Father John A. Siemes and Hiroshima

Often seen as one of the most controversial events in the history of mankind, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima altered the history of the world. On the morning of August 6, 1945, the bomb Little Boy was loaded onto the United States bomber, the Enola Gay. The bomb was dropped at 8:15 a.m. and immediately killed between 80,000 and 140,000 civilians from the initial explosion, an estimated 90% of the cities population.[1] When the bomb exploded, it did so around 1,900 above the the center of the city, and it’s brightness was seen from over five miles away. The fireball that engulfed the

Barren city after the bomb decimated everything. There are ruins of a church in the foreground and mountains in the background. The streets are deserted.
Hiroshima after the bomb.

surrounding area grew to 900 feet in less than one second. Windows as far as ten miles away had their windows shattered from the blast and some civilians reported they could feel the blast from being as far as 37 miles from the city. The effects of the atomic bomb can continue to be seen in Hiroshima today. Although there are many accounts of Hiroshima survivors, the story of Father John A. Siemes shines a light oh how devastating it was from the point of view from an individual located outside of the city.

There were many effected by the explosion and many of the survivors began to record their accounts of the event shortly after. An example of this comes from Father John A. Siemes, who was a professor of modern philosophy at Tokyo’s Catholic University. Leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima, there were bombs which dropped around the city which resulted in little damage. He tells that, “There were fantastic rumors that the enemy had something special in mind for this city, but no one dreamed that the end would come in such a fashion as on the morning of August 6th .”[2] During the course of World War II the Japanese had experienced many air raids, leading to many major cities creating systems of air raid alarms. Hiroshima was no different and on the morning of August 6th their alarms began to sound. At seven o’clock, planes began to regularly fly over the city. Despite the alarms sounding to warn of the planes, many citizens of Hiroshima payed little attention to this since it was seen as a regular occurrence. With the alarms ending after an hour it seemed like all was normal again. Siemes was in his house, which was about two kilometers from the city while the alarms went off. At 8:14 he is met by a brilliant light while looking out of his window, while being hit with the blast only seconds later. All of the windows in Siemes house are shattered from the explosion, allowing pieces of glass to cut his hands and head. All of the doors are pushed in, making it impossible for him or his colleagues he is with to leave.[3] Despite the explosion happening only two kilometers from where they are located nobody is seriously injured.

After the initial wave of panic that was set in their house, Siemes and his group ventured out to see what had caused the explosion. Although they were unable to see a crater from the bomb they noticed that the whole southeastern side of the house was destroyed, with no windows or doors remaining. A kilometer away, they were able to see a number of houses that were on fire as well as the forests in the valley. While going to help put out the flames out, rain began to fall from the sky and in the distance small explosions continued to go off.[4]

A half-hour after the explosion, citizens began to evacuate the city and go towards Siemes and his colleagues. The injuries that they had were treated, but soon supplies ran out to continue to treat the growing number of injuries. Groups of wounded carried the more seriously injured to try and get help. There were groups of soldiers as well as mothers carrying their burned children all climbing the through the valley to reach Siemes. Members of the surrounding villages described, “Our houses are full of wounded and dying. Can you help, at least by taking the worst cases?”[5]

The accounts of people living around the city seemed almost identical. They were blinded by a bright light and many experienced their house collapse and begin to catch fire. Those who were out in the open during the time of the explosion were burned almost instantly, with parts of the body that were lightly covered or not covered at all being the worst. They were also able to learn that the bomb had been dropped near Jokogawa Station, which was located three kilometers from where they were.[6]

Around 12 o’clock, the chapel that Father Siemes was commissioned to was completely filled with the injured. Despite there being no room or medical supplies for the injured, they continued to wonder from Hiroshima towards the chapel in search of assistance. Siemes and his colleagues began to carry the injured who were not able to make it to their chapel to a nearby school house to serve as a makeshift hospital. Despite there being more room for the injured, Siemes and his colleagues still lacked supplies. One aspect of the event he recalls was how disorganized the Japanese were in terms of being prepared for an emergency.

The top image shows a dome roofed building with everything around to completely decimated. This photo was taken immediately after the bomb was dropped. The windows of the building are destroyed as well as every building around it. The bottom image shows the same dome building but was taken in 2015. There are trees and green grass around the dome and building all around it.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (Top) after the bombing, now called the Atomic Bomb Dome (Bottom) in 2015.

Thirty hours after the explosion, the first rescue party finally reached Hiroshima. While assisting in the evacuation of citizens who were displaced, he saw many were suspicious of him since they believed that he was American. After many of the survivors were evacuated Siemes and his colleagues spent a large part of their time searching for families of the individuals that they sheltered.[7] Although they were unsuccessful for the most part, there were few instances where they were able to reunite families.






[1]  Siemes, John A. “Eyewitness Account of Hiroshima.” Hiroshima & Nagasaki Remembered: Historical Documents. The National Science Digital Library, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

[2] Siemes

[3] Siemes

[4] Siemes

[5] Siemes

[6] Siemes

[7] Siemes


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