I Fought Each One of Them
February 15, 2007 — Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Ms. O’HERNE. Thank you for this holding of this congressional hearing on the plight of comfort women. I am pleased to join with survivors Ms. Yong Soo Lee and Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Japanese Military Sexual Slavery and Ms. Koon Ja Kim of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium to share our stories before you today.
I would also like to thank Representative Michael Honda for introducing House Resolution 121 which demands that the Japanese Government officially and unambiguously apologize and to take historical responsibility, and I thank Chairman Eni Faleomavaega for inviting the witnesses to speak, to tell their stories to the world in the hope that it will bring justice and peace.
My experience as a woman in war is one of utter degradation, humiliation and unbearable suffering. During World War II, I was forced to be a so-called ‘‘Comfort Woman’’ for the Japanese military, a euphemism for military sex slaves. I call my story ‘‘The Forgotten Ones.’’ I was born in Java, in the former Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia, in 1923 of a fourth generation Dutch colonial family.
I grew up on a sugar plantation, and had the most wonderful childhood. I was educated in Catholic schools, and graduated from Franciscan Teachers College in Semarang, Java. When I was 19 years old, in 1942, Japanese troops invaded Java, and together with thousands of women and children I was interned in a Japanese prison camp together with my mother and two younger sisters for 3 1⁄2 years.
Many stories have been told about the horrors, brutality, suffering and starvation of Dutch women in Japanese prison camps but one story was never told. The most shameful story of the worst human rights abuse committed the Japanese during World War II. The story of the comfort women, the jugun-ianfu, and how these women were forcibly seized against their will to provide sexual services for the Japanese Imperial Army.
I had been in a camp for 2 years when in 1944 high ranking Japanese officers arrived at the camp. The order was given. All single girls from 17 years up had to line up in the compound. We were very anxious about this. We thought it was just another inspection. The officers walked toward us, and a selection process began. They paced up and down the line, eyeing us up and down, looking at our figures, at our legs, lifting our chins.
They selected 10 pretty girls. I was one of the 10. We were told to come forward and pack a small bag. The first things I put in my bag were my prayer book, my rosary beads and my Bible. I thought somehow these would keep me strong, and then we were taken away. The whole camp protested, and our mothers started to pull us back. I embraced my mother and two young sisters, not knowing if I was ever going to see them again.
We were hurled into an army truck like sheep for the slaughter. We were terrified, and we clung to our bags and to each other. The truck stopped in the city of Semarang in front of a large Dutch colonial house. We were told to get out. Entering the house, we soon realized what sort of a house it was. A Japanese military told us that we were here for the sexual pleasure of the Japanese. The house indeed was a brothel.
We protested loudly. We said we were forced to come here against our will. That they had no right to do this to us, and that it was against the Geneva Convention but they just laughed at us, and said they could do with us as they liked. We were given Japanese names, and our photos were taken, and these were put on a pinup board so that the soldiers could choose the girl that they liked the best.
We were a very innocent generation. We were still virgins, and I knew nothing about sex. The horrific memories of opening night of the brothel have tortured my mind all my life. We were told to go to the dining room. We huddled together in fear as we saw the house filling up with military. I got out my prayer book, and I led the girls in prayer in the hope that this would help us.
Then they started to drag us away one-by-one. I could hear the screaming coming from the bedrooms. I hid under the dining room table but I was soon found. A tall, large-built officer dragged me to my room. I fought him. I kicked him with all my might. The Japanese officer became very angry because I would not give myself to him. He took his sword out of its scabbard. I remember this sword. He was a high ranking officer. It was a beautiful Samurai sword.
He pointed this sword at me threatening me with it, and he said that he would kill me if I did not give myself to him. I curled myself into a corner like a hunted animal that could not escape. I made him understand that I was not afraid to die. He said he would kill me. I would not give myself to him. But I pleaded with him to allow me to say some prayers, and at that moment I felt very close to God. While I was then praying, he started to undress himself, and I realized he had no intention of killing me. I would have been no good to him dead.
He then threw me on the bed, and ripped off all my clothes. He ran his sword all over my naked body, and played with me as a cat would with a mouse. I still tried to fight him but he thrust him self on top of me, pinning me down under his heavy body. The tears were streaming down my face as he raped me in the most brutal way. I thought he would never stop.
He then left the room, and my whole body was shaking. I was in total shock. I gathered up what was left of my clothing and fled into the bathroom. There I found some of the other girls. We were all crying and in shock. In the bathroom, I tried to wash away all the dirt and shame of my body. Just wash it away. Just wash it away. But the night was not over yet. There were more Japanese waiting, and this went on all night. It was only the beginning.
In the early hours of the morning, 10 exhausted girls gathered round and cried over lost virginity. How could this happen to us? We were so helpless. The house was completely guarded. There was no way to escape. At times I tried to hide. I even climbed a tree once, and it took them half an hour to find me but at least it had saved me one rape. So I was always found. After the hiding then I was dragged back to my room. I tried everything. I even cut off all my hair so that I was totally bald. I thought if I made myself look ugly nobody would want me but it turned me into a curiosity object. They all wanted the girl that had cut off her hair. It had just the opposite affect.
Never did any Japanese rape me without a fight. I fought each one of them. Therefore, I was repeatedly beaten and threatened that they would send me to a brothel downtown where it would be much worse but I still kept on fighting them. In the so-called ‘‘Comfort Station,’’ I was systematically beaten and raped day and night. Even the Japanese doctor raped me each time he visited the brothel to examine us for venereal disease. And to humiliate us even more, the doors and windows were left open so that the Japanese could watch us being examined, and this was as horrific as being raped.
During the time in the brothel the Japanese had abused me and humiliated me. I was left with a body that was torn and fragmented everywhere. My young body. Something beautiful, a temple of God. They violated it, and made it into a place of sinful pleasure.
The Japanese soldiers had ruined my young life. They had stripped me of everything. They had taken everything away from me, my youth, my self-esteem, my dignity, my freedom, my possession and my family but there was one thing they could never take away from me, and it was my firm Catholic faith and my love for God. This was mine, and nobody, nobody could take that away from me. It was my deep faith in God that helped me survive all that the Japanese did to me.
I have forgiven the Japanese for what they did to me but I can never forget. For 50 years the comfort women maintained silence. They lived with a terrible shame of feeling soiled and dirty. It has taken 50 years for these women’s ruined lives to become a human rights issue. The war never ended for the comfort women. We still have nightmares. We had no counseling. After the war, we just had to get on with our lives as if nothing had happened. Our bodies were damaged. I had three miscarriages after I married Tom, and I needed major surgery to restore my body.
In 1992, the war in Bosnia had broken out, and I could see that women were again being raped in an organized way, and then after that, that same year, I saw the Korean comfort women on television. They broke their silence, and Ms. Kim Hak Sun was the first comfort women to speak out. I watched them on television as they pleaded for justice, for an apology and compensation from the Japanese Government.
I decided to back them up especially as I realized that in Bosnia women again were being raped on an organized scale. I decided to break my silence, at the international public hearing on Japanese war crimes in Tokyo in December, 1992, and I revealed one of the worst human rights abuses of World War II, the forgotten Holocaust. For 15 years I have worked tirelessly for the plight of comfort women in Australia and overseas and for the protection of women in wars so that these wartime atrocities will never happen again.
Now time is running out. After 60 years, the comfort women deserve justice. They are worthy of a formal apology from the Japanese Government, from the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, and what I call an apology is an apology that is followed by action, the same what the American Government did. It was followed by action that paid compensation to the Japanese that were put in prison camps here but this is the one thing that Japan has never done. Their apology has never been followed by action.
The Japanese Government must take full responsibility for their war crimes. In 1995, they established the so-called Asian Women’s Fund to compensate the victims. This fund was an insult to the comfort women, and they, including myself, refused to accept it. This fund was a private fund. The money came from private enterprise and private business. It did not come from the government.
Japan must come to terms with its history and acknowledge their wartime atrocity. They must teach the correct history of the mistakes made in the past. When I was in Japan only a couple of years ago, I was invited to talk at high schools and colleges about what happened during the war. Not one of those students knew about the horrific atrocity that the Japanese committed during World War II. It is important that the surviving comfort women tell their stories. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I thank you for this opportunity to share my story. I hope that by speaking out I have been able to make a contribution to world peace and reconciliation, and that human rights violations against women will never happen again.
I feel very honored to tell my story in this very important place, and that a government is considering it worthwhile to take up this crucial human rights issue. Thank you.
Source: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, 110th Congress, 1st Sess. (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office), 2007, pp. 23-28.