Last Saturday on 9 July, in Amsterdam, there was a Salon with the title of “Beyond Repair – A conversation with Yongsoo Lee about forced prostitution during the Second World War”.
I found it very interesting and immediately made a decision to participate in it. I was a bit late because of the offline google map. (The street — Kleine Gartmanplantsoen – was not indicated on his offline map). Hence, unfortunately, we missed the speech of the interviewer, Peter Keppy from the NIOD. Luckily, we did not miss the main part of this salon.
There were around 30-40 audiences, the majority of which were Korean citizens. The Korean man next to me also had a notebook and wrote many notes in Korean. Since Ms. Yongsoo Lee could not speak English, some Korean students (might be students) translated her speech. She is the youngest survivor from South Korea, who suffered from severe sexual abuse in so-called ‘comfort stations’. Peter Keppy asked her questions, such as when and how she was transferred to Taiwan, when she went home and how about her life after she was back to South Korea.
She was born in a family with six (?) elder brothers in 1928. However, in 1944, when she was catching snails with her friend close to a riverbank, they were taken by a Japanese soldier. At that time, she was 16. They firstly were taken by a train to Shanghai, and then transferred to a boat heading to Hsinchu County, Taiwan. When she was on the train, she was told that she was going to see her mom. When the train passed by her home, she screamed for her mom. Then, she told us her story regarding the torture she suffered from the electrical cable by a soldier. She was beaten and cut with a knife, and the scar of the cut remains. At her 16, she was raped. She was too young to recognise what will happen and what is rape. She learned to submit so that she would not be beaten again. Even during her period, she still had to have sexual relations with men.
When the war was over, she did not realise what was happening. She was sent back to home. She did not receive the fresh Tofu from her mother(there is a tradition in South Korea that a person who was released from the jail will eat Tofu, which symbolises a new life and a hope of not going to a jail again), but the fire. Her mother did not recognise her and used the fire to eliminate a ghost because she thought her daughter was dead. After that, she did not live with families at home, but in a mountain. At that time, she did not realise that people would like to know her story; she was also ashamed for what happened to her. The last word of one of her brothers was that “tell the truth.” After Kim Hak-sun (姜日出) openly talked to the public about her experience as a sexual slave, she also testified about her experience in that comfort Station and registered as a comfort woman in 1992. It is inspiring that she also attended university in 1996 and graduated in 2001 with her master degree.
During her speech, some people including two translators were moved to tears. Now, she is a women’s right activist. She always says that she is a Korean, rather than a comfort woman victim. She said that she is still healing, but she also wants to heal the world. She is still trying to testify and managing to argue against challenges to her testimony. She even went back to Taiwan, and a witness in Taiwan also pointed out that there was a military base where she was, and she was there. When one audience asked her a question regarding the Koren Film ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’ (鬼乡 ), she said what was described in the film is only one percent of their sufferings.
After the event, I walked to talk with her in a short time. “I come from China. Thank you for sharing your experience. You are so brave, and it is so inspiring for Chinese people.” We hugged each other, and she firmly held my right hand. During this conversation, I felt that my eyes were wet. The translator also told me the information regarding the compensation of sexual slavery in Taiwan last year, and two female judges in San Francisco are also working on this issue.
In China, there were also many sexual slaves, who were tortured, raped, and forced to have sexual relations with military soldiers. However, the right-wing Government of Japan never acknowledges such a fact and even intends to deny the existence of comfort system by revising its textbook. Some try to mislead the public by using the ambiguity term “comfort women”, or justify its comfort system. Although some women were voluntary to work in a comfort Station, the existence of sexual slavery during the WWII cannot be denied. Indeed, in 2007, there was a litigation before a Japanese Court for compensations to Chinese women for their sufferings during the WWII. Initially, this case was rejected as the local district court found that there was no sexual slavery. In the appeal, the sexual slavery was recognised. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled that these victims had no right to compensation, as that right was waived by the Chinese government. As a matter of fact, the individual right to compensation as a human right cannot be waived by a government or by another individual to whom no authorization was granted. Despite the final ruling of no compensation, this civil litigation case in Japan indicates that there was sexual slavery. Further research on the compensation is needed and urgent since many victims were dead and some of them were too old to testify.
The comfort women registration system is one thing; while the social context of tolerance is another thing, which is necessary for other unknown victims to openly share their experience. To be heard is also a kind of heal for their inner feelings.