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An eternal place in history for Korean Comfort women

By Juan Soto

Korean comfort women will forever have their place in history. The mostly unknown story of these Asian women will be part of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College.

Leaders of the CUNY college and the Asian community said the permanent exhibition will remember the tens of thousands of Asian, mostly Korean, women and teenage girls who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II. Many were killed, others never returned home.

Some historians estimated there were about 200,000 comfort women. Some 239 women publicly spoke about their experiences and by 2013, only 56 were still alive.

The idea came about three years ago, when the Korean community in Queens approached Queensborough Community College to have the comfort women remembered because of their suffering.

“The more we studied it, the more we could not find a reason to say no,” said Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center and Archives, while announcing the permanent exhibit to honor the Korean comfort women at the college campus Oct. 30.

Holocaust and comfort women survivors met and formed the group called the Sisterhood of Survivors, Flug said.

“I was very happy to meet some of these women,” said Ethel Katz, a Holocaust survivor who spoke at the college campus during the announcement of the exhibition.. “Our hearts spoke to one another.”

Some students at Queensborough Community College learned what happened to these women during internships set up by the CUNY school. They were able to connect, via Internet and Skype, with some of the survivors. When they asked them how they can help, the Korean women answered, “Please, don’t forget us, and don’t forget what happened to us.”

“This is not a political issue,” said Sung Min, president of the Korean American Association of Greater New York. “This is a human rights issue, not an attack on any government.”

Some Japanese lawmakers denied the allegations, saying the women worked in military brothels willingly. However, in 1993, Japan apologized for coercing the young women into sex slavery.

The permanent tribute to Korean comfort women will have a budget of about $50,000 to $80,000 to install, Flug said. It will include the art exhibit “Eulogies” by Steve Cavallo, a collection of paintings that portray some of these women when they were both young and old.

“We are designing the exhibit, but it will be ongoing and that will allow us to change the content,” Flug said.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said, “this was a terrible tragedy and hopefully it won’t happen again.”

“For more than 75 years, the comfort women of Korea have lived in the shadows of history,” said Flug. This permanent exhibition, he said, “will serve as a powerful lesson to our entire community and beyond.”

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