Diary of a doctor in the aftermath of Hiroshima

Home News And Events Diary of a doctor in the aftermath of Hiroshima

Dr Marcel Junod, then head of the ICRC's delegation in Japan, was the first foreign doctor to enter the devastated city a little over a month after the bombing, bringing with him desperately needed medical supplies.

He kept a journal describing his impressions extracts of which are published below.

“At twelve o'clock, we flew over Hiroshima. We… witnessed a site totally unlike anything we had ever seen before. The centre of the city was a sort of white patch, flattened and smooth like the palm of a hand. Nothing remained. The slightest trace of houses seemed to have disappeared. The white patch was about two kilometres in diameter. Around its edge was a red belt, marking the area where houses had burned, extending quite a long way further, difficult to judge from the airplane, covering almost all the rest of the city. It was an awesome sight. 

The roofs looked denuded, as their tiles had been blown off by the blast. In places, the grass was bleached, as if dried; the Japanese journalist explained to me that the plants, vegetables and rice up to five or six miles from the bomb's epicentre had lost their green colour immediately after the explosion. They only got their colour back three or four weeks later. However, some plants, obviously more sensitive, had died. 

At three miles from the bomb's epicentre, some houses had been flattened like cardboard. The roofs were completely caved in; the rafters stuck out all round. This was the familiar sight of cities destroyed by explosive bombs. At two and a half miles, there were only piles of beams and planks, but the stone houses seemed intact. At just over two miles from the town centre, all houses had been gutted by fire. All that remained was the outline of their foundations and heaps of rusty metal. This area looked like the towns of Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe, destroyed by incendiary bombs. At one mile or so everything had been torn apart, blasted and swept away as if by a supernatural power; houses and trees had disappeared.

This emergency hospital is in a half-demolished school. There are many holes in the roof. On that day, it was pouring with rain and water was dripping into the patients' rooms. Those who had the strength to move huddled in sheltered corners, while the others lay on some kind of pallets; these were the dying. There are eighty-four sick and injured in this hospital with ten nurses and twenty schoolgirls, who seem to be very little girls, aged from 12 to 15 years, to look after them. There is no water, no sanitary installations, no kitchen. 

A doctor comes in from outside to visit the sick every day. The medical care is rudimentary; dressings are made of coarse cloth. A few jars of medicine are lying around on a shelf. The injured often have uncovered wounds and thousands of flies settle on them and buzz around. Everything is incredibly filthy. Several patients are suffering from the delayed effects of radioactivity with multiple haemorrhages. They need small blood transfusions at regular intervals; but there are no donors, no doctors to determine the compatibility of the blood groups; consequently, there is no treatment.”