Photos: Kazuo Soda speaking at the Peace Pagoda in Vienna, August 9, 2008. Copyright: Matthias Wurz
Even after more than half a century, Kazuo Soda can still hear the screams, the agonized cries of people in the last throes of death.
“I still see a lot of black-scorched bodies lying on the roads and in the ruins,” Soda told the crowd at the Buddhist Peace Pagoda in Vienna on Aug. 9, the anniversary of the day the atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on Nagasaki at the close of World War II. “At 11.02 am,” he said at the moving candlelight ceremony along the Danube River near Freudenau Harbor, “the city was instantly changed into a pandemonium.”
Soda was fifteen years old when the bomb fell, and is one of the 243,692 officially registered Japanese Hibakusha, ‘explosion-affected people,’ the survivors of the two atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
The ceremony, which began at sunset, was opened by Rev. Gyosei Msunaga, the monk entrusted with care of the Pagoda and the adjunct Buddhist temple. The audience of about 100 had come to witness the outdoor event, held in front of the steps. Candles were set in wooden paper lanterns with beautiful handmade decorations and placed on the steps of the building. As the fragile, white haired 77-year-old entered the carpeted stage area, the sun had almost completely set, setting off his profile in the warm candle light behind him.
“I was exposed to A-bomb radiation at my home 2.5 kilometers away from the blast enter,” Soda said in a soft voice over a loudspeaker. “If I had been outdoors, I would have burnt to death by the heat wave.” Thousands of school children died on the playgrounds. Soda, like almost all boys and girls older than thirteen, had been forced to leave school to work in the munitions industry, and was off-duty at the time. His brother died five months afterwards from the effects of radiation, and his parents five years later.
A former Secondary School teacher and peace activist, Soda was awarded the prestigious Aachen Peace Prize in 2001. He has a longstanding connection to Vienna, having attended earlier commemorative ceremonies here as well.