Half a century after her dying, fellow “comfort women” begged her to tell their story to the world, Geum Joo Hwang is finally granting their wish.
Aided by a translator, Hwang spoke to a crowd of more than 100 students during a Master’s Tea at Linsley-Chittenden Hall Thursday afternoon, recounting her story of sexual servitude and demanding that the Japanese government apologize for making sex slaves out of almost 200,000 Korean women.
Although World War II war crimes are usually associated with the Nazi treatment of the Jews, Hwang and her supporters say Japan too must admit it enslaved, tortured, and systematically raped multitudes of Korean women.
During World War II, the Japanese military snatched young Korean women from their homes and forced them to have intercourse with Japanese soldiers in what came to be known as “comfort stations.” If they refused, they were beaten.
Called “comfort women,” these sex slaves died in droves from sexually transmitted diseases and poor sanitary conditions.
Hwang, one of approximately 150 surviving comfort women, told the audience it is important for youth to know about the comfort stations at which so many Korean women met their deaths.
Esther Knapp ’03, a half-Korean student who attended the tea, agreed.
“It’s something I’ve always been vaguely aware of, but never really been taught,” Knapp said. “It’s not a part of Korean culture to discuss things like this.”
Hwang was only 19 when she was forced to leave her hometown of Ham-Heung for what she thought would be a hospital or factory volunteer job.
“None of us knew where we were going or what we were gong to do — and none of us spoke Japanese,” she said.
She said she was surprised when the train pulled into a Manchurian military post, but thought it was only a temporary stop. She was led to a “horrible, filthy room,” and after almost freezing to death during the night, was taken to a room where a high-ranking government official knocked her unconscious, ripped her clothes from her body and raped her.
This was the first of hundreds of rapes and beatings she would endure during her six-year tenure at the comfort station.
She told the audience that soldiers shoved dying women into a dirty room along with the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. The rotting corpses, along with living women, were then dumped into mass graves.
Hwang said she survived by stealing medicine and taking syphilis shots intended for animals. She added that, because of her four years of education, military officials treated her better than the other comfort women.
“Today, not one part of my body is not in pain,” she said. She showed the audience the surgical scars from an operation undertaken to remove her disease-ridden reproductive organs.
“I am an old woman. I wanted to get married, I wanted to have kids. I want to have the life that you have,” she said, causing her translator to break down in tears.