Comfort Woman shares story with Queensborough CC

Ok Sun Lee (c.) shows audience members her foot and explains she still has a scar from an interaction with a military soldier while she was imprisoned as a sex slave for the Japanese Army during World War II. Photo by Bianca Fortis
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Ok Sun Lee can clearly recall the day she was taken from her native Korea. Just 15 years old, she was walking alone through her hometown, a rural village, when she was kidnapped by two strange men.

“I still remember the day I arrived in China,” she said. “July 29, 1942.”

A victim of human trafficking, Lee was brought to China, where she was forced to serve as a sex slave inside a “comfort battalion” for officers in the Imperial Japanese Army.

Hundreds of thousands of young women and girls were forced into slavery, but the exact number is not known. Some victims were as young as 11.

Today the victims are known as Comfort Women.

“I hate that term,” Lee said about the label. “They abducted us, forcefully took us. Why would people call us Comfort Women? There is nothing comfortable about it.”

Lee, now 85, shared her story, via an interpreter, with Queensborough Community College July 11 as part of the Asian Internship Program at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center.

Students in the program met weekly to learn about the experience of Comfort Women during the war. At the culmination of the program, they interviewed some of the Comfort Women, all living in South Korea, over Skype.

The school also offers a Holocaust Internship Program, in which students learn about and interview Holocaust survivors.

“These are the most valuable people we have found, along with our Holocaust survivors, in telling the story of human rights,” Dr. Arthur Flug, executive director of the center, said.

Lee said most of the girls were too young to initially understand what comfort battalions, also called comfort stations, were.

“But we were dragged there and it was hell,” she said. “It is not a place for a human being to live. It was a slaughterhouse where so many young girls died.”

Many women died in the camps, either by suicide or at the hands of an officer. Lee herself had tried to commit suicide, and she showed the crowd the physical scars she still bears from the violence she experienced more than 70 years ago.

She also shared the horrors of what she saw firsthand, such as a 14-year-old girl who was stabbed to death on a public street, her body left for the dogs.

“What would her parents do if they knew that happened to their daughter?” Lee said.

Today there are only 58 known Comfort Women left in the world, all between the ages of 84 and 92, and they say they want one thing: a formal and sincere apology from the Japanese government for the systematic raping and torture of so many women.

“Japan denies this, but if Comfort Women are not real, then who is Ok Sun Lee who is here testifying today?” she said.

“I am so old, I am so weak,” she told the audience. “Please consider what would be the reason for me to make this long and arduous trip. It is to plead with you to help us resolve this issue as soon as possible because a lot of the survivors are passing away one by one.”

The students who participated in the program said interviewing survivors helps put a face on history.

“When you talk to Ms. Ok Sun Lee, that’s when the lesson became real,” Alexander Crombez, a student, said. “That’s when you learned what you were supposed to learn in class. Ms. Ok Sun Lee told us she was 15 when she was taken. That’s how old my sister is now. That brought history into the now.”

Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 2:44 am, July 19, 2013
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Reader feedback

Eiji Nakano says:
Why Those Korean and American people ignore "Sex slave" of US and UN militaly. Just after WWII Japanese and korean women were serve to US military by order of GHQ.
Then Many kidnapped korean women became "Comfort women" for UN milirtary in Korean war. They were caughted women soldiers or suspected to help N.Korea.
Then US and Korean military raped Vietnamese women and left 10,000-40,000 half with vietnamese.
US Military still hire Phillipine women for comfort women.
July 18, 2013, 6:47 am
Kit says:
This is really getting ridiculous. Why US get involved taking one side??? The story has escalated so much got 10 times worse even in my short few years' of follow-up!

Give us a break.
July 18, 2013, 7:51 am
Legal Alien from New Jersey says:
Ok Sun Lee can CLEARLY recall the day she was taken from her native Korea?


Her testimony seems to change time to time.

She testified she was kidnapped by " two strange men".
Once she said those two men were Japanese, and KOREAN.

And the other time, she said she was taken to a Airfield for Japanese military in China where she was forced labor and beaten.
She was locked up in an electric cage.
She cried saying she wanted to go home and pounded a brick wall to bleed.
She was told if she really wanna go home, be it.
However, she was taken to a "comfort station".

Northeast Asian History Internship at QCC is full of propaganda.

Why don't they teach about thousands of Laidaihan whose parents were raped by Korean Soldiers during the VN war?

Why don't they help people in Tibet, Uyghur、and Inner Mongoila?

Don't they even know what is happening over there TODAY?

Victims of Holocaust and War-Time Prostitutes are not equal.
July 18, 2013, 10:12 am
Christian from Los Angeles, Ca says:
Just by the statements alone should suffice why the international community is condemning Japanese rhetoric. The ultra-nationalist Japanese still refuse to accept reality and justify a wrong with a wrong.
July 19, 2013, 3:17 am
Andrew Lee from Qns/NJ says:
Thank you for perfectly illustrating the neo-fascist(?)/imperialist(?) views of many otherwise seemingly normal Japanese still seem to revel in this day and age. You don't see Germans contaminating comments sections with denying Holocaust and accusing survivors of lying but look above for exhibit A. People think Japan is all about Hello Kitty, crazy TV game shows and sushi. It's that but like the US South, it suffers from a chronic and sordidly racist underbelly.
July 19, 2013, 9:25 am
One Good Citizen says:
So much stuff's going on between Korea, and Japan.
I thought Korean people really adore Japan.

Majority of Japanese restaurants were owned by either Koreans, or Chinese.
Japanese grocery stores are filled with Koreans.
Korea always copys Japan, and claims it origins; origami, sushi, kendo, judo, cherry blossoms, karate, anime, etc.

One thing I really don't understand.
I know there are so many places with Japanese name on the corner of shopping plaza which provide sexual services, and all the worker are KOREAN WOMEN.
Why do they put Japanese name, and often pretend to be Japanese girls?

Is this a present version of "comfort station" or what?
I assure you that the owners of those places are not Japanese.
July 20, 2013, 11:07 am
Toshiaki Haginoya from Yokohama says:
>Once she said those two men were Japanese, and KOREAN.

I’m a Japanese writing from Yokohama, Japan. The above statement sounds very strange to me. Basically the Koreans and the Japanese have the same appearance so you cannot tell whether a person is Japanese or Korean unless the person speaks his/her language. There are many Koreans living in my neighborhood but I cannot tell who is a Korean only by his/her appearance. 

Korean language has no dull sounds. Koreans say peer instead of beer. “Say Gojuu-en (50 yen) “ was the standard way of identifying whether a person is Japanese or Korean during the Annexation Era. If the answer is Kochuu-en, he is a Korean. Besides, all the Japanese lived in a confined area specifically arranged for the Japanese (because our cultures are so different!) at that time and unless he was a teacher or a policeman, no Japanese can go into a suburban or rural area because of the language problem.

I guess the two kidnappers were Korean whoremongers who already cut the deal with her parents about her indentured prostitution.
Aug. 19, 2013, 2:37 pm
Al Jones from Phoenix, AZ 85013 says:
Screenplay title: Twisted Fortune Cookies
By: Al Jones

The son of a Japanese comfort woman, who practices witchcraft on those who remind him of those who abused him as a child.

Follow on Twitter at
Sept. 13, 2013, 3:39 pm
Moguro Fukuzo from Tokyo says:
Read the testimony of Ok-sun Lee

Ok-sun Lee
Sept. 14, 2013, 3:25 am
real7777 says:
Comfort Women were mostly japanese. 1-2% were abducted by a criminal japanese solder when things deteriorated toward end of ww2. When USA troops raped like 50,000 just in first month of occupying japan, prostitution stations was created to reduce rape but no GI was punished. People need to learn a fair perspective instead of distorted propaganda. USA, Japan, Korea used a military prostitution and had atrocities.
Dec. 17, 2013, 11:30 am
Michiko from Los Angeles says:
It's despicable that anyone would want to defend the perpetrators and add further insult to the unspeakable injury that has been heaped upon innocent civilian women and girls.

Saying that other groups have been guilty of abuse too does not lessen the guilt of the soldiers who participated in mass rape, torture, abuse and murder of female civilians.

Germans know and own up to the horrors that the Nazis were responsible for. No self respecting German today would even think of trying to deny the Holocaust.

Americans know and/or continue to find out out about crimes and abuses perpetuated by our government and soldiers during times of conflict and there's an attempt to own up and bring those directly responsible to justice. When cases of abuse have surfaced, there is an outcry, perpetrators go on trial, and people are outraged.

But since the US needed Japan's cooperation in the aftermath of the war to keep China in check, Japanese who should have been put on trial for war crimes were instead allowed to quietly go on with their lives, families, and careers, a level of dignity and comfort totally denied to the women and girls whose lives were lost or completely shattered.

For these reasons, unfortunately even Japanese don't know the full extent of this very dark part of their own history, and haven't been forced - like Germans - to take a hard look at the social and historical problems that led to horror on such a mass scale.

As a Japanese American, I definitely have seen injustice, and am not claiming Americans nor any other groups are perfect. Far from it.

So what possible excuse is there to continue to hide the guilty and malign the victims? Shame!
Feb. 9, 2014, 7:21 am
Toshiaki Haginoya from Tokyo says:
Korean efforts of building comfort women memorials all over the United States are really disgusting and outrageous.

Koreans have had a long tradition of selling the first born daughter into prostitution in order to feed the rest of the family. I wonder if Americans feel sympathy for Koreans and building monuments with such knowledge. As they were sold by their own parents, there are no protests or eyewitness records by their own parents (or any other third party) stating their daughter being brought by the Japanese police/military. Americans should ask themselves if this blame-shifting and smear campaign of baseless slander by Koreans is a right thing to do.
June 3, 2014, 1:04 am

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