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[Viewpoint]Why we recall past suffering

A rabbi who works for a Jewish human rights group asked me, ‘Why don’t Koreans make a movie about comfort women to denounce Japan to the world?’

Mar 02,2009

A few days ago, I attended a hearing on expansion of the Museum of Tolerance held at Los Angeles City Hall. Some local residents opposed the expansion project due to a noise issue. Proponents were mostly direct descendants of Jewish Holocaust survivors.

The first speaker supporting the expansion was a museum staff member, and the second was a rabbi. I was the third speaker supporting the project. I have researched child education in the Jewish community for 17 years. I was asked to speak because the museum wanted to show that not just Jews but other ethnic groups support the expansion.

I introduced myself as an expert in character education and a bestselling writer on the subject. I explained that the essence of character education for young children is vertical culture, and two of the most important components of that culture are filial piety and a history of struggle. The Jews are recognized for their method of children’s education because they successfully teach these two elements.

The history education offered through the museum by having children experience the struggles of their parents and past generations is crucial. It tells them of the roots of their identity as well as demonstrating the universal human value of justice. I emphasized that we need to teach future generations about the atrocities of Germany and Japan against neighboring countries during World War II. I also requested that the expansion display materials on Japanese imperialism in addition to materials on the Nazis.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the March First Independence Movement, we need to contemplate how we can repay our ancestors for their sacrifices. In Japan, rightists are gaining power and shamelessly claim that the comfort women system was legal.

One of the ways for Jews to publicize their history of struggle is to build museums and let the world be informed. There are over 20 Holocaust museums across the United States. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum near the White House in Washington D.C. is visited by over 2 million tourists from around the world every year. Of course, students at local elementary, middle and high schools make mandatory field trips there. The museum operates under the slogan, “There will be hope when the history of suffering is remembered.” In other words, if you forget about the history of suffering, you don’t have hope.

You can also denounce atrocities through art. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg depicted German rightists with his movie, “Schindler’s List.” Could one indict the Nazis more vividly and powerfully?

A rabbi who works for a Jewish human rights group asked me, “Why don’t Koreans make a movie about comfort women to denounce Japan to the world?” He argued that such a movie will be an instant success for two reasons. First, many people are curious about the topic itself, and it will be a worldwide box office hit. Second, Korea can use the resulting international awareness to defeat Japan’s claims.

If such a movie is to be made, the filmmaker needs to be prudent about two things. First, he has to focus on historical facts rather than sensationalism. Second, the movie should be about forgiveness, the realization of justice and reconciliation rather than hatred. We want to prevent a bigger catastrophe in the future and enjoy peace. Korean human rights organizations are working hard in the United States and Japan to publicize the truth about comfort women. Before the actual victims pass away, a major film has to be produced about the subject.

Over 11 million victims were murdered by the Nazis, about 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews. However, only the Jews are constantly denouncing the Nazis and urging the world to remember the suffering they caused. Their tenacity makes the German government pay attention to this part of the past. It is also the source of power that brought Israel from ruin to prosperity.

We should not overlook the fact that the economic prosperity of Korea is a miracle made by the generation who experienced and remembers our history of suffering. Teaching about this difficult time of history is key character education for our children. How come so many young Koreans are jobless? The slow economy might not be the only cause.


The writer is the president of Shema Education Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

Hyun Yong-soo



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