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Timeline: A Violin's Journey - Part 3

On August 6, 1945, the B-52 bomber "Enola Gay," from a height of over 30,000 feet, released a 9,000 pound bomb called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima.
U.S. Public Domain
On August 6, 1945, the B-52 bomber "Enola Gay," from a height of over 30,000 feet, released a 9,000 pound bomb called "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima.

August 6, 1945, was a clear, blue Monday morning in the city of Hiroshima.  At 7:09 air raid sirens shattered the morning air as allied weather planes flew over, driving a city of around 345,000 people indoors and into shelters. About 15 minutes later, the planes left, the skies emptied and the all-clear sounded; Hiroshima woke back up and started their Monday over again.


At 8:15, the bomber Enola Gay, from a height of over 30,000 feet, released a 9,000 pound bomb called “Little Boy.” Air raid sirens sounded out again, but for many it was far too late. Less than a minute later, the bomb exploded. A bright flash of light engulfed the city, a super-heated blast wave raced across the ground at the speed of sound. Temperatures higher than the surface of the sun engulfed everything in flame and a red, purple mushroom cloud rose into the sky. The allied planes flying miles above called it “a peep into hell.”

On the ground, about 80,000 people were instantly vaporized. The radiation released killed another 90,000 to 166,000 more in the next four months. The Vice Chief of the Imperial Army General Staff of Japan reported: “The whole city of Hiroshima was destroyed instantly by a single bomb.”

In the past couple of episodes of Timeline, we’ve been sharing the story of one violin and one family, the Palchikoff’s, as they left Russia and settled in Hiroshima. They were living only two miles from ground zero when the bomb was detonated; all of them were there, except for Sergei’s oldest son, Nikolai.

Thanks to his skills in the Japanese, Russian and English languages, Nikolai was working as a radio operator for the United States military. That morning, August 6th, he intercepted a communication from Japan reporting that Hiroshima had been destroyed. Nikolai feared the worse. His commanding officer denied that the city was gone, but President Truman, the very next day, confirmed Nikolai’s report. About a month after the bombing, Nikolai was granted permission to go home and see the damage for himself. He was among the first American soldiers to enter Hiroshima, the city where he was born and raised.

Nikolai wrote these words about coming home, “There was of course, nothing alive, no plants. No birds chirping.. Nothing. Dead silence. And I approached my house. There was nothing there, except my wrought-iron bed I used to sleep in, so I knew I was at the right place.” When Nikolai saw the burnt shadows, human silhouettes, burned into the sidewalk in front of his house, he knew it was hopeless. His family was gone.

Miraculously, Nikolai crossed paths with another White Russian refugee, like his father – perhaps even one of Sergei’s former troops. They told Nikolai that if his father was anywhere, then he was most likely in line at the insurance agency, waiting for assistance. That’s where everyone else was. Sure enough, Nikolai saw his father in line and was quickly reunited with his mother, his sister Kaleria and his brother David. The entire Palchikoff family had survived the explosion. 

Learn more about the Palchikoff family and Sergei’s violin and follow the Timeline.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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