'Japanese put us through hell'
House of Sharing
Survivor recounts 3-year nightmare as wartime sex slave
By Kang Hyun-kyung
GWANGJU, Gyeongi Province -- Dozens of rapes by Japanese soldiers every day at comfort stations in foreign countries were not all about the ordeal that traumatized Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
Yi Ok-seon, 85, a “comfort woman” survivor, recalled the lives of as many as 160,000 women were constantly put on the line as Japanese soldiers treated them like animals.
She is one of the seven wartime sex slaves living at a non-profit shelter called the House of Sharing, located in this suburban city. She said many of the wartime sex slaves were Korean teenagers.
“I saw a 13-year-old girl who was stabbed dead by a Japanese soldier at a comfort station in the Chinese northeastern city of Yanji after she refused to have sex with him,” Yi said in an interview with The Korea Times last Tuesday.
“The guy stabbed several parts of her body watching her die slowly. After her death, he took her body downtown and dumped it somewhere.”
Yi said she and her comfort women colleagues there couldn’t help the poor girl because they knew they would face the same fate if they attempted to intervene.
“What if her parents knew that their girl was murdered like that and her body was dumped in a foreign land like garbage?”
Yi was forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers at a comfort station in the Chinese city from 1942 to 1945 after she was kidnapped by two men on the street of the southeastern coastal city of Ulsan.
The Busan native was 15 at the time.
Yi was taken to Ulsan after one of her mother’s acquaintances adopted her with a false promise that she would help the teenage girl get an education.
After arriving in Ulsan, the woman asked Yi to work as a nanny and two years later sold her to the owner of a bar which had “gisaeng” or Korean geisha.
She did chores there, too but was kidnapped while heading out on an errand.
Yi was put into a truck where five other kidnapped Korean girls were crying for help. They were taken to the Chinese border town of Domoon by train two days later and after one night there and then arrived in Yanji.
“I had no idea why we were taken and where we were heading. All of us cried and shouted that we wanted to go home. The Japanese slapped us hard across our face and tied our wrists and ankles tight to prevent us from running away.”
After arriving in Yanji, she was forced to work as a laborer in the airport briefly before she was taken to a comfort station in the city. She, along with many other Korean men and women, worked at the airfield to renovate the airport to accommodate more Japanese military for the war.
“We were not paid.”
Days after, she was taken to a house in the city, which she later realized was a comfort station.
She said the youngest girl that she saw there was 11, and that there were several other girls who were 13 or 14.
“I saw one 14-year-old girl who was raped by 40 or 50 Japanese soldiers each day,” she recalled.
Girls were stabbed or beaten severely when they were defiant and then raped by Japanese soldiers.
Yi described a comfort station as a slaughterhouse.
“Many Korean girls committed suicide after being raped. Some were killed by Japanese. Some of us managed to survive but we still have many stab scars in our body.”
She showed this reporter a clear vertical scar on her belly, saying it is from when the Japanese forcibly “removed” her uterus.
Yi said there are still several noticeable scars on other parts of her body, showing her hand and foot. She was stabbed in the foot after she attempted to escape.
“The Japanese soldier stabbed my foot, saying I ran away because I have this foot.”
After World War II she lived in Yanji, now part of the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin Province, until she returned to Korea in 2000.
“After the war, we didn’t have the money to sponsor our trip back to Korea. We didn’t know how to come back, either. So many of us stayed in foreign territories that used to house comfort stations and lived there following World War II,” Yi said.
Japan established countless comfort stations almost every country in the Asia-Pacific region during World War II, according to data compiled after their existence was confirmed by testimonies by victims, official documents and military records.
Most of them were located in China and Myanmar. Korean women were also taken to comfort stations located in other parts of Asia, such as Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, East Timor and even Papua New Guinea for enforced sex slavery during World War II.