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Nagasaki searches for boy from Pope Francis’ photo

Joe O'Donnell - CC
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The photo captures a young boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders.

The search is on for the boy from a WWII era photo taken in the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki. The photo, which features a young boy standing with his toddler-aged brother, who appears to have died, tied to his back. His face is set in an expression of barely contained anguish as he waits in line to cremate his baby brother.

In early 2018, Pope Francis distributed this photo and it has since become an icon for the brutality of nuclear war. On November 24, Pope Francis made a Papal visit to Nagasaki, where he condemned the use of nuclear weapons. He said:

“One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability,” continued the Pope. “The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire.”

Prior to the Pope’s visit, a massive search was undertaken, which included survivors of the bombing, to identify the boy pictured below, but he has yet to be identified.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that an 85-year-old Catholic man, Masanori Muraoka, who was in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing, in 1945, believes that he may have known the boy at one time. Muraoka explained that when the bomb was dropped he was taking shelter at his school, where he distinctly remembers seeing a boy with a small child tied to his back.

“I saw him carrying a little child on his back, in the same manner as the boy in the image,” Muraoka recalled. “When our eyes met, he came toward me.”

Muraoka called out to the boy, who responded, “I’m looking for my mother,” and then left.

Masanori said that he remembered playing with the boy once or twice before that day, but he could not remember the boy’s name. Muraoka has since begun a wide-scale search for the boy, for which he has been all over Nagasaki and the surrounding area interviewing others who survived that fateful day.

The biggest hurdle in identifying the boy in the photo is that there are almost no distinguishing features in the scenery. He is surrounded by trees, there appears to be a grave stone, and a lot of mud. The photographer who snapped the shot, U.S. military photographer Joe O’Donnell, who died in 2007, wrote a scant description of the image which only mentions the boys and not the time or place where they were photographed.

Experts are still hopeful that further examination will yield results. In 2016, a different image from the bombing of Nagasaki — entitled “The Burned Corpse of A Boy” — led to a positive identification.

Another team member, Yoshitoshi Fukahori, a 90-year-old survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, noted that the trees surrounding the boy suggest that the image was recorded nowhere near the blast zone. He admitted:

“There’s no evidence that the picture was actually taken in Nagasaki; nor any evidence to say otherwise.”

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