” us frequently and meticulously records the results. Every year, many volumes are filled with information about our habits, opinions, and actions, carefully entered in calligraphed brush and ink, and stored in a room especially designated for this purpose.

The war progressed. Just as in Germany, the initial actual victories are replaced by the fantastic ones: Air raids and sinking of ships on a great scale. If you added up all the sunken ships, it would far exceed the world tonnage. Still, the number of air raids, which were generally initiated from aircraft carriers, increased.  Few people can appreciate today how terribly Japan was bombed, that at least half or more of each of the great cities in Japan was utterly destroyed.

The situation kept deteriorating, the food supply became scarce. To live in a small city as a foreigner, without access to any European food, was not easy. The individual Japanese were generally very helpful and touchingly concerned, but the official opinion of foreigners deteriorated more and more. When the war finally came to an end in Germany and the threat of an invasion of Japan became increasingly realistic, we were dismissed from our positions at the university, and we were to be brought into “protective custody”. It was not supposed to be an internment, but rather were we to be protected against the inevitable rage of the masses against the Whites.

Such a reaction was not to be expected in our little town, since people had known us for over ten years. The best and most prudent decision would have been to let us live here in peace. But since we were not to be trusted as Non-Japanese, we received orders by the military police on August 6th, 1945, to pack our belongings, and get ready to be transported to a little town in the mountains of Okayama Province.

Most of our things we were allowed to take with us. Boxes were not available, but the almighty police delivered them. Nails had not been seen in Japan for the last couple of years, but the police brought them in by the box-full. Civilian men had not been around for years, only soldiers, but the police supplied six men to help us pack. Both Military and Political police, our nemeses for years, participated in the activities. With bare chests, they worked in the awful heat and humidity of August.  We jumped, we packed.  As soon as we had packed a suitcase, we had to open it again for inspection. A hiking map of Greece. What kind of writing is this? Those are no Latin letters! Russian? Aha, so I see! We should have arrested you much earlier! - Luckily, we were able to explain and straighten things out.

On the 9th, there was a break. No one appeared. It was also the day of the newspaper delivery. Newspapers were delivered only twice a week, printed on only one side in quarto format. “A terrible bomb, incredible destruction in Hiroshima, many tens of thousands dead.” In the evening, the police came by: “What did you read? Maybe you misunderstood? This is all nonsense, it has been refuted. It was just a normal level of destruction, the kind you read about every day.” - “When do we leave?” “We’ll tell you tomorrow.”

On the 12th, we are still there. The luggage is picked up. We live out of three drawers. On the 13th, a large number of B29 bombers appear. Two circle closely above our heads and drop flyers. Our garden is littered in paper. They say: “After Hiroshima, have you finally come to your senses? Stop fighting. Look at your glorious leaders!” There are pictures of the principal generals. “Do you trust these men?” The Emperor was not included. Hiroshima? What about it? What has happened? And then: “Tomorrow at 12 we will come and bomb your city. You know that we keep our promises. Do not go to work, etc.”

Now it is August 14th. It is so strange that after all this urgency to get us transported out we are still here. The police are not visible, and when we ask when we will need to leave they will not or cannot give us an answer.

On the 15th, a woman comes from the neighborhood watch; she has just received an urgent directive: Today, at noon, all must listen to the radio, the Emperor will speak to his people! - This is unprecedented! Maybe someone just went mad? Or should we expect the American invasion any one of these days, and the Emperor will demand the ultimate sacrifice from his people, i.e. after having futilely resisted the enemy,  for everyone and their families to commit suicide? This would be after the famous example of the island of Saipan: After all the munition was spent, the men fell on their swords and the old people and the women with infants in their arms and children by their sides jumped off a cliff into the ocean. Many weeks later, the bodies still washed ashore. But no one was captured by the enemy alive, the ultimate disgrace for any Japanese. Will this be the demand?

At 11, the police arrives: “Today at 3 o’clock you leave.” At 3? At 12 noon, we have been promised a bombing raid, at 12 noon, the Emperor will speak…ok, ok, at 3 o’clock.

At noon, we listen to the radio announcement our neighbors’. It is incredible, the never uttered holy name is pronounced, He will speak! With a voice heavy with sorrow, his speech comes through the loudspeakers. All heads are bowed, as if He were there in person. He ends. Someone says, “The speech is over.” That is it. Many weep. We don’t dare ask why. After 15 minutes of silence, some start to speak: The fighting's over, the Americans have arrived, 2600 years of our glorious history for nothing. - But also: Now the fighting will start in earnest. He will be our leader. There will be great victories, and no more bombers will fly over our country.

So what is going on? We were able to understand some words here and there, but what did the Emperor really say? The others, too, have only understood individual words, maybe more than we have, but since the language of the court is so formal and has remained unchanged for centuries, it differs so much from modern Japanese that only scholars can understand it.

The police come for our departure. “Maybe all is over, and we don’t have to leave after all?”
 - “Nonsense, here is the order, just came from headquarters in Tokyo.” So we gather up our last belongings and make our way to the train station, accompanied by two people: The loyal student, who has stuck with us despite the warnings by the police that he would be considered a traitor if he stayed with us, and the personal policeman, who guards us. Each carries two suitcases with necessaries and food for 8 days, as ordered by the police. - At the station, a crowd has gathered, the whole town is there, students, merchants, everyone. Many different rumors are circulating, the future is so unpromising, if only we could remain with these good old friends! Then the formal, serious farewell, with 1000 bows…Nowhere in the world will it be so wonderful as it has been here. What will happen to all of us, to those who are staying, and to us who are leaving?

At the next three stops, friends meet us at the station. Everyone brings gifts of food; rice cakes filled with red bean paste, for good luck. We haven’t seen these delicacies for five years. We ride, sitting on our luggage.

“Are you heading up (north to Tokyo), or down?” “Up!” “I don’t think so. That stretch has been closed for three days.” “But the police are sending us there, and they surely wouldn’t let us go, if we weren’t going to arrive at the destination.” “I guess you are right.” We board the Tokaido Line, the main railway line in Japan. Night has fallen. At 9 o’clock, we round the northernmost region of our province, and then we hear: “All must get off!” The tracks have come to an end. 15 kilometers of track have been destroyed. The next train will leave at 6 o’clock in the morning, on the other side of the gap of 15 kilometers.

As far as one can tell, everything around us has been destroyed. Somewhere there seem to be smoldering remains of a house. Where will we stay overnight? Our train takes off to where it came from. We are sad, tired, and disappointed, like everyone else. People are squatting all around, waiting. Hardly anyone says anything. The first people start to spread out blankets. There is no way we can go any further tonight, there are no houses, and we will try to sleep. It is strange, no one speaks, there is no air raid siren, but the houses are burning. Has the war ended? When will we find out what is going on? We share and distribute some of our cake. There are still a few people who know us, and they are telling the others who we are. A few tired and worn out individuals have already been looking at us with hate in their eyes. Even though we are exhausted, we can’t get to sleep. How are we going to manage the15 kilometer stretch with our incredibly heavy luggage? Maybe there will be an automobile or a cart…There is nothing to be done; we start marching.

Then, suddenly, an airplane appears. It flies quite low - it is a Japanese craft! The downcast passengers break into an excited threefold cheer: “Banzai! Long live Japan!” So not all is lost! Revived by this, they continue on their way, carrying their possessions in gigantic knotted bundles. These are all people who lost their homes to bombings, they are the only ones with permission to travel, - but they are nevertheless enthusiastic about continuing the fight.

What should we do with our luggage? Should we just leave it here on the road? It is just too heavy to take with us.  All around us are huge craters left by bombs, the glowing green rice fields, - the kernels already formed on the stalks - show wide swaths of destruction. Next to us, a huge industrial area, a very modern munitions factory, completely devastated, iron struts snapped, the ruins smoking. Next to the factory, the lightly built workers’ huts, everything, everything gone.

Then we hear the sound of an engine approaching. It is a truck! The policeman stops it. We have to negotiate for a while and then a miracle occurs: The truck will take us. We really, truly are allowed to get on! The truck is driven without air in the tires and propelled by wood gasifier from an open Franklin stove. The fire is just then threatening to go out and needs to be rekindled. We are assigned to coax the fire back into life by waving a huge fan in front of the open stove until the flames shoot out of the hole. This is where we have found a seat, right next to the raging fire.

In the mean time, 60 more passengers with luggage have boarded the truck, some are even hanging on to the railings from the outside. At first, they try pushing the truck. It doesn’t move. Half of the people must get off, if we want to get going at all. Somehow, in the end, all falls into place. Like always in Japan, it is done without shouting or threatening; however, the exchanges are not quite as polite as they had been before the war. And really, we drive right through the burned fields and the mud, and we finally arrive at the spot where the tracks begin again.

Meanwhile, we are dying of thirst. There is one water pump that was left intact after the destruction - and everyone crowds around it. “What, do we have water for the white devils? Chase them away!” We can’t even be upset or fearful at this point, after all that we have been through. But of course, the newspapers report daily on the white people.  White people spread devastation, and even the cowardly Germans abandoned Japan in its hour of greatest need, when it capitulated. No, even though it is terribly sad, we should not be surprised by this reaction.

A train approaches. All jump onto it, even before it has come to a stop. Finally, we get to move on. Only 4 or 5 more hours, and we should be there. “To Okayama? I am afraid you will have to be patient.” Well, first we should arrive in Hiroshima.

Where we expected to see the suburbs of Hiroshima, the city of half a million inhabitants, we see nothing but ruins. The huge castle nestled at the slope of the mountain range, the city landmark, is gone! We have been riding the train for 20 minutes through an area that should have city, but have not seen one house. To the right, to the left, down to the ocean, and up to the mountains, nothing is left. Not even ruins or rubble. Hiroshima is gone.

On the mountain, a gigantic broken temple gate, and next to it a withered pine. The slopes, usually covered in verdant green are now dirty brown and dried up. Not one blade of green is to be seen. The fields which last week were flush with rice and sweet potatoes ripening in the humid heat, are dead. Some so-called European office buildings still have a wall standing, and the floors are dangling down from the upper stories. You can see where the streets ran; the blacktop is untouched. The bridges seem to have survived, but wires are dangling from everywhere. And there are some people, crawling among the devastation.

Our train stops. This used to be the main train station. You can only guess, it is not certain. But yes, there is the underpass, this is the station. “Final stop. All get off!” Not again! It is 7 o’clock in the morning and incredibly hot. What is that? A terrible, sickening smell! Maybe, if we move forward, it will get better. Crowds and chaos everywhere, you can hardly move. We put down our luggage. “Can we get something to drink here?” We ask. “No.”

More and more people stream in. What is with these people? Are those human beings? What has happened here? They don’t look like the thousands of bombed out individuals whom we have met before. These people act strangely stiff, they seem to be far, far away. Their eyes are filled with unspeakable horror. They appear almost lifeless, not sad, but rather frozen in terror. Many are wrapped in torn clothing and bandaged in dirty rags. Others just sit there practically naked, with open, festering burns.

A little boy, maybe 5 years old, is crouched next to us. He has a cloth bundle with him which he just untied. In it is a glass marble, a torn out page from a picture book, and a raw sweet potato. He bites into the potato, puts it back into the cloth, then reaches for the marble and the picture, and staring into space, puts them back, and then ties up the bundle. He repeats this sequence again and again, for hours. Some people who know him say that he is the only survivor of his entire street. We offer him some of our food, but he does not see it.

We have not eaten in a long time. Our policeman is hungry, too. We unpack some bread. In Hiroshima, there has been nothing to eat for a week besides some left-over sweet potatoes. People look at our food, but not in envy or with desire. We offer to share, but no one takes anything. We put our food away.

The smell persists, sickeningly sweet, disgusting. Someone asks. It is the smell of the dead. There are so many they cannot be burnt, as it is customary. They cannot be buried, either, there are not enough people left to do this. So the bodies lie around and rot. In this tropical heat, this happens quickly.

If we could only get on another train! But we can’t just leave, we are being guarded by the policeman. By now, it has gotten to be noon. Suddenly, there is an announcement on the loudspeaker. Here in this waste-land, we have not been entirely cut off from everything! Yesterday’s announcement is repeated. Again, the Emperor speaks, and again, he cannot be understood. But to hear his voice! Just for a moment, a spark of life seems to enter the dulled eyes. And then the explanation follows: It has happened, the war is over.

But even this message does not seem to rouse the life-less victims who have lived through Hiroshima. Their only thought appears to be: How to get out of this hell. Our traveling companions weep or stare ahead. Just a few hours ago, they were jubilantly proclaiming resistance and a continuation of the fight. Now, after having seen Hiroshima, they know the end of the war must happen now.

We are sitting almost in a trance. We can’t think or talk. Everything is so awful and hopeless here. Our thought cannot get beyond Hiroshima. We should be relieved that the war is over, maybe even be happy. But we can’t be happy, not now, maybe at a later time. But it is difficult to imagine a “later time”.

More and more people arrive. We must get away. This is not a bombed city, this is an inferno. Someone whispers “Look at this child, this man! Now, they look like you and I, apparently healthy, but they all must die; everyone who has been touched by the rays of the explosion will die, gradually, after weeks, months. And many know it. They are all lost.”

We must get away! More rumors, in an hour, there will be a train….Then nothing! But finally! We have been waiting for 6 hours, and there it comes! Everyone jumps on board, onto the roof, between the wheels, people hanging everywhere! The train is bound for the near military port, which has also been destroyed. Even before the war, this area was strictly off limits to us Europeans who were kept  under close watch. We are told to get off and are forced jump off the moving train. Back into the crowds, back into Hiroshima, the thirst, the smell, the disgust with humanity. Now the heat is at its height, and we sit on the floor leaning against a pillar, almost passing out.

At 4 o’clock, another train. Impossible, we can’t even get near it. Will it ever be possible to breathe air, clean air again? It is 7 o’clock in the evening, the heat lingers. The train! Our train, and we sit between wagons, but we ride! Many have to stay back. We ride!

Very slowly we ride through the brown waste-land. Over there stood a large department store. The huge building, the glass roof, nothing left, all turned into dust. There are hardly any broken pieces or ruins in the center of the city, - just nothing.

Hiroshima! For so many years, we regularly rode the 80 kilometers to Hiroshima to go shopping in this lively, vibrant city full of fascinating stores, famous restaurants, and great theaters. Now, all is dead. Away from here!

We have now been traveling for one, two, three hours. But Hiroshima is still there. We cannot get away from it. The people, the smell, it does not dissipate, it clings to the clothing, to the air we breathe. How will we ever recover?

The train stops. We have arrived at Okayama, our destination. It is 10 o’clock.

My mother told me that, on arrival at Okayama, they were each offered a cup of tea and then sent back to Yamaguchi - via Hiroshima. The war was over and the order was no longer in effect.

One month later, her uncle took his own life.
 

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