Hiroshima's Survivors

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This Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. Japan's surrender less than a week later ended the war.

Most of the nearly quarter of million people the two bombs killed were Japanese. But tens of thousands of Koreans were also among the dead.

More than fifty-thousand Koreans were living in Hiroshima during World War Two. Most of them had left Japanese-occupied Korea in search of work. In Japan, they did manual labor and were treated as second-class citizens.

As the war effort intensified, Japanese authorities began importing more Koreans. They forced them into slave labor in armament factories. Several of those factories were in Hiroshima.

That's why so many Koreans - more than thirty-thousand - died as a result of the Atomic bomb.

Over the years, most of Hiroshima's Koreans went back home. Many developed radiation-related health problems.

It's a measure of the Koreans' lingering distrust of the Japanese that some Korean survivors are only NOW returning to Hiroshima to register for health benefits.

On this morning, an elderly Korean woman arrives for an interview with Hiroshima officials. She's traveled here from her home in South Korea, with her son and her daughter-in-law.

The woman is applying for A-bomb survivor status. To get that, she has to prove that she was living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. The officials ask her to describe what she saw on August 6th 1945.

"There were a lot of dead bodies" the woman says.

Her application states that she lived in a Hiroshima neighborhood called Eba.

An official asks her, do remember Eba?

The woman's daughter-in-law steps in.

"The old lady's memory isn't so good any more." she says.

But the Japanese official persists. "I want to write down what HER memory is." he says.

It's difficult to establish the facts 60 years later.

But it's taken almost all those sixty years for Korean A-bomb survivors to win some-though not all - of the rights that their Japanese counterparts have.

And in that time, most of Hiroshima's estimated 20-thousand Korean survivors have died.many from illlness arising from exposure to radiation.

Those still alive who can afford it can travel to Hiroshima. There they receive specialist care at the city's hospital for Atomic bomb survivors.

Chong Sansok is undergoing cancer treatment.

Chong was a small child when his family moved Korea to Hiroshima. In 1945, he was a teenager, and was drafted by a kamikaze unit of the Japanese military.

Chong says kamikaze units recruit Koreans, until the last year of the war. But he wasn't interested in sacrificing his life for the Japanese Empire. So he got a doctor's note excusing him from serving.which is why he was in Hiroshima the day the Atomic bomb was dropped.

Chong survived the blast, but he got radiation sickness after spending several days wandering around city looking for his mother. He never found her.

Chong moved back to Korea a few years later. There he concealed his Hiroshima past from friends and neighbors.

"Korean people think of us A-bomb survivors," he says, "as having scary-looking injured faces. And they think your kids'll look like that too."

Chong says he didn't tell anyone outside his family that he was a survivor until he'd turned 55, and his children were married.

Recently, some Japanese survivor groups have helped Hiroshima's Koreans. Keizaburo Toyonaga heads one such group.

"One Korean survivor I know," he says, "was distraught that he couldn't get health benefits from the Japanese government. He told me when I die, leave my body in front of the Japanese Embassy."

Toyonaga says 30 years ago, the Japanese government didn't care about Koreans, and Japanese survivor groups didn't care. But year by year - and lawsuit by lawsuit - Korean survivors have won recognition and rights.

Now, people in Japan are starting to understand that the scar of Hiroshima isn't just a Japanese scar.