By Tom Momberg
Yong Soo Lee, one of the many Korean and Chinese women who were forced into sexual slavery as “comfort women” by the Japanese army during World War II, paid a second visit to the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center at Queensborough Community College last week. The visit was part of her campaign to spread awareness of sexual slavery and social injustice.
Lee’s return to the Kupferberg Center is part of continued efforts by the center’s new director, Dan Leshem, to expand its mission in promoting public discourse over genocide to include any severe injustices against humanity in recent history.
And now, two years after Lee first went to QCC to share her horrific past with students, she was invited back to continue to memorialize, teach and share her story in the hope that it will inspire others to join her in fighting injustice.
Lee, now 88 years old, said she originally came to the city as a victim, but now she continues to come here as an activist.
“In order to ensure we resolve this issue and put an end to sexual violence for all women around the world, I am going to live 200 years, so when I die and go to heaven, I can tell the sisters who passed away before me that I resolved it,” Lee said with the help of a translator.
Kidnapped from her family in South Korea at the age of 15, Lee was held at a Japanese military outpost in Taiwan to serve kamikaze pilots. She was a victim of sexual slavery for the remainder of the war and stayed silent about it until 1991, when several other victims began coming forward.
Lee is one of what the Kupferberg Center administrators refer to as heroes of memory, given that their testimony is so important in encouraging other victims to speak out, and in raising awareness of the issues those heroes’ experiences represent.
“This is something that we here at the Holocaust Center feel is a crucial part to the teaching and educational foundation that we do for several reasons: Sexual violence is a crime that happens in almost any mass atrocity across the world,” Leshem said. “Mass rape on a cultural level has become such a symptom of an illness in society, it becomes a marker for impending tragedy.”
QCC students interning with the Kupferberg Center created art representing the comfort women of World War II, which was on display during last week’s presentation.
Lee acknowledged and thanked QCC for teaching this history to its students in an effort to make sure similar injustices are put to an end.
The Kupferberg Center event was sponsored by the Korean American Civic Empowerment and the Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb