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Syracuse University Students Address Japanese Military Sexual Slavery During World War II

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Audio Transcript: Lee_longformat_Homecoming

By Jonathan Lee SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — A dozen South Korean students at Syracuse University conducted a fundraiser on April 12 to raise awareness on the forced sexual slavery during World War II by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories.

Known as Wi-An-Bu, or Comfort Women, these women and girls were subject to rape and sexual violence daily by the Japanese soldiers at comfort stations, located in Japan, China, Korea, and other occupied territories. It is estimated that over 200,000 were victims of the atrocity, now with an ever decreasing number of survivors.

The KASU members wanted to raise awareness on the Comfort Women issue. ©2018 Jonathan Lee

The students from Korean Association of Syracuse University, or KASU, held the fundraiser at The Joyce Herg auditorium in Newhouse at Syracuse University. Youngchae Cho, a South Korean student and the leader of the event, said the fundraiser was in part to raise awareness about the stories of the victims.

Cho explains the goal of the fundraiser to the audience. ©2018 Jonathan Lee

“I was always interested in this issue, but it was all targeted toward Koreans,” Cho said. “That is why I brought the media aspect into it, to tell the story to non-Koreans.”

The fundraiser involved a screening of the movie Spirit’s Homecoming (2017) by South Korean director Jeongrae Jo. The movie, based on testimonies from the survivors, tells the story of several young girls who gets abducted by the Japanese forces to work in a comfort station. Cho said the director specifically gave KASU the permission to use the movie for this fundraiser event.

Jiajia Wu, one of the students who participated in the screening and the fundraiser, acknowledged the fact that the Japanese government is conservative in their apologies.

“I know that the Japanese government is not really coming forward to officially apologize, not only towards Korean Comfort Women but also towarded the Chinese victims of the Nanjing Massacre,” she said.

The Nanjing/Nanking Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanjing, was another wartime atrocity committed by the Imperial Japan in 1937. The Japanese forces murdered and raped over 300,000 residents of Nanjing, the former capital of Republic of China, in a span of six weeks.

The first documented photograph of Korean Comfort Women. Courtesy of SNU Human Rights Center.

The Comfort Women victims were subject to constant rape, testimonies and researches suggesting that an average victim was raped on average 29 times daily. An interview with Hak-sun Kim, the first women to come forth and testify to the media, by the Korean Broadcasting Station in 1992 revealed how brutal the situations were.

“It can’t be explained with words,” Kim said. “Women are menstruating but they [soldiers] continue to abuse us regardless. They don’t care if you’re on a period or not. They drag you like a piece of luggage and use you as they would like. When we are broken – sick so to speak, they trash you or kill you.”

Kim was 17-years-old when she was taken. On average, the victims were aged between 14 and 19-years-old. Many were forcibly taken from their homes, and others were lured by soldiers with false promises of work in factories or opportunities of higher education.

The Japanese government has not formally apologized for many of the war crimes committed. Cho notes that while some apologies were made, none were made at a personal level and are considered insincere. He also mentioned that the Japanese government is denying the ‘forced’ aspect of the issue, claiming that the women and girls were never raped, but instead volunteered for the job.

The Japanese government has also attempted to pay sums of money as an apology to cover up the issue, and demanded the removal of Comfort Women memorial statues located around the world.

Cho worries that in the near future, there would not be any survivors left to receive an apology. On April 23, just 12-days after the fundraiser, another survivor Dukrae Choi, passed away at the age of 97, marking the fourth death of survivors this year. As of May, the number of survivors is down to 28 in South Korea.

The women are called survivors because the majority of the victims were killed by Japanese forces at the end of the war in order to eliminate the evidences. Ilchul Kang, a survivor, said this in a testimony:

“They were gathering firewood to burn us alive, but Korean locals came down and pushed the soldiers into the firepit. I took the opportunity and ran far away.”

Cho hopes for a swift and sincere apology from Japan, before the last remaining survivors pass away.