Study Guide

Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge in Hiroshima

By John Hersey

Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge

Father Kleinsorge was a German priest living and working at the Society of Jesus in Hiroshima.

Where He Was When It Happened

He hadn't been feeling well, so he was at the mission chilling out on his bed (in his tighty-whiteys) when the bomb went off. There's a little gap in his memory after that, though…

What Happened Next

In the hours and days that followed the bombing, he worked to assist and offer spiritual comfort to the victims of the attack, despite being very tired and slightly injured himself. Oh yeah… he totally put his pants on first, don't worry.

For example, when he finally made it to the Novitiate to recuperate, he was still thinking about others who needed help even as he was finally settling down to get some much-needed rest: "The last thing he did as he fell into bed was request that someone go back for the motherless Kataoka children" (3.36). Of course, this is after he also arranged for Mrs. Nakamura and her children to be transferred to the Novitiate as well. So, yeah, we get the sense that he was a nice guy who took is religion/duty to others seriously.

Apparently, he was a very comforting and sympathetic man. He even managed to cheer Miss Sasaki up when he was asked to visit her—and that's impressive, since she had seemed beyond comfort and was getting pretty morbid.

According to Hersey's narrative, Father Kleinsorge's visits ended up being crucial to Miss Sasaki's recovery:

Whether or not Father Kleinsorge's answers to Miss Sasaki's questions about life were final and absolute truths, she seemed quickly to draw physical strength from them. Dr. Sasaki noticed it and congratulated Father Kleinsorge. By April 15th, her temperature and white count were normal and the infection in the wound was beginning to clear up. (4.31)

In addition to, you know, basically saving her life, Father Kleinsorge's influence also likely contributed to her decision to convert to Catholicism, which dramatically shaped the rest of her life (for the better).

Afterthoughts of War

And his tireless assistance to others—including those injured or otherwise affected by the Hiroshima attacks—didn't seem to slow down much even once the bomb's immediate aftermath was over:

In 1948, he was named priest of the much grander Misasa church, in another part of town. […] A convent of Helpers of Holy Souls was attached to the church, and besides his priestly duties of conducting Mass, hearing confessions, and teaching Bible classes he ran eight-day retreats for novices and Sisters of the convent, during which the women, given Communion and instructed by him from day to day, would maintain silence. He still visited Sasaki-san and other hibakusha who were sick and wounded, and he would even babysit for young mothers. He often went to the sanatorium at Saijyo, an hour by train from the city, to comfort tubercular patients. (5.56)

We don't know about you, but we are exhausted just thinking about him doing all that.

His busy schedule seems even more incredible when you consider the fact that, after the bombing, Father Kleinsorge suffered chronic health problems for the rest of his life, which meant quite a few hospital stays in Tokyo. Regardless, he stubbornly refused to slow down too much in his ministry/efforts to help people in the community. As Hersey writes,

Father Kleinsorge was finding it hard, as Dr. Fujii had suggested he would, to be cautious and to take his naps. He went out every day on foot to call on Japanese Catholics and prospective converts. As the months went by, he grew more and more tired. In June, he read an article in the Hiroshima Chugoku warning survivors against working too hard—but what could he do? (4.30)

Apparently, for Father Kleinsorge, it wasn't even a choice; he had to keep trying to help others until he was physically unable to do so. He's like the Energizer Bunny, if the Energizer Bunny was a force for good.

As a huge fan of "the Japanese and their ways" (5.59), Father Kleinsorge was thrilled when he the opportunity to become a Japanese citizen arose, taking the name Makoto Takakura with the transition.

Unfortunately, he eventually became too ill to keep up with all his duties at the church, and he ultimately passed away.

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