Timeline: A Violin's Journey - Part 4
Interviewer: Did you feel anything at all when the light struck you?
Kaleria: Yes, I felt it was very hot. It felt uncomfortable.
I suppose there was an explosion, big sound, but I never heard it. I just saw the house tumbling down.
James: That was the voice of Kaleria Palchikoff-Drago, from a recording the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey conducted immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. In a calm tone in this interview, Kaleria recounts what it was like to witness a nuclear holocaust first-hand.
Kaleria: People started coming out, some bruised, some wounded and some burned.
James: On Timeline, we’ve been telling the story of the Palchikoff family, their experiences fleeing Russia, settling in Japan and surviving the bomb. It’s also the story of Kaleria’s father, Sergei and his beloved violin which today, 75 years later, is being used to play songs of peace.
An article in the Harrisburg Telegraph, dated Oct 31, 1945, recounts Kaleria’s experience during the bombing of Hiroshima. The family was living in a suburb of the city, about two miles from ground zero. That Monday morning, Kaleria’s 12-year-old brother, David, was playing in the front lawn of their house with his friends. When he saw the B-29 flying overhead, he immediately ran indoors to tell his mother about the plane. This ended up sparing his life. The blast and the heat killed his friends and destroyed the Palchikoff house.
Kaleria: …and then there was no city. You could see the ocean. And right after that, then black rain and wind. And that’s when the fire started.
James: The family decided to head for the mountains to find refuge and safety. Along the way, bushes would suddenly burst into flames. They traveled with other survivors, many badly burnt and injured. Wanting desperately to find some way to help, Kaleria volunteered at a medical station in a school building. She saw the horrors of radiation poisoning first-hand as the doctors struggled to find ways to help their patients. Some died immediately, others within days. However, the saddest stories were of those who recovered from their burns, but a month later lost their hair, “their bodies turned a pale-green and then they died.”
Kaleria said that many survivors believed that the Americans had created a bomb that only struck Japanese people and that the bomb was dropped in the morning in order to kill as many children as possible. She said, “I believe most of the children were killed.”
A few years later, Kaleria married a U.S. soldier and immigrated to the United States. She became a nationalized citizen and raised three children. She didn’t tell her story very often. Even her close friends didn’t know that she had survived the bomb. However, in 2005, at the age of 84, Kaleria told her story again for NPR adding this at the end…
Kaleria: My dad told us, “Now you’ve got to forget all of this. It’s gonna make you very sad. The experience must be extinguished from your mind.”
Learn more about the Palchikoff’s and follow the Timeline.