When the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Sadako Sasaki was two years old. The little Japanese girl survived the nuclear inferno almost two kilometers from the site of the bomb explosion. After the end of the war, Sadako grew up like her peers, went to school happily, appeared healthy and sporty.

But one day, after an important relay race in which she helped her team win, Sadako feels extremely tired and dizzy. In 1955, ten years after the atomic bomb explosion, the little girl fell ill with leukemia. She is admitted to a hospital. Doctors don’t give her more than a year to live.

Her best friend Chizuko brings her origami folding paper to the hospital and tells Sadako about a legend. Afterwards, whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes – a symbol of long life in Japan – will have a wish granted by the gods. In the hope of recovery, Sadako begins folding more than 1,000 cranes – until her death just a few months later. Sadako was twelve years old.

Gedenken an Sadako

The extent of the long-term effects of the atomic bomb only became known slowly because Japanese doctors were denied access to data on the effects of the radiation by the occupying authorities until 1952. The fate of a little girl who fell victim to the bomb ten years after the end of the war acted “like a catalyst” in Japan’s public awareness of the inhumane nature of this weapon, as Japanologist Florian Coulmas wrote.

With donations from across the country, a monument was erected in Sadako’s memory in 1958. The bronze statue in Hiroshima Peace Park depicts a young girl holding a large paper crane above her head – a symbol of children’s hope for a peaceful future. The Children’s Peace Monument is now a place of pilgrimage where people place long chains made of paper cranes every year. The 28-year-old Eva Fritz from Düsseldorf will soon be doing the same.

Fritz, who came to Japan at the age of six because of her father’s job, went to school there and learned the language, also lost her best friend to leukemia. “She was in the third grade. When she got sick, we folded 1,000 cranes at school and took her to the hospital,” recalls Fritz in an interview with the German Press Agency in Tokyo. That was when she first heard about the fate of little Sadako and the legend of the paper cranes.

A story stays in the memory

When Fritz returned to Germany at the age of twelve, a friend from elementary school gave her 1,000 paper cranes to take with her. “Since then, the cranes have accompanied me my whole life,” says Fritz. Whether visiting the sick – her grandfather and a friend both died of cancer – birthdays, weddings or births: Fritz made 1,000 paper cranes for all of these occasions. She has folded more than 16,000 of them in her life.

The story of Sadako Sasaki was always remembered. After many years, Fritz has now returned to Japan, the country of her childhood, with an ambitious project: She plans to hike from Tokyo for two and a half months with a backpack and tent, 1000 kilometers via Kyoto to Hiroshima, probably in September. Included in the luggage: 1000 colorful paper cranes. And a call for donations for the German Children’s Cancer Aid. “I wanted to go on the trip anyway. And then I thought that I could actually combine it with a good cause,” says Fritz.

To encourage donations, she created an Instagram account to document her journey. The donations go directly to the German Children’s Cancer Aid. Fritz finances her trip from her own resources. She has already collected more than 3,500 euros in donations. Every donor who gives their name has it written on a crane. “Everyone will then end up with their own crane hanging in Hiroshima.” At the monument to Sadako Sasaki.