Renowned Hibakusha and Anti-Nuclear Activist Setsuko Thurlow Inspires Boston Health Community
Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility (GBPSR) and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) were honored to spotlight Setsuko Thurlow’s courageous activism at our annual gala on Saturday, October 5th, in partnership with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s Healing Art of Music Program.
Setsuko’s harrowing account of the atomic horrors visited upon the citizens of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 had a powerful impact on everyone in attendance, moving many to tears. She spoke twice during the evening, once during the reception and at the opening of the concert—in which she touchingly described how she and her classmates performed Handel’s Messiah at the rebuilt Hiroshima concert hall only two years after surviving the boming.
All eyes were on Setsuko at the reception when she began reliving her experiences a 13-year-old school girl, totally unaware of the tragedy that would impact the rest of her life. Setsuko recounts that fateful morning when she lost nine members of her family and 351 of her classmates:
“At 8:15 AM, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and darkness, I found myself pinned by the collapsed building.
I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries: ‘Mother, help me’, ‘God, help me’.
Then, suddenly, I felt hands touching my left shoulder, and heard a man saying, ‘Don’t give up! Keep pushing! I am trying to free you. See the light coming through that opening? Crawl towards it as quickly as you can.’
As I crawled out, the ruins were on fire. Most of my classmates in that building were burned to death, alive.
I saw all around me utter, unimaginable devastation.”
It is a miracle that Setsuko is alive today to tell her story. She sees her responsibility “as a member of the family of Hibakusha” to warn the world of the danger of nuclear weapons – as part of a network of first and second generation survivors who are not willing to let their stories go untold.
Setsuko’s honesty, bravery, and ability to connect cross-culturally is something attendees of Saturday’s event will hold with them for the rest of their lives. Setsuko re-ignited a fire in many to push forward in their work to abolish nuclear weapons.
In the inspiring words of Setsuko herself,
“All of humanity face two existential threats – climate chaos and nuclear war by accident or design. As young Greta [Thunberg] said, ‘the eyes of all future generations are upon us.’ Let us use this vision of future generations to inspire us, to re-double our efforts to ensure that they are born into a world worthy of their rightful inheritance.”
Setsuko holding the Nobel Peace Prize with IPPNW Central Office staff (from left to right) Molly McGinty, Michael Christ, Chuck Johnson, Valeria Hernandez, and Eust Eustis.
Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s Healing Art of Music Concert
IPPNW and Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility (GBPSR) were community partners for the second year in a row with Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s Healing Art of Music program. The orchestra’s members are primarily healthcare professionals from Boston’s leading hospitals and universities, including doctors, medical students, research scientists, nurses, therapists, and caregivers. This event took place at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, with proceeds benefiting both organizations’ efforts to prevent nuclear war.
The successful reception and concert were joined by board members from both organizations, healthcare professionals, medical students, and many community supporters. The evening was filled with inspiring music, thought-provoking conversations, and education on nuclear disarmament. The highlight of the evening was the honoree Setsuko Thurlow’s two speeches on her experience as an atomic bomb survivor, a life-long disarmament activist, and as an appreciator of the healing power of music.
Photos: Lipofsky Photography