A great-hearted donationAn old Korean woman named Kim Soon-ak was sexually enslaved and trafficked as a “comfort woman” for the Japanese Imperial Army at the age of 16. She was forced to spend the most miserable time of her life at several comfort stations in China. Although she returned to Korea the year after the country was liberated from Japanese rule, her hardships continued. She eked out a scanty livelihood as an underpaid housemaid and day laborer until 2000. She began to receive a supplementary living allowance in her early 70s.
However slight her earnings, in all those years Kim saved all she could - with a great goal in sight. Her altruism became belatedly known to many people last Thursday, when she passed away: She left a will donating all of her belongings to help children of families without parents and build a memorial hall for comfort women.
Kim showed a great generosity of spirit, although she had been deeply wounded by Korean society’s bigotry during her whole life. We will never forget all the favors she has done for us.
In addition, we feel a deep sense of guilt for failing to honor her earnest entreaty that we obtain an apology from Japan before her death.
Kim took the initiative in organizing wide-ranging educational and publicity activities to arouse public opinion both at home and abroad on the issue of comfort women by holding a public lecture in Japan in 2003 and releasing her autobiography in 2008. The only thing she wanted was an official apology from the Japanese government for the war crimes it committed. She wanted the victims’ impaired reputations restored. Rain or shine, other surviving comfort women have been holding weekly demonstrations in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul every Wednesday over the past 18 years to achieve the same goal.
However, despite mounting pressure from the international community - such as the resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives and the recommendation by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2009 - Japan persists in denying all knowledge of the comfort women’s enslavement. As it delays, an increasing number of these women are dying, three in this year alone. Of the 234 registered victims, only 85 now survive, most of them in their 80s and 90s and suffering from disease.
For their sake, we should rush to resolve the issue. The Japanese government should no longer be allowed to make excuses for its actions. The Korean government has an obligation to obtain its apology. It is high time to relieve these victims of their long-standing grievance.