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Switzerland: Ceremony recalls dangers of nuclear weapons

06-08-2013 Feature

A descendant of a Gingko biloba tree that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 was planted at a ceremony at the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva today, standing as a reminder of the horrific consequences of nuclear weapons and as a sign of hope that they will one day be eliminated.

The Gingko biloba planted today is the first sapling of the 200-year-old Hiroshima survivor tree to be planted in Switzerland.

The ICRC and the city of Hiroshima have a unique bond. Dr Marcel Junod, then head of the ICRC's delegation in Japan, was the first foreign doctor to enter the devastated city a little over a month after the bombing, bringing with him desperately needed medical supplies. Since then, the ICRC, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement more broadly, have regularly urged States to pursue the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, drawing conviction from Junod's shocking findings in Hiroshima.

ICRC delegate Fritz Bilfinger reached Hiroshima shortly after the bombing. He sent Dr Junod a shocked telegram describing the situation in the city.

Speaking at the event in Geneva today, ICRC vice-president Olivier Vodoz said: "Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power. The scale of the destruction, and the risk associated with exposure to ionizing radiation, make it nearly impossible to deliver adequate humanitarian assistance to victims in the aftermath of a nuclear blast. We firmly believe that States must ensure such weapons are never used again."

Read why there's no way to deliver assistance in the event of a nuclear explosion.

Junod came face-to-face with the grim reality of medical care in the bombed city. The explosion had killed or injured 90% of Hiroshima's doctors. There was a desperate need for blood, but most potential donors were either dead or injured. Junod's memoirs bear witness to the appalling conditions he encountered in Hiroshima.

Find out more about Marcel Junod's life and work in photos.

The seeds and saplings of a 200-year-old tree that survived the explosion have been nurtured and protected over the intervening decades and are now being planted worldwide. Today’s ceremony, organized in collaboration with Green Legacy Hiroshima and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), featured a reading from Dr Junod's Hiroshima memoirs by Olivier Vodoz. Deputy permanent representative of Japan in Geneva Takashi Okada delivered words of support, and the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sent messages of appreciation. Isabel Rochat, councillor of state of the republic and canton of Geneva, also attended the event.

The atomic bomb struck Hiroshima at 8.15 a.m. on 6 August 1945. When Junod visited a month later, he found the city frozen in time. In his book Warrior without Weapons he writes:: “On what remained of the station facade the hands of the clock had been stopped by the fire at 8.15. It was perhaps the first time in the history of humanity that the birth of a new era was recorded on the face of a clock.”

Visit the section of our site on nuclear weapons.


Photos

A minute's silence at 8.15 a.m. to mark the exact moment the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima 68 years ago. 

ICRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, 6 August 2013.
A minute's silence at 8.15 a.m. to mark the exact moment the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima 68 years ago.
© ICRC / T. Gassmann / v-p-ch-e-00999

Hiroko Miyahara, who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, plants a sapling of a Gingko biloba tree that survived the Hiroshima bombing. 

ICRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, 6 August 2013.
Hiroko Miyahara, who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, plants a sapling of a Gingko biloba tree that survived the Hiroshima bombing.
© ICRC / T. Gassmann / v-p-ch-e-01000

Deputy permanent representative of Japan in Geneva Takashi Okada helps plant the Gingko biloba tree. 

ICRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, 6 August 2013.
Deputy permanent representative of Japan in Geneva Takashi Okada helps plant the Gingko biloba tree.
© ICRC / T. Gassmann

The newly planted sapling with a commemorative plaque in the courtyard of the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva. 

ICRC headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, 6 August 2013.
The newly planted sapling with a commemorative plaque in the courtyard of the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva.
© ICRC / T. Gassmann / v-p-ch-e-01001