Comfort women’s families launch group

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Comfort women’s families launch group

An association for the families of the victims of sexual slavery under the Japanese military was recently launched in the hopes of receiving a belated apology from the Japanese government.

During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly recruited young women and girls, most of whom were Korean, to work in military brothels as sex slaves. Today, the victims are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.”

“We are regretful our mother did not receive one word of a proper apology from Japan before passing on, so as her children, we are taking the initiative,” said one member of the association, describing the motivation for the new group.

The association was established by 14 of the victims’ family members, the relatives of 10 comfort women who had resided in the House of Sharing, including Kim Soon-duk (1921-2004) and Choi Seon-soon (1927-2013), as a continued effort to seek justice.

On Saturday, the association held an inaugural ceremony at the House of Sharing, a shelter for the victims, in Gwangju, Gyeonggi.

Choi concealed her past from her family until just three years before she passed away.

Her 60-year-old son, Wang Sang-moon, his 60-year-old wife, Lee Sun-ae, and their son attended the meeting.

“My mother-in-law, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, three years before she passed away, showed me her bank account where her living expense stipend was deposited and told me, ‘This is the money that our country is giving me after the pain I suffered from being dragged to Japan and returning,’” Lee said. “That was when I first learned that she had been a comfort women victim.”

Choi’s 37-year-old grandson, Wang Min-ho, had a similar story.

“When flowers from President Park Geun-hye arrived at my grandmother’s funeral ceremony, I learned that she had been a victim, and my heart hurts when I think about how she hid that fact from her family for a long time.”

As a 16-year-old girl, Choi was taken away by the Japanese army on her way to buy medicine for her sickly father. For the next three years, she worked as a sex slave in a Japanese military camp.

Choi’s son, Wang, explained that all three family members joined the association to “hear one word of apology.”

“We participated in the family’s association because my mother passed on without hearing one word of an [official] apology, but we hope that the 53 surviving comfort women victims can hear an apology from Japan and leave [this world] with a lighter heart,” Wang continued.

Kim Soon-duk, who died at the age of 83 and is recalled by her paintings depicting comfort women, is survived by a 67-year-old son, Yang Han-seok, who is determined to fulfill his mother’s wishes. Kim’s 1995 painting, “Flower that Failed to Blossom,” a self-portrayal, was exhibited in countries across the world to introduce the comfort women issue globally.

Currently, there are only 53 surviving comfort women out of the 238 women registered with the Korean government.

BY AN HYO-SEONG, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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