A-Bomb Survivor: Witness to the Flash
Source: The Sun Megazine
August 6, 1995
By Steven Gan
On August 6, 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. About 100,000 people were instantly killed and another 90,000 died of radiation years later. But one Malaysian survived the terrible ordeal. Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid tells his story to Steven GanIt was early in the morning of August 6, 1992. The scorching midsummer sun was beating down mercilessly on the thousands who gathered in front of the Cenotaph at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It was begining to sizzle but the crowd remained unfazed.
A one-minute silence was observed at 8:15 - the exact hour and minute of the atomic blast. Soon after, a few short speeches were made. Mayor Takachi Hiraoka reiterated that Hiroshima must continue to be the beacon of world peace.
As the official commemoration of the atomic bombing was about to come to an end, a flock of pigeons were released. The sound of flapping wings filled the silence which shrounded the memorial. And as the pigeons disappeared into the clouds, a single feather drifted down.
Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid was among the "hibakushas" - survivors of the atomic blast - near the front of the Cenotaph. He saw the feather fluttering above him and he slowly opened his palm. The feather daintily landed on it.
Abdul Razak Abdul Hamid in 1945, the sole Malaysian survivor of Hiroshima.
A miracle? Abdul Razak believes so. Indeed, his whole life is a miracle. Abdul Razak, now 70 had survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima virtually unscathed.
In August 1943, when Malaya was under Japanese occupation, Razak along with three others were sent to Tokyo to study Japanese. They were undergoing training to be Japanese language teachers. Two years later, he and two Malayans - Nik Yusuf Nik Ali and Syed Omar Syed Mohammad Alsagoff - continued their studies in Hiroshima University. Abdul Razak was then 20-years-old.
On that fateful day, Razak was up early to attend classes.
"Nik Yusuf and Syed Omar had no lectures that morning. I had a mathematics class," says Razak as he settles down in his house in Gombak. "There were only two of us in the class - myself and Pangeran Yusof who was a student from Brunei. Professor Kiyoshi Toda was our lecturer."
During the class, an air-raid siren was sounded which was a common occurrence. All the students filed out orderly and into the air-raid shelters. There was no panic. Hiroshima was one of the few cities which escaped heavy bombardment from the American forces.
On the contrary, Razak recalls that Tokyo where he was during the early years in Japan had suffered massive bombardment. The worst was no March 10, 1945. B29 bombers first dropped incendiary bombs on the perimeter of the city so that it would be surrounded by a circle of fire. Then, hundreds of bombers followed with more incendiary bombs, dropped on densely populated areas.
The planes flew almost at will, raining bombs. By 1945, the Japanese military was in such a shamble that they couldn't offer much of a resistance. Within two and a half hours, 40% of Tokyo was destroyed. The death toll on that night alone was 100,000. One million lost their homes.
The fire bombing of Tokyo was a diabolical precursor to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima five months later.
Hell on EarthThe skies over Hiroshima on that ominous Monday morning were perfectly clear - a beautiful bluish purple, unblemished by even a speck of cloud. It was about 7:30am when Straight Flush, and American reconnaissance plane, was spotted flying past Hiroshima which triggered the air raid siren.
"After 10 or 15 minutes, there was another siren signalling that it was safe for us to return to our classrooms," says Razak. However, unbeknown to Razak and the inhabitants of Hiroshima, Straight Flush had sent an all-clear message to Enola Gay which was heading towards Japan with the atomic bomb, codenamed "Little Boy". Straight Flush had studied the weather conditions in Hiroshima - it was perfect for the dropping of the atomic bomb.
At 8:15am, Enola Gay circled over Hiroshima and released "Little Boy" from its bowels. It exploded 43 seconds later at about 500 metres above the Aioi bridge, located smack in the middle of Hiroshima city. "There was a tremendous flash," recalls Razak. "I could only remember myself shouting `Yusof, kilat! (lightning)'."
"As the brilliant thermal flash engulfed Hiroshima, a tremendous roaring blast reverberated across the city. Hiroshima was instantly levelled to the ground. A huge pillar of flame shot up into a gigantic mushroom cloud.
Everyone within a radius of about 500 metres of "ground zero" where the atomic bomb exploded, were immediately vaporised, leaving behind nothing but their charred remains. They had virtually disappeared from the face of the earth. Only dark shadows on the pavements or stone walls remained to mark their earthly presence.
Those further away were burnt by the thermal flash or injured by fragments of glass and other materials. A number of people were blown away by the 800km per hour wind. The heat rays melted roof tiles and bleached the surface of granite stones milky white. Clothes of those who were outdoors spontaneously combusted. Trees burst into flames while much bigger trees burnt on the inside leaving behind hollow trunks.
A perfect summer morning had turn into instant hell on earth.
Razak was about 1.5km from "ground zero". "After the flash, everything went pitch black. The wooden building had collapsed on me. I didn't know how long it was before I regain consciousness." he says.
"When I came around, I had difficulty breathing. I saw light seeping through the planks of wood on top of me and I slowly climbed my way out. When I was out, I noticed that may shirt was soaked in blood. I discovered that the back of may head was bleeding. However, apart from that I was unhurt."
Razak was the first person to crawl out of the rubble. "I took a look around myself. Everything - as far as my eyes could see - was completely destroyed. I thought to myself that it must have been a very powerful bomb. Then I went to help my professor and Pangeran Yusof. They were also uninjured.
"Professor Toda asked us to go back to the formitory to find our colleagues."
But it was almost impossible for both Razak and Pangeran Yusof to find their way to the Konanryo dormitory. All the landmarks were destroyed. Roads had virtually disappeared. "We were lost a number of times and had to double back. Along the way, we saw a lot of dead bodies."
There were throngs of bloodstained people, naked or half-naked, painfully dragging themselves, trying to find safety. The skin of those who had been burnt by the heat rays was peeling or left hanging in strips. Some were completely dazed, sitting on the ground, pleading for help.
Knowing that their dormitory was located near the winding Motoyasu river, Razak and Pengeran Yusof decided to track the river. "When we thought we had reach the dormitory, we shouted, `Obasan, Obasan' (granny, granny)." They were looking for Takahasyi, the elderly woman who managed the hostel. "We heard a voice and with our bare hands, we removed the debris.
"After helping her, we went to our dormitory. We found the `obasan' alive. However, she was trapped and could not be moved. She requested us to find her daughter who was also in the hostel. And while we were doing that and helping others who were injured, the fire came from across the river."
Sea of FireThe fires in Hiroshima, ignited by the heat of the atomic bomb, quickly grew into a raging firestorm, consuming everything in its path. It was at its height between 10am and 2pm.
"Across the river, there were about 30 Japanese schoolgirls desperately crying for help, trying to escape from the sea of fire. Many of them jumped into the river and were drowned. Those who couldn't run fast enough were burnt to death. We could do nothing but helplessly watch them die."
The Ota river and its seven tributaries which flowed through Hiroshima were rapidly filled with dead bodies and debris.
"The firestorm came to a halt by the river bank. We thought we were safe. Then, to may horror, the fire crossed the Takanobasyi bridge nearby. And in no time, our side started to burn. I began to fear that our fate would follow those who had died earlier in the inferno."
The only escape was the Motoyasu river. "I suddenly was a raft. I didn't know where it came from. I helped get everyone on board along with our books and other belongings which we had recovered. There were around 15 of us.
"But the fire was like a cyclone. It was so hot that it felt like the sun was falling down on us. We knew we would be fried if we remained on top of the raft. So all of us jumped into the river. And to keep ourselves from drowning, we held on the raft. It was our lifeboat."
"A few of us who were injured were unable to hold on to the raft and were swept away by the river. I held on." To escape the sizzling heat, Razak and the others submerged themselves under water, coming up for air every now and then.
"Not long after that, I suddenly saw our books, mattresses and clothing on top of the raft began catching fire. I alerted Pangeran Yusof who bravely jumped onto the raft and kicked off the burning fabric and books thus saving the raft and our lives."
They stayed in the water for about two hours until the fire subsided. The fire came so fast that they were unable to save `Obasan'. Later, when it was getting dark, they cleared an area of dead bodies and carcasses and set up a makeshift camp.
"We found some rice and potatoes from the university. The rice was littered with broken glass. I picked out the bigger pieces but it was impossible to remove all the glass. Nevertheless, we cooked the rice. The potatoes, however, were already cooked.
"While preparing food, we heard voices of a group of people nearby pleading for water. So we gave them water from the river. They drank and then immediately died. We thought the water could be contaminated by dead bodies, so we decided to boil the water instead. But that didn't help either. More died after drinking the boilded water."
According to Razak, the victims were blistering inside their bodies which cracked upon coming into contact with water. "So we told the others not to drink the water. They said, `It's better for us to drink and die, rather than to drink and survive."
At about 11pm, the Red Cross finally arrived from neighbouring towns with bread water and medicine. That night, Razak had difficulty sleeping. "The whole night, I heard voices of mothers calling the names of their children."
On that morning, about 10,000 high school students from nearby towns were mobilised to remove debris from dismantled buildings in Hiroshima. The buildings were demolished to create fire breaks in the event of air-raids.
On hearing about the tragedy, their parents trekked into Hiroshima in search for these children. It was, however, to no avail. Most of the children had either died from the fires or drowned in the rivers. "I felt really sad on hearing the voices of their mothers. There was no reply from the darkness of the night."
Razak camped at the university grounds for about 12 days before a kind Japanese family offered to accomodate some of the foreign students in their house, some 50km from Hiroshima.
"We walked all the way there. It was then that I saw the enormity of the destruction. Close to the city centre, almost everything was flattened. However, the further we moved away from the city, the destruction became less severe. After 10 days with the Japanese family, we were informed that we were to return to Tokyo."
As soon as Razak arrived in Tokyo, he was given a complete medical chek-up. "The doctor told him that I had low white blood cell count. So I was given injections of white blood cells everyday. The treatment lasted for one whole month."
Going HomeThree months later, Razak was called for a meeting with the occupying American army. "I was offered the choice of either continuing my studies without sholarship or to go home. It wasn't much of an option as I had no money. So I told them I would go home."
On returning home, Razak attended the Sultan Idris Training College and qualified as a teacher in Bahasa Melayu three years later. However, his love affair with the Japanese language got the better of him. He offered to teach the staff at the Japanese embassy Bahasa Malaysia. That way he was able to continue speaking Japanese. "I was scared that I would forget the language."
Later Razak joined a Japanese school as a lecturer. In 1982, after the announcement of the "Look East" policy, he was appointed the programme head of the Japanese language intensive course in the MARA Institute of Technoloby which help prepare Malaysian students who are training as Japanese language teachers.
He continues in this capacity to this day despite being well over his retirement age. "I had wanted to retire but unfortunately there is no one else who can replace me. I cannot leave as I feel responsible for the project. It is like planting a tree. I have seen the tree grow and flourish. If I don't look after it now, I'm afraid that it will die."
Each year on August 6, the Hiroshima City Council organises a peace memorial to remember those who died in the atomic bombing. Razak has been invited to attend the memorial since 1984. He says that this significance as it is the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing.
For 50 years, Razak has tried to preach the message of peace. "I speak to many students and to anyone who is interested to hear my story. It is terrible that today we have thousands of nuclear weapons which are much more powerful than the atomic bomb in Hiroshima," laments Razak. His task is made easier when one of his students, Othman Puteh, wrote "Debu Hiroshima", a book based on his experience.
In addition, NHK, a Japanese TV station, did a documentary on Razak in 1988. The result was a 45-minutes documentary entitled "Kokoro no Hiroshima" ("Hiroshima in my heart), which was broadcasted in Japan.
Razak sent a copy of the tape to RTM in the hope that it would be translated into Bahasa Malaysia and aired in this country.
The documentary should be compulsory viewing for all Malaysians, not only because it is about a Malaysian who had survived the most terrifying bomb ever devised by humankind, but also because it is about the quest of a Malaysian for peace and a world without nuclear weapons.
But to date, there is no response from RTM.