Thursday, September 5, 2013

WWII Korean 'comfort woman' visits Hackensack monument BY MONSY ALVARADO

WWII Korean 'comfort woman' visits Hackensack monument

MONDAY JULY 15, 2013, 7:00 PM

HACKENSACK — Ok-seon Yi placed flowers Monday on a memorial in front of the Bergen County courthouse honoring thousands of Korean “comfort women” who, like her, were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, left, shows Ok-Seon Yi of Korea the World War II 'comfort woman' memorial in Hackensack.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, left, shows Ok-Seon Yi of Korea the World War II 'comfort woman' memorial in Hackensack.
Now, 86 years old, Yi moved slowly toward the stone with help from Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and a member of her staff. Yi then stood silently as a translator read the English words on the plaque to her in Korean.

“She’s really thankful [to the] Bergen County government for having a comfort women monument … and she’s thankful for human rights,’’ said Ester Chung, an assistant to Donovan who served as Yi’s translator. “She is now more than happy, and she has nothing [to be] sorry even if she dies tomorrow.”

Before walking to the plaque, Yi shared her story with Donovan, Freeholders John Mitchell and Joan Voss and reporters who gathered in a fifth-floor conference room in the Bergen County Administration Building. Speaking in Korea — gesturing at times and placing one hand near her heart — Yi spoke of being abducted and forced into sexual slavery, and falling into despair.

She was 15 years old, she said, walking on a street in Korea, when two men grabbed both of her arms and forced her into a truck that was already carrying five other young girls. She and the others were put on a train to China, where they were taken to comfort stations to sexually serve men in the Japanese military, she said.

She compared here three years in captivity to living in a slaughterhouse, saying she tried to run away, only to be physically abused when caught. She gestured toward scars on her arms, and told of a time when her captors tried to cut her foot.

When the war was over, she said, the soldiers never said a word.

“Japanese soldiers, they never said the war is finished, so they didn’t know,’’ Yi said through Chung.

Yi never returned home, and moved back to South Korea from China about a decade ago.

Donovan met Yi last fall when the county executive traveled to South Korea and visited the House of Sharing, a home for women who were taken to so-called “comfort stations” when they were young and came to be known by the euphemism “comfort women.” Donovan said she asked the women if she could tell their stories and if Bergen County could erect a monument in their honor. They gave their consent, and on March 8, International Women’s Day, the stone was dedicated outside the county courthouse.

“You suffered so much and yet you are such a beautiful, wonderful woman, and we thank her so much for coming today,’’ Donovan said.

Yi’s nearly two-week trip is being paid for by the Korean American Civic Empowerment, or KACE, a non-partisan and non-profit organization formerly known as the Korean American Voters Council. The organization has invited other former comfort women to the United States in the past, and brought Yi to New York and New Jersey in 2011.

“We want to share the true history with American society,’’ said Dong Suk Kim, who leads the organization’s steering committee. “This is not a Korean and Japanese issue, it’s a human-rights issue, and a women’s-rights issue.”

On Wednesday, Yi will join Kim and other representatives of KACE in Washington for the sixth anniversary of the adoption of House Resolution 121. That resolution, which the House of Representatives approved on a voice vote on July 30 2007, urges the Japanese government to formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility for the coercion of women into sexual slavery during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the end of World War II.

The Japanese consulate in New York maintains that the Japanese government has apologized for its actions in the past, that it set up a fund to benefit former comfort women and that it will work to prevent future offenses against women.

Similar resolutions like the one passed by the House have been adopted by some states, including New Jersey. But along with the monuments to comfort women, they have drawn the ire of some Japanese who say the stories of the comfort women are fabrications. They say that the women were not coerced or enslaved, but were paid as prostitutes.

Reporters and elected officials in Bergen County have received many emails from Japanese citizens expressing their opposition to the memorials and resolutions.

But on Monday, Voss said the stone and its wording serve to recognize history and prevent similar events from happening in the future.

Before she returns home, Yi will also visit Glendale, Calif., where the council last week approved a statue to honor the comfort women.

Bergen County’s memorial is the second of its kind in New Jersey. Palisades Park, where more than half of the population is of Korean ancestry, dedicated its stone in 2010. Yi visited that stone on her previous trip to the United States and went there again on Monday afternoon.

Fort Lee residents have also talked about dedicating their own stone for the women, but a disagreement over the plaque’s wording has delayed the project.


State Senate passes a resolution recognizing the pain and suffering of 'comfort women' in WWII

THURSDAY JUNE 20, 2013, 6:08 PM
The New Jersey Senate passed a resolution Thursday recognizing the pain and suffering of women who were drafted to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers between 1932 and 1945.

The concurrent resolution, which passed 40-0, also supports those known as “comfort women” in their fight for proper acknowledgement and redress by the Japanese government for the suffering “endured during their forced internment in military comfort stations.”

“The stories of torture and rape are horrifying,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg, one of the primary sponsors of the resolution.

In March, a resolution recognizing the comfort women was approved by the full assembly. That measure was sponsored by Bergen County Democrat Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner.

New Jersey joins two other states in passing resolutions regarding the comfort women. The California House of Representatives passed their resolution in 1999, and the New York Senate and Assembly voted on similar declarations earlier this year.

Critics of the women have denounced their stories of forced sexual slavery as fabrications, and argue that they were paid prostitutes. Opponents, many who live in Japan, have sent mass e-mails to elected officials and newspapers in the United States condemning the resolutions and memorials that have been built for the approximately 200,000 women from Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Japanese occupied territories reportedly taken to the military stations prior and during the war.

The Japanese government has maintained that it has apologized for its actions in the past, and that it set up a women’s funds to distribute money to benefit the former comfort women.

In New Jersey, the comfort women have been recognized in two memorials. Palisades Park dedicated its stone in 2010, and Bergen County placed its memorial in front of the county courthouse earlier this year.

The tributes were the idea of members of the Korean-American community in Bergen County. The U.S. Census showed that in 2010 New Jersey was home to 93,679 residents of Korean ancestry, a figure that grew by 43.3 percent from a decade earlier. More than 60 percent of the Korean population at that time, 56,733, lived in Bergen County.

“We are very proud that New Jersey government now became the human rights champion,” said Dongchan Kim, president of Korean American Civic Empowerment who was in Trenton for the vote. “This is a big step in recovering the comfort women victim’s honor.”

Staff Writer Michael Linhorst contributed to this article.


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