“Yoon, what are you doing? Why are you holding yourself when Japan is going on a wild rampage? Bring me out right now (to a press conference),” late Kim Hak-sun, a comfort women victim of the Japanese military, told Yoon Young-ae (78, then-secretary of the Korean Female Christian Union) who worked at the South Korean Comfort Women Issue Discussion Board (currently Justice for the Comfort Women) on August 13, 1991. “I am still alive and standing. It’s absurd that Japan denies the fact that it forcibly enlisted comfort women and the Korean government takes a wishy-washy stance. I suffered as a comfort woman. I am the living proof,” Kim said in a press conference held on the next day.
The government made August 14, the day on which Kim announced her victimhood as a comfort woman for the first time in Korea, “the day of remembering comfort women” in 2017.
Yoon introduced the detailed process of Kim’s testimony in a talk concert “Kim Hak-sun whom I remember” held on Saturday by the Justice for the Comfort Women to mark the 30th year of Kim’s testimony. When the Japanese Embassy in Korea obstinately refused to acknowledge the victimhood of comfort women without a witness in April 1991, Yoon asked around for a comfort woman victim and met Kim in July the same year.
“Kim was in a white dress and had fearful yet sparkling eyes like those of deer Bambi,” yoon said, reminiscing her first meeting with Kim.
“I hesitated a lot before coming forward, but I decided that it is God’s message to prevent such pain from being inflicted on the future generations by showing my pain and historical facts after asking myself why I survived all the sufferings,” Kim told Yoon back then.
“I feel liberated. Please use me to publicize this atrocity to the world,” Kim said after telling Yoon about the three months she suffered through as a comfort woman at the age of 17. A month after, Kim came onto a press conference and made a public testimony. It was the start of reports came in from other victims to the South Korean Comfort Women Issue Discussion Board. The government registered 238 of them as comfort women victims. “I saw an old lady (Kim Hak-sun) testifying on the TV and worked up my courage,” most of the victims said.
Thirty years after the first testimony by Kim, only 14 victims are currently alive. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family recently showcased a program using AI that allows citizens to have a conversation with victims. The Japanese Military Comfort Women Issue Research Institute under the ministry and the Perpetual Testimony Team of Sogang University hold an exhibition “Perpetual Testimony” at Sogang University and the Heeum Japanese Military Comfort Women History Hall from June 15 to November 30.
The exhibition shows pre-recorded video testimonies of Lee Ok-sun (94) and Lee Yong-su (93) when citizens ask a question on the AI program. When I asked Lee Ok-sun how she was taken away as a comfort woman, she moved her arms and said that she was taken while doing an errand by her landlord. “A soldier pushed me and forced me down the underpass. I thought he was making a joke. I got on the train for the first time when I was 16,” Lee Yong-su described what happened in detail.
The hosts will pilot the exhibition until November and fix errors before officially hosting it in major countries around the world.