Korean citizen Kap Soo Choi emotionally described her harrowing experience as a sexual slave to Japanese soldiers in Manchuria during World War II, speaking to a packed auditorium last night.
For Choi, it was the start of life that would be marked by great tragedy.
“Americans know much about Nazi atrocities during World War II, but know little about Japanese atrocities in World War II,” Ok Cha Soh, president of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, said.
“It’s a chapter that should not be allowed to be forgotten,” she added.
Soh explained that before and during World War II, as the Japanese military invaded and conquered areas of Southeast Asia, the government set up comfort stations.
These stations were designed to hold imprisoned women who were forced them to provide sexual favors for the soldiers.
She added that an estimated 200,000 women were abducted.
Not until recently have former comfort women come forward, demanding the Japanese government take action to redress its abuses, she said.
Choi, through the help of a translator, tearfully described how she grew up in a poor family and was eventually taken in by Japanese soldiers, who promised her food and care.
By the age of 14, she was forced into a life of sexual slavery, servicing as many as 40 soldiers a day.
“There would be no end,” Choi said. “I would have to wash up after every client and prepare for the next.”
She began her days at 9 a.m., worked well into the night and was granted only a half hour each day for dinner.
Choi said that her sexual abuse lead to physical and emotional pain.
“Some of them were very rough to me,” she said.
“They would beat me so bad. It would hurt, but I didn’t complain and I endured it all,” she added.
Choi also suffered abuse at the hands of the proprietor of the Comfort Station.
“The proprietor would take me out and beat me for not being obedient,” she said.
She gave a detailed account of how soldiers would often complain to the proprietor so they could receive money back that they had paid for her services.
“He told us we were in debt to him for the clothing, the food and the lodging,” Choi said.
She said she attempted several times to pay her way out of the system so she could return home to see her grandmother.
Chinese and Russian forces eventually liberated Choi and the other comfort women, although she said “my life at the Comfort Station doesn’t even come close to what I had to go through after liberation.”
It took her four years to return home to Korea, where she found her grandmother and nine siblings had died.
She dealt with feelings of shame and guilt.
Choi eventually adopted a boy whose parents were killed in the Korean War and married an impotent man.
The audience was visibly moved by her words.
“Her story is very touching. It’s amazing how she’s survived,” LSA senior Mimi Song said.
But as Soh pointed out, the Asian holocaust is a topic that needs to be discussed and remembered.
“(The Asian holocuast) has to be told before it’s too late. We cannot ignore the past,” she said.