ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Hiroshima survivor: ‘My mother had said, “Go to the river”’

Dr. Hideko Tamura Snider, a Hiroshima survivor, told her story of how she survived the bomb and how the people around her responded at the "90 Seconds To Midnight" event sponsored by Peace House on Wednesday. Bob Palermini photo
August 14, 2023

Medford resident shares personal story of loss, survival and resiliency with Ashland audience on bombing anniversary

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Four-foot, 11-inch tall Hideko Tamura Snider pulled the microphone down slightly to her level as she stood at Congregational United Church of Christ in Ashland on Wednesday, Aug. 9, in front of a crowd gathered in anticipation of hearing her words on the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, three days after she experienced the bombing of Hiroshima. 

For several minutes, it was as if Tamura Snider was the tallest person in the room. The audience listened intently to her personal account of experiencing the bombing of Hiroshima nearly eight decades ago. A Medford resident since the 2000s and a peace ambassador to the city of Hiroshima, Tamura Snider also shared her thoughts on the theme of promoting peace in a society with a “Doomsday” nuclear clock positioned “90 seconds to midnight,” according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

She was one of two speakers for the evening event, along with former Southern Oregon University Professor Michael Niemann, who spoke about the historical relevance of nuclear weapons on the world stage.

Hideko Tamura Snider (arm raised), a Hiroshima survivor, told her story of how she survived the bomb and how the people around her responded at the “90 Seconds To Midnight” event sponsored by Peace House on Wednesday. Bob Palermini photo
The day of the bombing

“When the bomb explosion took place and the whole entire world turned pitch dark that you could not see a thing, and I have no understanding what it was, the immediate thing that came to me was another self, though I was only 10 years old,” Tamura Snider, 89, told the crowd.

In her book “One Sunny Day: A Child’s Memories of Hiroshima,” she says that before the bomb went off, she’d been enjoying a pleasant morning at home, reading from a book her cousin Hideyuki left for her before the attack.

“Suddenly, without any warning, an immensely blinding flash crossed my eyes, riveting my attention,” she wrote. “Instantly, I saw a huge band of white light plummeting past the trees and the stone lanterns to the ground, with a swift swishing sound like a massive gushing waterfall. There was nothing in my memory that corresponded with the terrifying image. 

“Almost simultaneously, a thunderous, deafening explosion jolted the air with an immediate violent quake, shaking the very foundation of the earth and everything that stood in it. ‘The end of the world must have come,’ I thought to myself as I instinctively jumped to my feet with the memory of Mama’s voice echoing in my head, ‘Find something strong to hold onto’ … Mama had always taught me to live.”

Michael Niemann, retired professor of international studies at Southern Oregon University spoke about the history of nuclear arms at the “90 Minutes To Midnight” event. Seated at rear is Elizabeth Hallett, executive director of Peace House, the evening’s sponsor, who also made remarks. Bob Palermini photo

“I had a speaking self to me that said to me, ‘So this is how you’re going to …die, in war and bombing,’” Tamura Snider said during her talk on Aug. 9. “We have another speaking self that talks to us. I don’t know what you call it.”

Whether the mind or the soul, Tamura Snider recalls “a very calm, watching, observing self” that spoke to her.

“You have something very calm and very sane that will speak to you,” she said.

“Every one of you have it … no matter what happens,” she added.

Tamura Snider’s injuries the day of the bombing were mostly internal, impacting even her bone marrow. She also experienced external injuries from broken glass.

“I was inside, so I wasn’t directly exposed to the horrible heat in which people’s skin and clothes melted,” Tamura Snider said.

She did experience radiation sickness, with symptoms such as a high fever.

Her mother, who did not survive the bombing, made sure she was as ready for such an event – as ready as one could be for an event like Hiroshima. That preparation saved Tamura Snider’s life. 

“My mother had largely taught me what to do if there was a direct bombing,” Tamura Snider said. “She helped prepare me in lots of different ways. So I followed what she had taught.

“I couldn’t have stayed alive if I hadn’t followed … the things that my mother had said to do,” she added. 

Tamura Snider’s mother had told her to place herself between pieces of heavy furniture if a bomb dropped, because then there would be space for her to breathe if the roof came down on top of her.

It was one of her aunts who, in the end, helped remove her from the debris and get away as soon as possible, before the extreme heat from the explosion could start more fires.

Hideko Tamura Snider with her mother in 1938.

“Most people that die in these kinds of situations are burned to death because they stay too long under the debris,” Tamura Snider said, echoing what her mother had told her prior to the attack.

“You know, she was barely about 30. How she knew all these things to teach me … but I’m glad she did.”

Within several minutes of the attack, Tamura Snider said, the heat radiating from the atomic bomb was so intense that “anything that could be burned started to burn.”

“My mother had said, ‘Go to the river,’” Tamura Snider said.

She recalled feeling helpless at the time, “but you do what you have to do.”

“I ended up fleeing on foot by myself after that,” Tamura Snider said. She needed to find her mother, whom she did not know had died at the time.

To the Ota River she went. She was picked up by a truck that carried injured survivors, taking them all to a nearby doctor’s office, which had rooms like a hospital. But what Tamura Snider wanted was to find her mother. Once she had been picked up by the truck, no one seemed to have time to tell her exactly how to get home.

An older man, whom she thought looked like a “grandpa,” pointed her toward a mountain range, telling her she, a 10-year-old girl, could walk that direction to find them.

“I started to walk, almost aimlessly because I didn’t know where to go,” Tamura Snider said.

She walked and walked and walked, with nothing but rice fields as far as one could see.

A woman asks a question at the “90 Minutes To Midnight” event held at the Ashland Congregational Church on Wednesday. Bob Palermini photo
Ready to lay down and die — until …

Her strength was waning. 

“I said to myself, ‘I can’t take one more step,’” Tamura Snider said. “‘I’m just going to die of exposure … I don’t care, I have no control.’ And so I sat down and practically laid down and it felt really good — the field, the grass.”

What happened next changed her perspective, in more ways than one. She looked up.

“Do you know it made a world of difference when I did that?” Tamura Snider said. “Looking up.

“Directly what came to me was the happier days.”

She recalled picnics with her classmates and her family and better days spent under blue skies.

Tamura Snider shared with audience members a nugget of wisdom uncovered that painful day, one anyone can carry with them.

“And suddenly, I wasn’t the same body, I wasn’t the same person,” Tamura Snider said. “Despair was gone. Nothing changed, except that I looked up.”

Tamura Snider later reunited with her father and her extended family members who also survived the bombing. Her will to live and to promote peace continued to increase.

Tamura Snider said she believes human beings were created to be equipped to solve whatever problem or challenge they may face. She has seen the worst of that, she said.

“Can you imagine every human being can do that (look up), in the most desperate, impossible, improbable moment; even if it’s smoky and smells terrible?”

Now what?

Tamura Snider emphasized the need to promote peace and an end to the use of nuclear weapons.

Elizabeth Hallett, director of Peace House, the Ashland nonprofit that organized the event, praised Tamura Snider’s work in promoting peace and resilience following the bombings.

“One of our most resilient survivors is right here with us,” Hallett said

Hallett emphasized that Peace House wanted to make sure the bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were equally acknowledged.

Hallett said the recently released “Oppenheimer” film and the fact that the “Doomsday Clock” hand was reset in January to  “90 seconds to midnight,” the closest time has come to running out, has drawn attention to the use of nuclear weapons and led to the title of the evening’s program: “Ninety Seconds to Midnight: What Can We Do?”

Tamura Snider and her friend Noriko Hansen told Ashland.news in interviews prior to the event Wednesday that they had watched the film together recently at the Varsity Theatre.

Tamura Snider called “Oppenheimer” “a well-made movie profiling his historical role, as well as his complex personality and vulnerability. I think it depicts what actually happened so, from that point of view, very meaningful to folks who dropped the bomb and those who suffered the consequences. The latter, the negative consequences, human or otherwise, do not appear in the movie version. I have tried to voice some human input as a Hiroshima survivor in the documentary version.”

Hideko Tamura Snider on the set of an MSNBC documentary about the atomic bomb. Noriko Hansen photo
Featured in Oppenheimer documentary

Tamura Snider was featured in a MSNBC documentary “To end all war: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb,” along with a Japanese physicist depicting the impacts to the Japanese people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The documentary aired July 9.

Hansen played a major role in encouraging her to travel to Los Angeles last fall for the filming and traveled with her. She also received a credit in the documentary for her role in encouraging Tamura Snider to participate.

It is Tamura Snider’s mission to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to promote peace. 

She said or many years, every late July into early August, many want to speak with her about her harrowing experiences. It can be a wearying process, to say the least.

Tamura Snider told Ashland.news that answering questions about the bombing and what it was like requires returning to “the most deepest, painful center of grief.”

“We do it because it’s very important,” she said. “This is something you want to really, really avoid experiencing, and today most everybody understands that, if it happens now, it will end the world.”

She sees “Oppenheimer” as a very useful movie to bring attention to the topic of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to humanity.

“Whether you agree or (are) broken-hearted that this ( nuclear weapon) was created … what 

we have at hand we can’t put it back in the genie’s bottle,” Tamura Snider told Ashland.news in a phone interview. “It’s there and a number of countries now have them (nuclear weapons) for whatever reason, some for believing that it will be a deterrent. We have something horrific that could, sorry to say, finish our planet.”

She believes very firmly in working towards peace in the world and has put that into action, including by participating in Ashland Peace Choir. She led the choir from Ashland to Hiroshima in 2006.

“The last place where we stopped was in the Hiroshima Peace Park,” Tamura Snider said.

“We’re standing next to the monument where 40,000 unidentified ashes are stored.”

Tamura Snider’s daughter Dr. Miko Rose sang and recorded the song “Over the Banks” to the melody of “Danny Boy” in honor of Tamura Snider’s mother, knowing Tamura Snider loved the tune.

“She sang that solo next to the mound of the unidentified ashes,” Tamura Snider said. 

Tamura Snider, in an interview with Ashland.news prior to the Aug. 9 event, shared that she and her mother loved singing together. 

“When I went looking for my mother, I was humming her favorite song,” she said. “And I asked God, ‘Would you please send it to my mother, because I don’t know where she is and I can’t comfort her.’”

Tamura Snider said that the song her daughter shared was a beautiful thing that honored Miko’s grandmother and her mother.

“She’s singing for her grandmother who she never met,” Tamura Snider said. “Had she met her, she would have not been the same.”

On Aug. 9, Tamura Snider thanked audience members for doing their part to promote peace.

“I feel like just looking into your direction, every single one of you believe very, very firmly in the subject of peace,” Tamura Snider said. 

“I mean in the most serious kind of way – That’s my kind of people,” she added, drawing applause.

“You’ve conducted your life according to what you thought you could do for it and that’s what I try to do, too.”

A new and revised version of Tamura Snider’s book about her experiences will be released this year by OSU Press, with a cover by Mari Kishi, a popular Tokyo artist/illustrator.

Peace House is circulating an online petition supporting House Resolution 77 to help curb the risk of nuclear disaster. 

To learn more, view the petition by clicking here.

Reach Ashland.news staff reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

Related Posts...

Obituary: Steven Maryanoff

Obituary: Steven Roy Maryanoff, beloved brother to Bruce Eliot Maryanoff and friend to many people around Ashland, passed away peacefully on June 18 at the age of 75 in his private home in Ashland. He was active in the Buddhist community in and around Ashland.

Read More »

Latest posts

Obituary: Steven Maryanoff

Obituary: Steven Roy Maryanoff, beloved brother to Bruce Eliot Maryanoff and friend to many people around Ashland, passed away peacefully on June 18 at the age of 75 in his private home in Ashland. He was active in the Buddhist community in and around Ashland.

Read More >

Explore More...

Shakespeare’s "Coriolanus" hits the stage Tuesday at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Rosa Joshi, the play tells the story of a powerful yet starving population and a war hero turned politician.
Childcare providers have until Friday, July 26, to submit applications for Early Childhood Affordability Grant Program grants, according to an announcement by the city on Monday, July 22. The application period opened July 12, the release said.
A master plan tailor-made to guide the city of Ashland’s approach to homelessness was unanimously approved Thursday evening by the final committee standing between the plan and a review from Ashland City Council. A review of the master plan is scheduled for the Aug. 5 council study session. 
John Marciano: Violence at home and abroad is not antithetical to America, it has been its very nature since the founding.
Volunteers gathered Sunday morning in Railroad Park to make repairs to the Say Their Names memorial T-shirts along the fence by the park. it was the third or fourth Sunday in a row volunteers came to the park to slowly recreate the memorial for its fifth iteration.
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.