Tag Archives: comfort women

‘Comfort woman’ survivor speaks on sexual slavery at Queensborough College

| asuriel@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

A Korean woman who survived sexual slavery as a “comfort woman” during World War II spoke about her experiences Thursday at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center of Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

“Comfort women” is the name given to women and girls forced into sexual slavery on military bases by Japanese armed forces before and during the war. Most of the women were kidnapped from occupied territories such as Korea, China and the Philippines, but many were from southeast Asia as well. While there is no definitive tally of how many women were enslaved, estimates range from 20,000 to upwards of 100,000.

Yong Soo Lee was kidnapped from her family farm at age 15 in the early 1940s. She spoke about her innocence at the time of the ordeal, having only experienced a sheltered rural life.

“I was taken away when I was young,” Lee said. “I had no idea what was going on in the outside world. I didn’t even know what the world was.”

She was first held on a naval ship with several other women, and then taken to a military outpost in Taiwan to be abused by kamikaze pilots before their suicidal assignments. She endured horrific experiences which included being repeatedly beaten, tortured with electrical shocks, and held in a collapsing building during a bomb attack, during which she suffered a miscarriage. She was captive at the base until the end of the war.

Lee stayed silent about her experiences until hearing about other comfort women coming forward in 1991. She currently lives in Korea, and serves as an activist working to end sexual violence against women around the world.

“At first I started out as a victim,” Lee said. “I was really sad and I cried a lot in the beginning, but I don’t cry anymore and I do not keep resentment in my heart anymore.

The Holocaust Center has been working with local Korean-American partner organizations to record Lee’s story as part of an ongoing series of events on the topic. It’s currently trying to fundraise for several more initiatives including a permanent monument to comfort women at the Holocaust Center and a traveling exhibit to be shown at other venues.

Dr. Dan Leshem, director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, commended Lee for her bravery in telling such a personal story about the pain inflicted on her. Lee has said that she will try to live until the age of 200 if that is how long it will take to end sexual violence against women.

“She’s just a remarkable woman and I have been so moved by getting to know her even in such a short time, by her passion and her dedication,” Leshem said.


Comfort woman shares story with Queens students

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

A survivor of the Japanese sex camps during World War II recently shared her story with students in the hopes that a younger generation of Americans will learn through her experience.

Ok Sun Lee, 85, described how she was brutally kidnapped from Korea as a teenager, tortured and witnessed other women killed by Japanese soldiers in 1942 at the event hosted by Queensborough Community College’s Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center on July 11.

“Instead of being able to attend school, I was dragged by the Japanese military to a comfort station,” Lee said through a translator. “People call us ‘comfort women,’ but I hate that term. They abducted us… There is nothing to be comfortable, being a comfort woman.”

During World War II, Japanese soldiers kidnapped women from mostly Asian countries and brought them to prostitution camps. Estimated hundreds of thousands of women were enslaved and about two thirds of them died during the ordeal.

The Japanese government apologized to survivors twenty years ago. However, in 2007 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the women were forced into prostitution. Survivors and groups such as Korean American Civic Empowerment (KASE), which helped put the event together, want the Japanese government to admit the existence of “comfort women” to make amends for its military’s actions.

Nearly 60 comfort women are still alive in Korea and about 10 of them live with the House of Sharing, a group that looks after the 80- and 90 year-olds.

“A lot of the survivors are passing away and […] the government of Japan is waiting for us to die out,” Lee said.
Japanese government officials have said that they will stand by the apologies made in 1993, according to reports.

The issue gained intensity last year when City Councilmember Peter Koo considered memorializing the dilemma the comfort women faced with a street renaming in Flushing. Koo and supporters were flooding with angry letters from Japan.

“Whether we want to be or not, that fact of the matter is we are all survivors and it is our obligation to carry this story forward,” said Assemblymember Charles Lavine.

The students who met with Lee were part of an internship with the Holocaust Center this summer. As part of the internship, they interviewed Lee and another comfort woman through Skype along with Holocaust survivors Ethel Katz and Hanne Liebnann. They were also in attendance.

The group of students are tasked with holding the memories of the women dear and sharing their stories.

“It’s exciting and kind of sad,” said Wei Wu, a freshman of Korean descent. “She is in her eighties and we still don’t have justice, and she is still suffering from her experience. But I’m excited to see her, because she is history and a history we are not really aware of.”