FACT CHECK: The story behind the photo of a Japanese boy carrying his dead brother


Various posts on social media claim the photo is of a Japanese boy going to bury his brother. It was added that the image was a symbol of unity in Japan.




One of these messages reads as follows:

“In Japan, during the war, this boy carried his dead brother on his back to bury him. A soldier noticed him and asked him to throw this dead child away so he wouldn’t get tired. He has answered:

He’s not heavy, he’s my brother!
The soldier understood and burst into tears.
Since then, this image has become a symbol of unity in Japan.
Let this be our motto:
“It’s not heavy. It’s my brother… It’s my sister.
If he falls, pick him up.
Even if you are tired, help him,
And if his support is weak,
And if he makes a mistake, forgive him
And if the world abandons it, carry it on your back, cause it’s not heavy
It is your brother…”


A reverse image search of the image led to different accounts of the same story – The story of the boy standing near the crematorium after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the United States.

The photo became popular on the internet after it was shared by Pope Francis on December 30, 2017. According to international media, which published it on January 1, 2018, the photo was attached to a postcard by the head of the Church Catholic, entitled “The Fruit of War”. The postcard bears a short message in French and signed by the pope himself. It translates as follows: “The sadness of the young boy is expressed only in his gesture of biting his lips which ooze blood.

The Catholic News (CNS) reported: “As 2017 drew to a close, the horrors of war and people’s yearnings for peace were on Pope Francis’ mind and in his prayers.

“In an unusual move late December 30, the Pope asked the Vatican press office and Vatican media to distribute a copy of a famous photograph of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.”

The pope intended to promote the importance of peace and warn world leaders against war.

The photo published by Catholic News carried the following caption: “This 1945 photo taken after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan was published on December 30 by Pope Francis. Photo by US Marine Joseph Roger O’Donnell shows a boy carrying his dead brother on his back while waiting for his brother to be cremated. (CNS Photo/Joseph Roger O’Donnell via Holy See Press Office) See POPE-NAGASAKI-WAR January 1, 2018.”


Towards the end of World War II (1939-1945), the United States, supported by Allied forces, deployed nuclear weapons in an attempt to force Japan to surrender.

A nuclear bomb, codenamed “Little Boy”, was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing 70,000 instantly, while the death toll exceeded 100,000 by the end of the year. Three days later, on August 9, another nuclear bomb, ‘Fat man’ exploded over the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people, while another 30,000 succumbed to injuries and radiation poisoning by the end of the year. Over 200,000 Japanese were killed by the atomic bombs and 2/3 of the two cities destroyed.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the first use of atomic weapons in the history of warfare. Some historians and the United States in particular have justified the action on the assumption that it forced the Japanese government to surrender and marked the end of World War II.

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Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, 23-year-old US Navy photographer Joe O’Donnell was sent to document the aftermath and effects of the bomb in the two cities. He would have spent about four years on the mission

The photo is one of those taken by O’Donnell. He captures a boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders as he waits his turn at the crematory.

The first version of the image on the Internet was found in a Las Vegas Review Journal article published on August 6, 2007. The article titled: “Dad’s Images of Death” contained the newspapers interview with O’ Donnell, Tyge O. ‘Donnell.

“He told me the boy had dropped his brother into a crematorium and watched him burn,” O’Donnell said. “The boy bit his lip so hard it bled. My dad said he wanted to comfort the boy but he was scared if he did they would both fall apart,” said Tyge in the newspaper.

Senior O’Donnell, who would later become a White House photographer, died on August 9, 2007, of complications from a stroke.

By Oluwatobi Odeyinka…

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