Nagasaki survivor still haunted by scenes of atomic blast

Bodies rotted, fell apart during recovery efforts

There are few people left on Earth who can recount the atrocities that Rudi Hoenson has seen, let alone do it while standing in shorts outside Saanich Municipal Hall on the last day of summer.

On Thursday, known as the International Day of Peace, Hoenson, a Second World War prisoner and Nagasaki nuclear holocaust survivor, was at Saanich Municipal Hall to help Mayor Richard Atwell, Saanich councillors, staff and others from the community in planting a ceremonial peace tree.

Hoenson shoveled room for the eight-inch tall Ginkgo biloba seedling that grew from a seed which survived the 1945 atomic explosion in Hiroshima. After, he recalled the memories and nightmares that still haunt him 72 years later.

“I always get upset as it gets closer to [the Nagasaki anniversary of] Aug. 9,” Hoenson said.

RELATED: Saanich’s prisoner of war survived on rice for 3.5 years

“[The bomb] was a terrible thing, it wiped everything, there was nothing standing,” said Hoenson, who’s still unsure how he ended up being the only survivor of 200 prisoners of war interned at a Japanese shipyard.

Hoenson was a 19-year-old Dutch soldier who was captured fighting the Japanese in the Indonesian jungle. He was imprisoned with about 534 Dutch soldiers and remained a POW for three and a half years.

Over that time about 170 of his fellow prisoners were moved to work in a mine and another 164 died from the harsh conditions. Hoenson, meanwhile, was one of 200 in a work camp near Nagasaki when the bomb ended their internment.

It was mayhem when it fell.

As he left the compound (which some prisoners struggled to d0, having suffered terrible burns), Hoenson and others walked through the Nagasaki area and were put to work.

“The women and children, you see them there all dead,” said Hoenson. “I remember spending days gathering up bodies, piece by piece. When you see those women bleeding, their kimonos ripped apart by the blast [it’s awful], so many died in the fields.”

Three days after the Nagasaki detonation, Hoenson was helping clean up and find dead bodies closer to where the centre of the explosion was.

“The worst part was that, after four days in the hot sun, the bodies started to bloat and to fall apart a little bit. By the sixth day, you pulled an arm and you got an arm. They were completely rotten, that was the hardest part, I always remember that.”

By the end, the bodies were just pieces of meat to Hoenson.

Before he left, Hoenson bathed for the first time in more than three years. It wasn’t just a week of destruction that he washed off, as it was his first proper bathing since he had been imprisoned.

“The U.S. soldiers picked us up and they set up a tent full of sprinklers and washed us down. The water was running over me, I was like an old fool, I was crying, it was unbelievable that it was three years without.”

When he finally departed Japan he caught sight of a base with 2,000 fully loaded American B29 bombers. It baffled Hoenson, who learned that in addition to the two atomic bombs, the U.S. had also firebombed Tokyo that month killing an estimated 100,000 civilians.

“The [U.S.] captain told me that if Japan hadn’t surrendered [soon], they would have gone in an bombed Tokyo with 1,000 planes,” Hoenson said. “Tokyo was full of people, can you imagine what would have happened?”

Eventually, Hoenson made it to Calgary, married his wife Sylvia (who died in 2008) and was successful in turning his wages as a draftsman in the oil industry into profits on the stock market. He’s since given millions of it away, including more than $1 million to The Lodge at Broadmead and Veterans Health Centre.

Last month Saanich reaffirmed its 1983 commitment to being a nuclear weapons-free zone, also acknowledging Hiroshima Memorial Day (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki Memorial Day (Aug. 9) of 1945. And as nukes somehow dominate the international news headlines in 2017, many, including Saanich Coun. Fred Haynes, are calling on Canada to join the July 7 U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, already signed by 122 nations.

Hoenson’s lived in Saanich since 1979 and still has vivid nightmares of burned and bloodied Japanese women, laying in the field, about three times a year.

reporter@saanichnews.com

 

An origami crane, representing the Hiroshima Peace Park, sits with the newly planted Ginkgo biloba seedling at Saanich municipal hall. The seed comes from a seed which survived the Hiroshima bombing. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Nagasaki nuclear holocaust survivor and prisoner of war Rudi Hoenson, second from left, stands with Saanich Mayor and Council during the planting of a Ginkgo biloba seedling at Saanich municipal hall that comes from a seed which survived the Hiroshima bombing. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Just Posted

Local and international artists paint murals across Victoria

Sixteen murals are spread out across downtown Victoria as part of the ‘concrete canvas’ project

Federal government announces over $115 million to Royal Canadian Navy

Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan was at CFB Esquimalt to announce missile system upgrades

Crash snarles traffic on Highway 17

Traffic southbound is seriously delayed and northbound down to one lane on… Continue reading

Victoria Police arrest man in relation to indecent act at Beacon Hill Park

The man is known to police, and is facing three charges

Oak Bay brothers scoop 10 kg of poop from park paths in 30 mins

Family picks up dog poo to give back, inspire others to be more responsible

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

Five things to do in Greater Victoria this weekend

Puppy yoga, horses, cars, water guns and more make up this weekend’s list of events to see

Authorities mull evacuation order for Zeballos

Smoke billowed from the steep hillsides of Zeballos on Friday evening, as… Continue reading

Safeway union urges prejection of mediator recommendations

Says mediator asks for too many concessions

Fire chases B.C. crews out of their own camp

Crews in Burns Lake had to leave after a wildfire reportedly overtook their sleeping quarters

To address peacock problem, B.C. city moves ahead on trapping plan

Surrey’s new bylaw focuses on ensuring people no longer feed the birds, ahead of relocation

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

About 1,000 Saudi residents called back to kingdom after suspending diplomatic relations with Canada

Bernier diatribe against ‘extreme multiculturalism’ boosts Liberal coffers

Party spokesperson Braeden Caley says online donations doubled, social media engagement quadrupled

‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

Most Read