[Big Issue] Cover Story on the Comfort Women III

The Story Of The Day That We Shall Remember

The Comfort Women whose dreams and hopes were plucked when they were in the flower of their youth have had to suffer from their sad memory forever. It has been 71 years since Korea’s independence from the Colonial Empire of Japan. However, the liberation has not yet come to the heart of the Comfort Women victims. The women who are now living in the House of Sharing are still longing for the true liberation that shall come one day.

The shelter for the Comfort Women, the House of Sharing. The number of the female Koreans who were captivated by the Japanese military during the Colonial Chosun is around 200,000. Some scholars estimate that the number could exceed around 400,000 because of the lack of accurate statistics. The number of the Comfort Women who are registered with the South Korean government is 238 and only 40 among them are still alive. 10 of the living are currently residing in the House of Sharing that is located in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea.

“I will definitely come back, grandma.” It took so long time for me to keep my promise with grandma Ok-Sun Lee who lives in the House of Sharing. I was looking forward to seeing her again but at the same

It took so long time for me to keep my promise with grandma Ok-Sun Lee who lives in the House of Sharing. I was looking forward to seeing her again but at the same time, I was with a heavy heart at the back of my mind.

“I am here, grandmother.” I carefully walked into a room. She reached her arm to me with difficulty. “Who is there? Who came to visit me?” She said that just to stand up is hard for her because she recently hurt her back so she grabbed my hand while lying in bed. Her hand was the hand that I had held when I had promised her to come back in the past. Even in that short meantime, her hand got more wrinkled and this reminded me of the sad story that she told me. The sad story of the day that shall be remembered by somebody.

I carefully walked into a room. She reached her arm to me with difficulty. “Who is there? Who came to visit me?” She said that just to stand up is hard for her because she recently hurt her back so she grabbed my hand while lying in bed. Her hand was the hand that I had held when I had promised her to come back in the past. Even in that short meantime, her hand got more wrinkled and this reminded me of the sad story that she told me. The sad story of the day that shall be remembered by somebody.

“Who is there? Who came to visit me?” She said that just to stand up is hard for her because she recently hurt her back so she grabbed my hand while lying in bed. Her hand was the hand that I had held when I had promised her to come back in the past. Even in that short meantime, her hand got more wrinkled and this reminded me of the sad story that she told me. The sad story of the day that shall be remembered by somebody.

She said that just to stand up is hard for her because she recently hurt her back so she grabbed my hand while lying in bed. Her hand was the hand that I had held when I had promised her to come back in the past. Even in that short meantime, her hand got more wrinkled and this reminded me of the sad story that she told me. The sad story of the day that shall be remembered by somebody.

Abducted In Main Streets During Broad Daylight Hours And Dragged Off For Sex Slavery

In July 1942, Ok-Sun Lee was 16 years old. One day, she was sent on an errand but on her way, she was abducted in the streets during the daytime by the military of the Colonial Empire of Japan. She was dragged to Yanji, China, without knowing the reason why. She had to suffer from a life as a sex slave that was given to her out of blue. Locked in a tiny and dark room which resembled an animal cage, she had to serve at least 10 Japanese soldiers per day and sometimes dozens. Every day was a hell of a day.

“During the weekends, there was a long queue of Japanese soldiers from the early morning. There was no end. They continued entering my room. I even hoped my body to be fallen into decay and disappear. I lived without my soul because it was too painful and distressing. I was alive but I was not living.”

She was beaten if she attempted to resist. Her friends who were also abducted passed away one by one. They were shot while resisting or killed themselves after suffering too much. If they got sick and become a person who would not be able to work as a sex slave anymore, the Japanese military drove them with a truck to somewhere. Then, they never came back. The rumors ran that some were buried alive and some were sold. Too many unbelievably horrifying stories were being told.

“They feared us saying that they would kill us if we are caught while attempting to escape. At that time, I was young and naïve enough to get scared and feared. I could not help but enduring the time. In order to go back home being alive, I had to do so with no choice.” The life that is too humiliating to be told continued. One day, Ok-Sun ended up having Syphilis so some Japanese soldiers made her lower body be exposed to mercury. Due to this happening, she became sterile. This story is hard to believe but it is clearly a ‘truth’ that Lee experienced. “On that day, I was picking wild herbs with my friends in our neighborhood as usual. Then, all of sudden, some men in military uniform approached us, grabbed our hand and forced us to get into a truck.”

The life that is too humiliating to be told continued. One day, Ok-Sun ended up having Syphilis so some Japanese soldiers made her lower body be exposed to mercury. Due to this happening, she became sterile. This story is hard to believe but it is clearly a ‘truth’ that Lee experienced. “On that day, I was picking wild herbs with my friends in our neighborhood as usual. Then, all of sudden, some men in military uniform approached us, grabbed our hand and forced us to get into a truck.”

“On that day, I was picking wild herbs with my friends in our neighborhood as usual. Then, all of sudden, some men in military uniform approached us, grabbed our hand and forced us to get into a truck.”

Home Country’s Cold Attitude That Is Hurting The Most

She tried to save her life, facing several near-death accidents. It took 58 years, that long time, for her to come back to her motherland.

“There was no one when I came back. My father, mother, brother and relatives… all of them passed away. You can’t imagine how miserable I felt. It was so heartbreaking for me that I had no way to know how my father and mother passed away. I wondered whether they were beaten by the Japanese soldiers or got any diseases. Unfortunately, I had no idea about the reason why so all I could to was cry, beating my chest.”

She was so anticipating the day when she could return home but when her dream came true, there was no one who greeted her. In fact, people talked behind her back when she confessed about her past, the days when she was abused as a sex slave. She got hurt again by her motherland’s cold attitude, where she was supposed to receive a warm embrace instead. However, the colder the attitude got, the stronger she had to become.

“There are so many victims who didn’t come back home, being worried about living along with their scarlet letter. However, I was different. That was not my mistake. Why shall I hide myself? I was abused by the Colonial Empire of Japan so I demand an apology. I will fight until they come to me saying it was their fault and asking for forgiveness.”

Ok-Sun attends the Wednesday Demonstration that is held on every Wednesdays in front of the Japanese Embassy in South Korea. Besides, she has participated in several seminars on human rights that have been organized by the USA, Germany, and Japan so that she can let the world know the truth about the Comfort Women issue. Early this year, she visited the USA, Germany and more for a testimonial. She is flying to Japan in this upcoming Autumn and going to appeal to the media worldwide about her innocence.

“Japan is longing for our death but death doesn’t mean the end of our history. We die but the history never dies.”

The reason why she, being 90-year-old and sick, takes a long flight is because she hopes somebody to keep the history right that she has been trying to keep until now. She said she is still doing her best.

“I shall not be sick but live long so that I can give at least one more testimonial. Nowadays, I am often sick so I am afraid. I don’t know until when I can live… so please come back. Please visit me often.”

Our History Shall Continue

Grandma Ok-Sun Lee was taken to a hospital after she finished the interview. We found her strong, given that she endured that extreme pain, finished her duty and then went to see a doctor.

Jeom-Yeon Ha, who doesn’t like to be photographed, came out to the garden to help us taking a photo of her and the other Comfort Women who currently reside in the House of Sharing. Grandma Ha is 95 years old this year. Since she is too old, she walks slowly with difficulty. Yet, she always attends public events passionately.

“Do I look okay? Please take a good picture of me.” Ok-Sun Park smiled in front of our camera, saying she picked the prettiest clothes she has for the interview. She has been known for her kindness since 2002 when she came to the House of Sharing for the first time. Hence, her nickname is ‘Dr. Kindness’. She is cheerful and likes to dance and sing with lots of fun.

Ok-Sun Park smiled in front of our camera, saying she picked the prettiest clothes she has for the interview. She has been known for her kindness since 2002 when she came to the House of Sharing for the first time. Hence, her nickname is ‘Dr. Kindness’. She is cheerful and likes to dance and sing with lots of fun.

She was singing one part of ‘Yoo-Jeong-Cheon-Lee (유정천리 in Korean, an old Korean popular song)’ while we were taking a photo of her.

“I’m going to leave. I’m leaving. I feel okay though I can’t live in my hometown in mountains, where I can grab my young son’s hand and where I can plant potatoes and sugar canes. I feel okay though I feel lonely. The sunset is soaking into my small bag with tears…”

The head of the House of Sharing, Sin-Kwon Ahn, feels mixed up and pathetic, seeing the grandmothers who are like his mom.

“Our grandmothers residing in the House of Sharing are so eager to participate in public events. They have contributed a lot to promote the true aspect of the Comfort Women issue all over the world. We are depending ourselves upon them a lot and get energetic vibes from them but these days I am worried about their health because they are losing their vigor.”

Ahn argues that the duties relevant the Comfort Women issue that have been dealt mostly by the grandmothers shall be conducted by our generations from now on. “Though they are going to pass away one day, the history of the past will never change. I believe there shall be any apology and compensation for the past must be provided by the Japanese government. It shall be admitted that there are some practical issues that drag our efforts behind though it would be good to have any compensation when the victims are still alive. Hence, we shall prepare the next chapter. We need to get stronger enough to fight for our wants even after when all of our grandmas leave us.”

“Though they are going to pass away one day, the history of the past will never change. I believe there shall be any apology and compensation for the past must be provided by the Japanese government. It shall be admitted that there are some practical issues that drag our efforts behind though it would be good to have any compensation when the victims are still alive. Hence, we shall prepare the next chapter. We need to get stronger enough to fight for our wants even after when all of our grandmas leave us.”

The power must be derived from our interest and the historical documents. Therefore, Ahn is planning to establish a center of human rights in the House of Sharing, the place where foreigners can focus on studying about the human rights of the Comfort Women in the upcoming future. At the same time, he is discussing displaying a part of the set of the movie <Sprits’ Homecoming (2015)> in the house.

“I don’t think the Japanese government is going to apologize right tomorrow or 1 month later or even 1 year later. It will take some time. The things that are not completed while the victims are alive shall be succeeded by us. Likewise, our tasks shall be continued by the next generations. The salient thing is to write what’s right for the history. We shall step forward toward the truth though it may take time. I believe that is the society that our grandmothers are longing for. To complete this task is a duty for all of us, who share the history together.”

Story Jin-Seon Baek
Interview Young Ham
Translation Soyoun Park