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Wartime 'comfort women' fight for recognition

By CHANG JUN in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-29 16:50
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Regardless what titles they were given — nainai in Chinese, lolas in Pilipino, or halmeoni in Korean — "comfort women" in English — three women, all now in their 90s, hold one thing in common: They suffered while under the command of the Japanese Army during World War II, and they will never cease their call for justice.

As part of a webinar Sunday titled "Standing Tall 3: Demanding Justice", which was held to commemorate the third anniversary of the installation of the Comfort Women Memorial in San Francisco, the testimonies of the three survivors from China, South Korea and the Philippines were aired to audiences around world.

Judith Mirkinson, president of the San Francisco-based Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC), which is the main organizer of the event, said that although they had to hold it online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the message they wanted to send out is loud and clear: As long as the Japanese government denies their history and declines to apologize to the sexually enslaved victims, the demand for justice will continue.

The webinar marked the premier of an "animated experimental documentary" titled Thread by Yuri Jang that concerns a Korean woman in the 1930s who is forced to become a "comfort woman".

The event drew representatives from the US, China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and beyond.

Organizers also shared updates of an ongoing oral history project called The Eternal Testimony, a collaboration with University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation, which uses technology to not only digitally archive survivors' narratives but also allows narrators to interact online with visitors.

Julie Tang, a retired judge in San Francisco who is the co-founder and co-chair of CWJC, emphasized the significance of remembering World War II history, safeguarding world peace and, more importantly, seeking justice from Japan and a long-overdue apology.

"The memory is powerful," Tang said, as she condemned Japan for continuing to deny its wartime crimes, including forcing many Asian women to become sex slaves during the war.

Tang is among the many who were there on Sept 22, 2017, to witness the erection of the San Francisco Comfort Women Memorial, a 10-foot-tall bronze statue titled Comfort Women Column of Strength.

It depicts three young women — identified as ethnically Chinese, Korean and Filipina — standing in a circle holding hands with their backs to each other.

Gazing up at them is another bronze figure that resembles Kim Hak-sun, a Korean "comfort woman" during World War II who chose to break her silence of 40 years to testify in August 1991 against Japan's wartime crimes. Four months later, she filed a class-action lawsuit against the Japanese government. The court case was still ongoing when she died in 1997.

According to incomplete statistics from amnesty organizations, Japanese troops abducted some 200,000 to 300,000 Asian women and sexually enslaved them. "They (the "comfort women") were raped, beaten, tortured," said Fedencia David, now 93, who recalled dark days in the Philippines in 1943. At age 14, David saw her grandmother raped and killed in front of her before the Japanese soldiers repeatedly raped her and held her prisoner.

What David and her fellow victims want is justice. Now a member of the Lina Pilina, an organization of the Filipina Comfort Women Survivors, David said, "From now till then, the true justice has not been served, so our work must continue."

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