Tag Archives: Korean 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.

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Queensborough students connect with Korean ‘comfort women’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Queensborough Community College

Ok Sun Lee was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers at age 15.

She was raped on average 30 times a day.

She spoke so history would not repeat itself.

Korean “comfort women” recounted their tales of survival to a group of students at Queensborough Community College’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center. The survivors represent a small handful of the 200,000 young women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army in World War II, according to accounts.

“She was just a little girl,” said student Alexander Crombez. “When you’re face to face, hearing about completely horrible events, things we can’t imagine as being possible, it feels much more immediate. These are people who are grandparents.”

Crombez, 19, of Flushing, said he and eight others studied the history of World War II in East Asia before receiving a firsthand account of the brutalities from the comfort women through videoconference. Most of them are now in their 90s, living in South Korea, students said.

“That’s when it moved from an academic type setting to a more personal, emotional trip,” he said. “It’s hard not to imagine the terror she went through when she was a young child.”

Student Wei Wu Li, 22, said he interviewed Ilchool Kang. Soldiers in the comfort station, he said, cracked the back of her head open because she drank water without permission.

“That was a heartbreaking story,” Li said.

The group of scholars said it was their goal to ensure the tales are remembered.

“It is because these students have studied the atrocities committed against the women of Korea during World War II that they have emerged as spokespersons for social justice,” said Dr. Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center. “By doing so, they have guaranteed these women that they will not be forgotten.”

Councilmember Peter Koo said he is pushing for a Flushing street to be named in honor of the comfort women. State Senator Tony Avella hopes to soon announce a resolution memorializing them.

 

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