Students who took part in a Queensborough Community College internship program were able to put a face on history this week when the school’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center was paid a visit by one of the surviving Korean comfort women.
During the past school year, students from the Bayside-based college were able to interview the women, who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II, via Skype.
On Thursday evening, Ok Sun Lee, 87, traveled from Korea to the Holocaust center to tell her story. She is one of only 58 living comfort women.
“I was dragged by the Japanese military to a comfort station,” Lee said. “I hate the term ‘comfort woman.’ They abducted us. There was nothing comfortable about it.”
Lee was grabbed in the street by the Japanese in broad daylight during July 1942 and taken to a comfort station, which she said was populated by girls as young as 11 to 14 years.
“It was hell,” she said. “It was not a place for a human being to live in. If the girls did not do what they were told to do, they would beat, stab or shoot us.”
During one incident, a soldier slashed Lee’s arm when she refused his advances and, during another, she was stabbed in the foot after attempting to flee.
But Lee said she was most upset that the Japanese government has still not apologized for the atrocities committed against the comfort women during World War II.
“Japan is still lying and saying they didn’t force us into sexual slavery,” she told attendees through a translator at Queensborough’s event. “Many of the survivors are passing away. The government of Japan is waiting for us to all die. But this would still not be resolved.”
Students who interviewed the comfort women pledged to share the women’s stories with others.
“Every intern who has interviewed a Holocaust survivor or comfort woman made a promise they would never forget them and they’d tell their stories,” said Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg center.
Alexander Crombez, who interviewed Lee via Skype, said the internship was an unforgettable experience.
“When you are taking a class, it is valuable because it teaches you facts,” he said. “When I spoke to Ok Sun Lee, that was when history came to life. She was taken when she was 15, which is how old my sister is. I have to take what she told me and pass it on to the next generation.”