Sadako Sasaki, Nuclear War’s Memory-Bearer

hibakusha, Illustration of Sadako Sasaki
Illustration of Sadako Sasaki by Hokyoung Kim

Sadako Sasaki (1943–1955)

Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped a mere two kilometers from her childhood home in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Though she initially appeared healthy, she was diagnosed with malignant lymph gland leukemia 10 years later. While in the hospital, Sasaki learned of the legend that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes before you die, you’ll be granted a wish. She spent the rest of her life attempting to reach her goal. After her death at the age of 12, her classmates raised funds for a memorial statue of her holding a golden crane, meant to represent her and the many children who died from the effects of the bomb. She is the most widely-known “hibakusha”—which roughly translates to “bomb-affected person”—and has become a symbol of the impact of nuclear war.

This feature originally appeared in the Memory issue. For more inspiring stories from that issue, check out The Key to Combatting Anxiety in Adults? Start With Children and Anna Akhmatova: Remembering Stalin’s Sins.